Limiting my expectations

Bodies. We all own one. They are beautiful and many splendored. However, in the last year, I have found mine has become more contentious. Possibly it always was, but now I want to do more with it, I am more aware of its limitations.

For most of my life, exercise was an endurance. Occasionally I went for a swim which is an exercise that I deeply love, but this was only ever occasional, owing to the faff involved of hair washing and draconian pool schedules. When I have been on holiday I have enjoyed cycling, but as an adult, I have never owned a bike. I have had memberships for multiple gyms (I paid hard for the level of guilt that a seldom-used gym membership can bring), but none of these exercises truly inspired me to maintain any sort of regular exercise, and then I found running.

Since I have begun running I have only maintained a couple of knee and ankle injuries, nothing particularly supreme or interesting. But this is the first time that an injury has prevented me doing what I love, and I was unaware of the level of frustration that this brings. It brings a good deal. I also run with people who are all really established runners. Most days this massively inspires me, some days this frustrates me as I can’t see a time where I will be anything like as good. It isn’t that it matters if I can run faster than others or not, just I am more aware of my limitations.

However, on the flip side of this, a couple of years ago I couldn’t run at all. Well, that is possibly an exaggeration, I could likely run about twenty-five meters then look as if I might require medical assistance. On my worst days now, even with somewhat suspect knees, I can always run between two to five kilometres. I find this theme occurring more and more in my life, I judge myself way harsher than anyone else ever would.

I wish I could isolate the moment in my life where rather than feeling that sense of childlike optimism, I felt a wave of disappointment in myself. Rather than falling down and getting back up to try again, I started setting standards lower to only achieve small things, as the disappointment of not achieving what I really wanted was too hard. Today a good friend asked me what I wanted to be. I am still pondering this, but to summarise my current thoughts – a lot more than I currently am.

Map Point. Where do I need to raise my expectations?

My world of unlikely accidents

I nearly just crushed my number four toe on my left foot, however, I had to look to see and see which foot it was, because it could well have been the number two toe on the right foot. It was definitely the left, it had impacted with a somewhat unyielding box under my desk. There was big pain. Despite considering myself to be in good health with a happy diet and exercise, I accept that injury will also be present, both through questionable spatial awareness and outright stupidity.

Now many of my daily injuries I no longer notice. Door frames neatly marry with shoulder blades, radiator pipes are the twins of my little toes, really heavy objects are obviously asking my feet to ‘bring it’ and they do, with both force and precision. I find random bruises and cuts, but this is all good as if I haven’t noticed doing it, then clearly it didn’t hurt!

Occasionally though, my acts of injury are somewhat more spectacular. Domestic endeavour is truly not for the faint of heart. I was once winding up a vacuum cord and got slightly too much momentum, cracking myself squarely in the head with the plug, which knocked me to the ground. After washing up once, I bent down to pick up an errant spatula from the floor (it had tumbled down from my ‘how high can I stack my washing up’ personal challenge) and I stood up too quickly, thumping my head into the handle of a particularly heavy saucepan. Also ended up sat on the floor, somewhat bemused with my new immediate surroundings. I have been knocked over a fair few times by other people shutting the boot of the car on my head, as I have dived back in to retrieve something and it is probably best never to share the details of the swollen knee I ‘won’  by walking off the pavement into a parked van when playing the eyes closed challenge. It wasn’t a good game.

I guess that there are parts of ourselves that will always vex, always try us a little bit. Things that we keep doing without really understanding why. Most of my injuries come from lack of patience or forethought (and some do come from idiocy) so perhaps this is where I need to focus my efforts, taking my time a little more, and attempting to be a bit more gentle with my body.

Learning to look after ourselves better can be a really hard task, we simply get used to certain things and accept them as perfectly okay, they have become familiar. Looking at these things and working out how to make improvements is the easier bit, learning how to put those into practice is where we can genuinely make improvements to our lives, and that bit is harder.

Map Point. How can I stop hurting myself?


How I (begrudgingly) started running

It was the Fitbit (which I have since abandoned). Miles spotted it at work. I was making myself a cup of tea at the time.  Hadn’t really spoken to him a good deal before other than mostly pleasantries. And he asked if I ran. This seemed likely, as the wrist tracking activity devices generally indicate that you are involved in activity worth tracking. I was not however, I liked the idea of starting running, but I had actually purchased this marvellous device to track just how horrendous my sleep had become. It was bought purely with masochistic intent to prove to myself how bad my insomnia had become. So I said that I was thinking of starting, to which Miles told me that he could give me the names of some local groups that went out running in the evenings. This was mostly impractical, what with being a single mother and all, but I thanked him. He then seemed to pause a bit, and said that if I wanted to, he would go out running with me. Now this was a more exciting offer. Someone was willing to invest their actual time in helping me to start running. I was nervous, apprehensive, but ultimately I had clearly set the intention by buying the flashy wrist gear that I was ready to run. So I agreed.

What I actually agreed to was a six-week program involving a twice weekly run. So I found my running clothes (proper activity wear.. it sort of makes me giggle how prepped I was to run, without ever having done so before) and met up with Miles. Miles looks like a hardcore long distance runner, the sort of man who could run for a week and still be able to hold a sensible conversation. We stretched, this seemed okay, this bit I could definitely do! I felt so accomplished. Then he said we would walk for a bit, then run for a minute. In this first minute of running, several ages passed. Polar icecaps melted and reformed, however, am something of a stubborn beast on occasion, so I powered through. My legs had no idea what they were doing, my breathing was laboured, and my posture felt peculiar. We continued in this vein, walking a bit, running a bit. And I improved. The first time I ran for five minutes straight was a massive achievement. Hills were the same. I then started running with other friends too, Kate and Robert. Running gave me activity based social time. And it felt good.

A minor knee injury took me out for a while, but am back out running again now. This morning I complete my first 5k in an age, with a knee support, in forty-five minutes (which is very slow for me) and it felt amazing, around the 3k mark, I found my zone again. This is where I lose myself and everything feels amazing.

Running for me started as something of mass trepidation, actual fear (likely a hangover from the hideous words in school ‘cross country’), but actually breaking through that, with the help of someone else, empowered me so massively, and I am grateful.

Map Point. What is fear preventing me from doing?

Actual Mirrors

There have been times in my life when I have looked into the mirror and irrespective of how fat or thin I was, I saw nothing but negativity, judgement and humiliation looking back at me. This was a hard place to start my day from and didn’t exactly boost my self-esteem.

The absolute worst time in my life for doing this was when I was in my twenties. There were a round six months of my life where I found that I was actively choosing not to eat. I was a student at the time; my mum lived close by, so some evenings I would go and have a proper dinner with her, and that felt nice. But for the rest of the time, I drank black coffee and ate a couple of biscuits here and there. My weight tumbled off. A healthy weight for me is around eleven to eleven and a half stone. I was around thirteen when I began this endeavour and when I began eating normally again, I was down to ten stone. I am a tall person with a large frame, all of my bones were visible. I was incredibly unhappy with a variety of issues in my life, a relationship had ended, a new one had begun that was problematic in some ways, my uncle was slowly fading with dementia, my grandad had died. I don’t think that it was any one of these things that made me take the actions that I did, but likely a combination, I regained control of my life by limiting my food intake.

Any addiction or denial gives us back the control that we feel is missing, and for me, lack of food was empowering. I found that feeling hungry made me feel alive, made me feel good. I would stand in front of the mirror naked, pinching bits of skin, deciding that I could go another half stone. I didn’t see beauty or anything positive, just something that I could control. I was also getting many compliments about how skinny I was becoming. I guess this must have been nice, as it further endorsed the choices that I was making. It was truly one of the most unhappy periods of my life.

As I began to deal with my sad experiences, I became a healthy weight again, and I found myself naked in front of the mirror, telling myself and utterly seeing myself as beautiful. Maybe this was to self-endorse, maybe I needed the reassurance, but it occurred to me a few day ago that I don’t do that anymore. I am now around a stone above my ideal weight, so maybe my level of self-love has dropped, but although this is a possibility, I don’t think that it is true. I think that I have reached a stage in my life where it no longer matters. I eat really well, I exercise, meditate, socialise with exceptional people. Viewing myself in terms of how my body looks is no longer relevant. I still like to look nice, but I no longer tie my emotional state to my physical one. If I receive a compliment, I have immense gratitude to the person giving it, but it doesn’t further endorse me. I have self-endorsed, thus I have left the emotional weight of the shape of my body behind.

Map Point. How do I feel about my physical state?