So, I’m going to start out with a few assumptions here:
- Going to the gym is a privilege (it usually costs money and you often need to buy clothing)
- There is enough fatphobia in the world, Lizzo is a Queen, eat cake if you want to
- I’m not an expert (in mental health or fitness)
Over the past two months I’ve been going to the gym 3 times a week. I feel fitter, stronger and I’ve lost half a stone in weight. It’s worth noting I went vegan too. I wanted to post something about my fitness journey and celebrate my achievement. However, I didn’t feel a short post was the right format to tell my story honestly. Who needs another shiny Instagram post on weight loss in January?
I received a Complex PTSD diagnosis in my mid-twenties. This has a variety of symptoms – anxiety, depression, muscle pain. Articles will often make the rounds in the news about how exercise combats depression, which can cause feelings of shame for those of us who just don’t have the energy. I saw one just the other day with the title ‘if exercise helps beat depression, why don’t more people do it?’. I don’t know Karen! Maybe because exhaustion is a symptom of depression and I feel sad!!!
I tried going to the gym on and off in my twenties, but my life was too chaotic and my symptoms were too bad. When I did manage to go, I had poor knowledge and a lack of support – I was still doing stretches I learnt in P.E, which led me to cooling down and damaging my body. Finances and mental health don’t really mix either. I was desperately having to scrabble around to find money to pay for therapy and was only able to work part-time due to my illness. A permanent gym subscription felt unaffordable.
So, after a few years of recovery, sorting my life out and becoming more financially stable, I decided to give the gym another go. I was largely inspired by fellow women on Twitter such as Jack Monroe, who were saying that doing weights helped them learn to love their bodies, as it was focused on strength as opposed to losing weight. Feminist writer Roxanne Gay has written some really great and honest articles on her fitness journey. I did my research this time and watched lots of YouTube videos on ‘how to get started at the gym’, which helped me realise a lot of my mistakes.
I joined a local gym in November and was offered two free initial personal training (PT) sessions. Some gyms can be super pushy about personal training and make you feel like you can’t do anything on your own. However, my experience was positive. With a PT by my side I quickly learnt how to use the machines, stretch well and create a good routine.
I was upfront with my PT about my mental health and this has helped. This morning I arrived at the gym for a session, told my PT today’s session was about pain management and we had a lower intensity session. I sat down halfway through the session and cried, but I then got myself together and carried on. I’m finding that doing 20% or 30% of any activity is better than doing nothing at all, as it helps form habit and habits sustain you in the long term.
After the initial honey-moon phase, I now dread going to the gym. Yet, once I’m there I feel better and it’s empowering to see myself grow in strength. Last week I couldn’t do planks at all and now I can hold them for 10 seconds. I can now squat without using supports and lift heavier weights. My knee which used to swell up when I walked, was absolutely fine on a 1 hour 40 min walk at the weekend, which included lots of walking on rocks.
Some weeks (particularly if my mental health is bad) I won’t be able to do much, but I will learn, grow and help my body destress. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. I’ve worked hard. The gym isn’t for everybody (nor is it accessible for a lot of people), but with a bit of support, I’ve found it helpful. Accountability has been key to motivation. I know others have found groups such as a local ‘Couch to 5k’ really helpful.
I’m learning to love my body for it’s strength. I was never a sporty person, but I’ve found that fitness is for me. I want to continue to challenge myself and not just care for my mind, but for my body too. The body God has given me. That is fearfully and wonderfully made.
I’d love to hear if anyone else has had similar experiences! Get in touch or leave a comment below.