Health · Personal · thoughts

My body is home

When I was 18, I barely ate. It wasn’t that food was the enemy like it is for so many other girls – and indeed, like it was for me through periods of my early teenagehood. It was more that it took up so much energy to cook and depression had a firm hold on me. I started university with good intentions: I’d cook regularly, I’d join the gym. Instead, I found myself in an endless cycle of lectures, Cup-a-Soup and naps.

Without even trying, I became the thin girl I always wanted to be. The one that I felt pushed into being thin by the rigorous body policing that went on at school. I didn’t even notice how unhealthy I’d become, all that mattered was that I was a size 10. I paraded my thinness around my hometown like a badge of honour in the hope that those who had put me down for being chubby and unfit throughout school would see this new, thin me and feel guilty for all the pain they put me through. I was untouchable.

My relationship with my body image fluctuated endlessly throughout university. Finally giving in to the advice that exercise would be some sort of panacea for my mental health problems, I joined the gym in 3rd year and within two months, ran a 5K to raise money for Health in Mind. I finished it in 32 minutes – not the best by any stretch, but my best. I don’t think it was the exercise itself that improved my mental health per se, but rather the fact that I knew I was challenging myself and smashing little goals every day. The knowledge that I was strong enough to do something incredible like that carried me through the next six months.

And then 4th year hit and everything changed. To put it in perspective, I just wrote that it went wrong, but on reflection, I don’t think it was “wrong” – just different. I comfort ate my way through my dissertation, drank way too much cider as a “reward” for my hard work (okay, I’m just making up excuses now – I drank it because I love it, and it’s still like my kryptonite), and gym time was practically non-existent because my workload was just too exhausting. I piled on so much weight and it wasn’t even until I’d graduated and took a long hard look at my selfie that I realised how much of a sedentary lump I’d become.

But recently, I’ve noticed how totally badass my body has become. I truly think it’s all because of roller derby. You never truly shake off mental illness, even if you’re “recovered” in most aspects of your life, and there’s still this voice in my head telling me that I should lose some weight, get those razor cheekbones back, get back into my size 10 jeans. But then, I look at what I’ve become. Would I trade my strength and newfound muscular thighs and DDs just for cheekbones and a sense of pleasing those that don’t matter? On some days yes, but most of the time…no. Because I’m gradually beginning to embrace this lucrative thing called “self-worth”.

My body is home. It’s strong. It can do so many things. I can skate at top speed for five minutes without getting winded. Other things I can do on skates include jumping, weaving really fast around cones, hitting people, getting hit by people and recovering in seconds…the list goes on. I cycle just under eight miles every day. I can power up hills on my bike without getting off to push like I used to. I can run 5k with barely any walking breaks – I’ve not quite beaten my 32 minute personal best, but I’m down to 35 minutes after not running for two years so I’d say that’s awesome, and even more awesome when you consider it used to take me half a 55-minute PE lesson to do the 1600m at school because I’d be so out of breath. I can hold onto my toes without bending my knees. I can leg press over half my body weight and I’m constantly building on that. I am the queen of squats, if I do say so myself. I’m far from ripped, and I’m carrying a bit of belly, and there are so many days I weigh myself and think “how on earth have I gained weight when I exercises SO MUCH?” (muscle, that’s how). But I know I can do amazing things. I refuse to believe anyone who tells me otherwise.

In the end, it’s not what your body looks like, it’s what it can do. Every day I’m amazed by how far I’ve come and I really hope that by striving to do more and more badass things every day, I’ll finally be able to conquer the demon that tells me that my looks and how others judge me are more important than my own happiness.

Our bodies deserve more than to be war-torn and collateral
Offering this fuckdom as a pathetic means to say,
“I only know how to exist when I am wanted.”

Girls like us are hardly ever wanted, you know
We’re used up and we’re sad and drunk and
Perpetually waiting by the phone for someone to pick up and tell us that we did good
Well, you did good.

I know I am because I said I am.
My body is home.

Mary Lambert

very important
December 2012 vs. May 2017
Miscellaneous · Personal · thoughts · Uncategorized

Generation Busy

This post has been a long time coming. I unfortunately lost my job last month, and while I’ve been offered another job, it doesn’t start until the end of the month. What that means is that I’ve had a lot of time to sit around and think. At times it’s been frustrating and boring and, let’s be honest, having an income is nice, but on the other hand it’s given me pause for thought about what it means to be busy.

At the moment I’m listening to BrenĂ© Brown’s lecture series ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, inspired by her TED talk of the same name. It’s been one of my favourite TED talks since my counsellor in third year of Uni recommended it to me, but the full lecture series is even better. Honestly, in that classic “who would you invite to a dinner party, dead or alive” scenario, BrenĂ© would be top of the list – she’s insanely clever, sassy without being snarky, and I just generally think we’d get on pretty well.

One of the things she discusses is our fascination with being busy. How we get a kick out of being able to reel off a list of things that are taking up our time and attention, how we brag about the hours we’ve put in at work, and how, if we admit that we’re feeling pretty relaxed about life, people don’t seem to know how to respond. In western culture, being busy to the point of meltdown is something of a status symbol. We endlessly compare ourselves to our peers and beat ourselves up if we suspect that we’re not making the most of our time.

It’s something that I witnessed all the time as a student. “How many words have you written yet?” was a hot topic of conversation and people would loudly moan about spending full days in the library and not leaving until they were thrown out at 2am. I don’t think these comments are helpful to anyone. Beneath the complaints is insecurity. Often people say these things not to vent their own genuine frustration or to encourage empathy, but to assess the competition. To find out how hard others are working. To see where they sit in the pecking order. To quell the universal voice of shame that insists we are only worthy of feeling joy if we’ve suffered the hard graft and “earned” it through tangible “success”. The culture of studying to the point of exhaustion is something that’s only going to get worse as Universities like my own introduce nap pods and 24/7 opening hours.

My main cause for excitement upon graduation was the thought that I could finally leave my work at work and have time to indulge my passions outside work hours. For the most part, I’ve been able to do so, but I can’t help but suppress that niggling feeling that I should be doing more. It makes me feel so stressed when I see people my age without an inch of wiggle room in their daily schedule, because I can’t help but compare myself to them. It think it’s a generational thing. There’s much more competition among us millennials to find full-time, emotionally rewarding work, and we must resort to filling every second of our time with activities, projects and courses that will enrich our employability. All this is often on top of paid employment that pays the bills in the mean time. Is it any surprise that, in a recent worldwide study of young people (defined as being 15-21 years old, but probably with similar trends just outwith this age bracket), Britons exhibited the second-worst mental wellbeing?

I’m sure to some, this kind of lifestyle provides good motivation and is perhaps even desirable. But in my opinion, it’s sad that the economy has gotten to the point where this is seen as a normal way to survive. Where’s the time to reflect? To be kind to ourselves? To work smarter, not harder? We often have to push ourselves to exhaustion just to be seen as competent, but with no support system to keep our wellbeing afloat. Mental health services are vastly underfunded, meaning not only a lack of services, but less money put into campaigns that encourage us to be open about our mental health. The vulnerability required to reach out and say “actually, I think I’m overworked” or “I need some time off to get my mind in order” is seen as weakness when really, being able to tap into your own emotions and ask for help is one of the bravest things you can do.

It’s time we stop glorifying this kind of exhaustion. I’m fed up of feeling a deep sense of shame when I’m not “busy enough”, and I’m sure I’m not alone.