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Mental Health & Me

It's Mental Health Awareness Day today. I'd started this blog before even knowing that, but it seems appropriate to share it today.

Talking to clients lately, finding out their goals, what they want to achieve with their sessions, where they want to get's surprised me because not a single person has started by saying that their focus is on losing weight; what they ultimately want is to feel a bit better about themselves - weight-loss may be a by-product of taking on a fitness programme, but motivation for people is to simply feel good and happy within themselves and that's brilliant.

If anyone asks me why I do what I do, why I've changed my entire career to become a PT, I usually say that a few years ago I was seriously overweight and miserable so I joined a gym and exercising made me lose weight, along the way I learnt to eat better, push myself more and the weight came off and I lived happily ever after.

The thing is, the 5 stone of extra weight I was carrying wasn't just 5 stone of fat; physiologically yes, but psychologically oh it was so much more.


At Primary School I was always one of the tallest, never a natural athlete, I'm still devastated that I cannot do cartwheels.

By 10 years of age I was probably a size 12/14 and I know starting Secondary School my blazer was a size 16 and it fit me all the way to the end of year 11, even with the Tippex stain on the sleeve picked up 2 weeks in (sorry Mum)!

My first job was in a hotel and my uniform was a size 16 - blazer, blouse and skirt.

That just seemed to be the size I was. I never questioned it, never challenged it, I certainly wasn't aware of it being an issue, I was just always the tall one (5ft 8), big-boned and I was ok with that - even if I wasn't I don't think I would have known what to do about it anyway because we aren't educated in that area, but that's for another blog!

I don't really have any photographs of me from the age of 15 up until my late 20s; I didn't like how I looked in photos so I wouldn't have any taken...back in the day when you had to wait for your photographs to come back in the post anyway without them being shared on the computer!

Nearly 8 years ago when planning to get married I realised that I wanted to look nice in photographs and not feel like I had to hide away an album. That's when I signed up to a very well-known weight-loss diet programme. It worked. There is no disputing it. I remember back then the scales starting with a 15 and I can remember saying I would lose weight for the wedding and I did. I got down to 11st 7lb and it turns out cameras aren't awful when you feel confident with how you look.

The weight stayed off for a while sticking with the diet, a few pounds creeping on over time and then I got pregnant in 2013. I piled the weight on, mainly because I was so ill for the duration of the pregnancy with migraines, TIA scare, issues with my pelvis and pain walking. I simply ate what I could stomach (steak and potatoes) which meant a lot of weight went on...I will never know exactly how much, but it was a lot! Well then came the most horrific labour/delivery, resulting in the need for 12 months of pain relief every day to be able to walk without wanting to cry! What did I do? Keep calm and carry on of course! I didn't want to bother a doctor, I've been brought up to just get on with things, plus I was well aware that I wasn't the first person to have had a baby and had a hard time of it.

With the little one around life changed, we agreed early on to make sacrifices so that I could be at home with him until he started big school.

Turns out being a stay at home mum is quite a lonely place to be. A very fortunate one, I do appreciate that, but when your friends (who I love enormously) are all at work and not on your doorstep, when you loathe yourself so much that you don't/can't make new friends at baby groups or playgrounds, or softplays...well you just end up feeling even worse about yourself because nobody seems to want to be your friend. There is so much pressure to be the perfect mum, to do everything right, to fit in, I just didn't feel like I could compete and what I did do was to go back to how I always felt at school: that I was middle of the road, forgettable, plain, boring, totally insecure. I didn't let on to anyone that this is how I felt.

This isn't a woe-is-me post, this is just how I felt and it turns out a lot of people feel the same. I lost my own identity, forgot who I was, nobody seemed to care to find out and, in all fairness, I probably didn't give them the chance to because I must have been walking round looking like a bear with a sore head!

I found solace in a bag or 2 of Midget Gems a day, some chocolate, coffee, biscuits, cake; I would eat rubbish, feel sorry for myself and then eat some more because I felt rubbish! I would spend most nights unable to get to sleep because I had this crippling anxiety; in my head I believed that if I fell asleep I wouldn't wake up, or something dreadful would happen to my boy. Every night, I honestly believed if I closed my eyes and fell asleep I would die. Completely irrational, but to me very real. I also went through months of being convinced that I was seriously ill; I even had pain in my stomach on a regular basis, but was too scared to go to the doctor in case it was something sinister and they'd tell me I was going to die.

It was these feelings that ended up being the final straw and made me realise that I had to do something to turn things around. I'd tried the diet again, but for some reason I just didn't seem to be able to commit to it. So then I saw an offer at a small gym, umm-ed and aah-ed about whether to do it and thought how silly I'd feel, telling myself I'd never been to a gym, people would laugh at me, but I'd got to the stage where I almost couldn't afford to care anyway, so I joined and that was my beginning.

Within 12 months I had hit 5 stone weight-loss; 16/18 to a 10/12 and that's where I have stayed now for over 2 years, give or take a pound or so as I mix up workouts and try new things.

I lost the physical weight, 5 stone is a lot...31kg. I exercised, I walked on the treadmill, I pulled some weights down after a few months, I tried exercise DVDs at home because I feel so uncoordinated and self-conscious (even now) to do a class in public. I challenged myself 8 months in to run the 5k Race for Life and did...the entire way round! Over time my eating habits improved; I actually started to want to put healthier stuff inside my body because I could see and feel the benefits of doing so. And that's how I did it, a combination of exercising and eating better. Eat less, move more; it is actually that simple.

The thing is, once the weight goes the numbers on a set of scales will still stare back at you. For so long they had been my drive and motivation; I associated a number with feeling happy, not all of the other benefits I had gained from losing the weight. If I went over that number it would bother me. I lowered the goal thinking I needed a focus again, that was harder to get to than the 5st and when I got there (looking back) I looked stupid! And then finally something clicked and I gave myself another kick up the backside!

So here is the thing, yes being able to pick up clothes at the front of a rail rather than the back is still satisfying, it feels good to not worry about what the scales say, but there are so many much more important things I have discovered and gained or lost from getting fit, healthy and well...

- I can go to sleep at night and not lay for hours in bed thinking that I am going to die.

- I can smile for a photograph and not ask for the picture to be deleted (most of the time!).

- I can run around after my son for hours on end and not just sit from a bench watching, or need to sit down to get my breath every 15 minutes.

- I love food! I love so much more food than I ever knew I would or could...healthy food isn't boring, there's so much to try and I'm not scared to try new things.

- I can cook! Yes, actually from scratch I can make loads of things and I enjoy it immensely.

- My confidence has improved no end; admittedly I think I will always feel slightly awkward when meeting new people, but I'm not afraid to try and strike up a conversation with people I don't know.

- My body is fit, healthy and strong and as a result I rarely get ill (I did just touch the wooden table).

- I've learnt that exercise isn't something to dread, or suffer, it can be fun.

- I'm happy.

- I don't hate myself.

So when someone asks me whether I exercise to stay, no I don't. I exercise because I enjoy it; if I have had a bad day I can go and do a 15 minute HIIT workout and feel a buzz at the end of it once endorphins are running through my body, or I can throw some weights around to loosen muscles and joints and relieve stress, I can go and swim to relax or go for a walk to clear my head, I can do a light workout with resistance bands just to enjoy the stretches. I might workout for 20 minutes or an hour, I can put in all the effort I have or very little, but whatever it is I feel good afterwards.

People say "you've only got one life, live it", that's true, but you've also only got one body so make sure you're looking after that too; physically and mentally.

This blog post isn't posted to get business, it's just a bit of honesty. I know for me that exercise makes me feel good, physically and mentally and maybe if you're reading this and you're perhaps at the point where I started, well it can get better, it does get better, just don't be scared to ask for help or support.

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