How getting physical helped my head to heal

Oh here we go. She’s going to bang on about eating healthy and exercise… blah blah blah…

I can assure you, I am certainly not. I know more than anyone, exercise is something you want to talk about when you’re doing it and when you’re not, you do not give a shit. You certainly do not want to hear others banging on about it.

I’m naturally lazy. I love doing nothing. I rarely get the chance these days and in fact, until I had children I had no idea how much I enjoyed doing bugger all. These days, the chance to sit down and play crappy games on my phone while paying attention to no one is something that happens very rarely and I miss it. Yup, sad I know.

However, during lockdown in 2020, I discovered the incredible effects of exercise. Without physical exercise I honestly don’t believe this blog would exist. I don’t think I would have been well enough to openly talk about my experiences, let alone be well enough to support others on their journey. In fact, I didn’t even realise my head was broken until I started to work harder on looking after my body.

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

When the global pandemic happened in March 2020, most of our routines were thrown upside down. Now, I do not want to overtly complain. I am very aware of how lucky I was. I wasn’t a key worker for the NHS, nor did I work any of the frontlines, I didn’t live on my own. I didn’t have loved ones in hospital dying of COVID.

However, not unlike many of us, my mental health still took a beating. To hear more about this particular story, see my post on ‘Allowing professionalism to go out of the window‘ or Coming face-face with Covid.

A big change for me physically was my commute or lack of it. Living in central Kent and working in central London four days a week meant a daily two-hour commute. I didn’t get the chance for much exercise around this as I was usually exhausted from being out of my house for over 12 hours a day and weekends were running around after the mini ones. I also had no interest in exercise. I had tried the odd fitness class over the years but nothing had stuck. If I needed to lose weight, I dieted – which I am also really bad at! Proper foodie at heart.

I also don’t drive so I walk almost everywhere. I know! I know! Its actually my biggest regret in life. I wish I had learnt when I was young and had less fear of the road. I actually started lessons just before the pandemic and have probably used the excuse of stopping these as the reason I haven’t started them back up. Anyway I digress… I wasn’t exactly healthy physically but I was not noticeably overweight either.

It wasn’t until I had to stare at my own face on daily Zoom calls that I became very conscious of how I looked. There have been many stories about the pandemic allowing us to be our true selves but I haven’t read that many stories of how Zoom fatigue has affected our body confidence. I barely saw my own face when I worked in the office. A nip to loo and a glance in the mirror every now and then was nothing compared to starting at yourself throughout the entire day. Turning your camera off was rude towards your colleagues so there I was, trying to focus on my colleagues faces and trying not to focus on my own flaws and mentality.

At the time I decided to do something about it. I had no idea of the correlation between physical fitness and mental fitness. The reason I started it was purely superficial.

Ben, my partner, is very much into physical fitness so through gritted teeth, I asked him to help. He was more surprised than I was and that’s saying something!

This first exercise session which involved multiple star jumps, jogging on the spot and lifting weights almost killed me. My face has the complexion that needs blusher. It never goes rosy. My face after this session (only two rounds of it as I didn’t quite make the third) was purple. F-ing purple! I could feel my face heating the air around me. It was bloody awful.

However, I can proudly say I persevered and within 6 months, I had lost over two stone. My partner didn’t do another session with me after that first one – until reently however as he’s now teaching me boxing – however up until now, it was all on me. The image below shoes my face after that first training session and the second shows my face after a training session six months later. I think its safe to say I got better at it!

Oh hello jawline! Haven’t see you in a while!

I was determined to feel good. I was also doing the school run now, and nursery run (in the opposite direction) and all while trying to ensure I got to my train in time, once the office reopened. I had no issue with doing this at speed let alone in time.

I swap weight training on some days for pure cardio and dance my way through lunch breaks or make myself more flexible with the likes of yoga etc. I now mix it up and try all sorts but I have never felt better. Both in body and mind.

Me dancing in our makeshift basement gym

I cannot stress enough that losing all of that weight (so far 3 stone in total ) was easy at first. But once the first two months were over, I started to find it enjoyable. The pain after leg day can do one but I love sweating through a session now and noticing the difference it has on my wellbeing.

I had taken photos to show the physical effects of the exercise on my body and watching it gradually change shape made me only more determined. I drink more water and ate better because of it – My skin and hair got healthier – My face however now looks older but the choice is figure or face and this time, I picked figure What the photos don’t show however, is the effect all of this had on my brain.

However, this isn’t about what happened physically. This is about how losing three stone affected my mentality. The way I feel about myself. My resilience. My confidence. I am in the best mental shape I’ve been in years. In fact, it wasn’t until I became fit physically, that I was able to truly recover from what I now believe, was a six-year battle with antenatal and post-natal depression.

Five years of losing my temper at anything and everything. Five years of pretending everything is ok. Almost losing a bond with my son. I will talk about my experience of post-natal depression in a separate post but getting to grips with my body enabled me to get to grips with my mind. Sounds like bollocks but I can’t explain it in any other way.

The biggest change is confidence in my own achievements. I relalised as part of the depression, I also had the worst imposter syndrome I’ve ever had. I had people telling me that I was doing a great job, how I was a great mum, but I never really believed it. I worked really hard and had great results and adored my children despite being a ‘shouty mum’ – which I’m trying to stop. I had regularly received positive feedback from not only my boss, but the agency board members and CEO regularly. I never believed it though. And because I didn’t believe it, I didn’t fight to progress. I was passive for five years.

Since recovering, I am I very aware of how good I am. A little advice to anyone reading this, if you can in the sector you work in, get a mentor. I wish I had it done it sooner. I did it because I was finally confident enough to talk to a mentor. Openly and honestly. I hadn’t been proud of myself enough in those five years to talk about my career.

I decided to join a women’s network, Bloom. This bunch of incredible women, many having their own issues and some having similar to mine, made me realise I wasn’t alone. Through this network, I starting mentoring a young woman too. I realised how much knowledge and experience I had – and tried hard to do what I wished someone could have done for me.

I was also able to help to others too. I was now a trained mental health first aider and crisis support line worker, making me completely empathic towards others who suffer from mental illness, knowing the darkness I’d been in. In doing so, I’ve changed the direction of my future career choices by getting heavily involved at work and personally with mental health. Insanely Normal Blog included.

I also teamed up with my friend Howard and joined his group in a work steps challenge to support CALM.

Chafing the Dream – all the way!

Our team won and although the only female, I was hitting over 20,000 steps a day. In Feb my daily average was 2501 a day – shame. And I was proud of my efforts.

And I am now confident enough to believe I can get to where I want in my career. I will work hard for it too.

Lockdown gave me the chance to get a good work/life balance. Training my body gave me the chance to improve my life and gave me the confidence I needed to improve my work remit, professional network, support others through mentoring or first aid and move into an area that makes me happily work in my personal time but only after the kids go to bed.

Most importantly I’ve realised I am a good mother. My children do adore me and me them. My son is bright despite his need to make everyone laugh – which often gets him into trouble. My daughter who was facing surgery only months ago, became physically strong enough to mend the hole in her heart and no longer needs surgery – shocking everyone – including Dr Slavic, her paediatric cardiologist!

By mending my body, I mended my mind. I also mended the relationships with those closest to me. And do you know what? I would highly recommend it.

Published by Em@InsanelyNormal

I am Em, the Author of Insanely Normal. A mother of two, a marketer and copywriter and huge advocate for normalising the conversations around mental health.

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