It’s Monday and I’m going to the gym (no, really)

It’s not the first Monday of the year but the last. The first being January the 5th. But, like always, I’m going to attempt a health kick. And I always like to start those on Mondays. It makes my little brain happy. You’d think that starting something on January the 1st would make my silly little brain explode with happiness. Right? WRONG!

Why? Because I’m a resolutions snob. And am also increasingly aware of my own fallibility. So I’ve created a ‘clever’ get out clause whereby I start my health kick in December thus avoiding the branding of a New Year’s Resolution.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a resolution. Nothing wrong at all. In fact, anything that encourages people to embrace healthier lifestyle choices or improve their career prospects or anything positive like that has got to be a great thing. But I’ve just failed at so many so many times. I just can’t do it to myself to jump on the doomed wagon. So instead, I’ll start on January the 29th. Boom. Job’s a good ‘un.

I also like to delude myself that this means when I strut into the gym today my fellow gym goers will gift me with a brief nod of the head and we’ll all know that we are morally superior for being here in December not January.

My plan is to chat to as many people as possible – you know, get my face out there – that they’ll all erroneously think that they already know me (since I’m being so familiar) so that when January the 1st or the 5th swing round and I’m at the gym, we can all share our morally superior smiles while watching newbies fall off the back of treadmills. Amateurs.

I’m aiming to further cement my veteran gym status by wearing really really REALLY old gear. Maybe I’ll even hit up a few charity shops for some old London Marathon t-shirts. As long as they’re post 2000 then I figure that’s plausible. As long as no one actually watches me run.

I suppose I should add for honesty’s sake that the old capri pants I’m planning on wearing aren’t actually a deliberate style choice. More that I refuse to spend good money on clothes that I can’t enjoy wearing. And if they happen to go see-through as I crouch down for some squats, well then, I’ll just have to wear some big black granny pants and make sure I’m facing the wall, won’t I?

On that note, it’s time for me to pull on those unreliable Lycra butt huggers, climb into that poorly engineered sports bra and throw on that (legitimately earned, for a change) Great North Run t-shirt. First one to slide backwards off the treadmill is the loser. See you there!


How do I exercise? Tell me, please!

Please excuse any veering off into ranting, but I’m currently suffering from bafflement and irritation in equal measure. Why? Exercise, that’s why.

I am not a natural exerciser, nor a loyal one, but every now and then, the urge comes along to do something, and then, in my geeky fashion, I set about researching my options.

So here’s where all that has brought me:

I had to stop kickboxing because I kept aggravating my shoulder which has a tendency to dislocate. So that’s out.

Then there was running, which I was enjoying, and even completed the Great North Run, but ended in agony because I’d developed shin splints. So that’s out.

And because of the shin splints, I now have to be very careful about impact exercising, so that meant my second attempt at Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred ended in failure.

So then there was swimming. Which I still enjoy, greatly. But, I was getting into a bit of a rut, and finding that I was becoming bored, which I was very keen to avoid, as so far it’s the only form of exercise I can still do. So I thought, why not mix it up a bit?

I thought I could swim intensely for twenty minutes or so, and then spend another twenty minutes working on my legs, or my arms, or my abs in the gym, on their machines. But then I did some research on the gym machines, and at best, they appear to be fairly useless, and at worst, actually damaging.

Free weights, it would seem, are the way forward, but unless you’ve got your technique spot on, then the same applies – useless and damaging.

And then I came across tabata, which is (or was, it’s probably terribly passé by now) the new thing – where you exercise intensely for 20 seconds, rest for 10, and repeat for eight times. You complete one to four full sets of this (so 20 minutes in total) and apparently, this intense exercise gives you as good a result (arguably better) than an hour’s run.

I suppose I can get my head around that, but then you’ve got to work out which exercises to do in your bursts. Do you opt for cardio, such as burpees (shudder…and not great for shin splints) and jumping jacks (ditto)? Or do you throw in some leg action – squats and lunges – or some arm work – push ups and bicep curls – or ab work – bicycle crunches and toe touches? I imagine you’re meant to throw a bit of everything in there, but somehow, I feel poleaxed by the sheer choice out there. At least in the gym, you can go from one machine to the next, finish them all, and feel like you’re somehow complete. Or I can swim a mile, and feel like I’ve ticked a box.

So now I’m just confused. And not exercising.

My problem is I need structure, and even more importantly, I need to feel I’ve had an expert telling me what to do. So, tell me – keep swimming and swimming alone? Combine intense swimming with gym machines? Combine swimming with some sort of mastery of free weights at the gym? Designate swimming a pleasure activity (instead of ‘exercise’, which probably means I won’t bother at all…), and concentrate on at home tabata instead?

Sometimes, I get all doom and gloom that my body will just throw up another injury regardless of what I do or I convince myself that it doesn’t matter because I’ll get bored in a few months and give up anyway…

I find fitness blogs fascinating because these women (and men) genuinely seem to adore exercising, and they’re clearly experts in their fields – the passion just shines out of them – but I’ve yet to find what really works for me. I know exercise is really important for my physical health, and I also know it’s vital for my mental health, but I’m currently all at sea.

And don’t even get me started on healthy eating, and whether that really is more important than exercising in losing weight, which, to my mind, rather renders this whole rant moot…


Black dog days

Depression is a bitch. I know from personal experience; years of it!

I remember waking up and it feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest; that I couldn’t breathe. I remember being constantly overwhelmed by emotion, whether that was snappy irritation, irrational anger or heartbreaking tears. I remember sitting on my bedroom floor, with Momma P sitting next to me, as I sobbed my heart out over, well, not much really. Great big racking sobs that shook my whole body as I struggled to breathe and left me feeling physically exhausted. I remember coming home and just wanting to go to bed. I remember not leaving bed all day. I remember calling Momma P on the way to work and crying until I reached the tube. I remember calling my family doctor while she listened in silence to my tears.

I’ve suffered from depression at several periods in my life. The first time, I was a young teen and had just suffered from my first break up. It all sounds terribly over-dramatic and self-indulgent, but I’ve always been very emotional, and I genuinely thought my heart was broken. Within a few months, I wouldn’t say I was ticketty boo but things were looking up, and I stopped taking (with the help and advice of a doctor) the antidepressants.

When my second break up happened, several years later, I’m sorry to say I struggled again. In both periods of depression, I’d also dabbled with self-harm (specifically cutting); I say ‘dabbled’ because I strongly suspect, with hindsight, that I was only doing it because I’d read that’s what teenage girls did. I mean, if you’re really truly utterly going to cut yourself with intent, I dare say you don’t go down to the kitchen, boil the kettle, and sterilise the knife you plan to use. It wasn’t a great period in my life, and I’m 100% ashamed of it, although, arguably, there is nothing to be ashamed about mental health issues.

Anyway, I, with the help of friends and family (invaluable help!), I arrived at university antidepressant-free and had the time of my life for the next three years and met some amazing people who I love dearly.

Then, I graduated, and went to London to work for GMTV. And it was awful. To be honest, I think I realised from the very first day I walked through the door that I’d made a terrible mistake. The hours were ridiculously long (75 hour weeks, anyone?), and every three weeks I had a week of night shifts to contend with. It messed with my mind big style! London can be a very lonely city, and I suffered in the worst way.

I eventually got the help I needed, quit the job, and moved back up to Yorkshire. But I was back on the antidepressants, seeing a counsellor, and back living at home feeling like a failure. It was a tough time. The counselling really really helped, and I can’t recommend that enough. I was entitled to about six free counselling sessions through the NHS, but if I ever had some proper disposable income, I’d definitely ‘treat’ myself to weekly therapy for the rest of my life.

It’s been four years since I came back from London, and this has undoubtedly been the hardest bout of depression to battle, but I think I’m just about getting there. I made the decision about two months ago, that it was time to wean myself off the antidepressants again as I was feeling the happiest and most settled I have ever felt in my life. I’m really lucky to have the full support of Mr T and Momma P, not to mention all the other lovely people in my life, and I’ve always been open about it at work, so they’re pretty cool too.

The last few weeks haven’t been a breeze, but I am now completely off the antidepressants. I’ve found that swimming is absolutely invaluable – if I swim a mile each morning before work, it sets me up for the day; it calms me, it stimulates the all-important endorphins, and it’s also really good to combat all the ice cream I eat…

I’m also trying to be patient and kind to myself (how ‘bleurgh’ does that sound? Sorry!). I’m trying to take deep breaths before I erupt, and to take some time for myself if I’m feeling weepy. I’m not going to lie, I’m terrified that I’m turning back into a moody teenager, and that Mr T will finally realise what a horrendous mistake he’s made. It’s also really disconcerting having to deal with emotions and responses that I genuinely thought I’d sorted years ago!

Earlier this year, I took Headspace up on their offer of a free trial of their 10 day guided meditation online course, and I actually really enjoyed it, and found it very useful. Obviously, being an idiot, I didn’t renew the subscription when I had to pay, despite the fact that it costs from as little as £3.99 a month! When I was having a little stress with/at/to Momma P the other day, my phone suddenly pinged, and there was an email from Headspace offering a subscription deal. It was serendipitous and I’m now signed up for a year.

Erm, what else? I’m actually trying to take more care with the food I eat, because I know I feel better when I eat well. That being said, when I opened a healthy eating book the other day and saw they recommended you use Himalayan pink salt, I threw it across the room. I mean, honestly! I guess I’m just focusing on meat, fish, fruit and veg, and trying to limit/moderate everything else. I’m such a flaky individual, who knows how long this good intention will last?!

But I have to try. This isn’t the same as going on a diet because you want to look good in a bridesmaid dress or a bikini; to be honest, it’s not even about physical health, although that’s definitely a good side effect; what it comes down to is that if I don’t look after myself properly – exercise regularly (that’s swimming for me), eat reasonably healthily, get enough sleep and learn to be calmer with myself – I am seriously jeopardising my mental health, and the last thing I want to do is either end up on an ambulance gurney (been there, done that), or down a dark alley one night with a broken beer bottle in one hand (been there, done that), or with people I love and care about crying over me (been there, done that).

I want to live my life to its fullest. I want to love Mr T to the best of my abilities. I want to make a success of my career. I want to have kids (even though I pretend I don’t), and I want to be the best possible mother to those kids. I want to wake up every day (or at least most of them) feeling positive and powerful. And now, finally, I think I know how to achieve that. It’s not infallible. There will be blips and bumps in the road, but life will continue with me in it.

If you suffer from depression, I can’t stress enough how important it is to seek help. The NHS has great facilities and whether you opt for drugs or counselling (or both), or go down a completely alternative route, you will feel better eventually, and I do know that ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. And remember, one in four of us (I reckon it’s a much larger number actually) suffer from mental health issues at some point in our lives. You are not alone. And finally, when the black dog days are behind you, you’ll begin to see why life really is worth living.

Challenge Betsy, Health

Shin splints…

Gah! The dreaded shin splints have returned. Damn you, Jillian Michaels and your high impact cardio. It’s my own fault really. So, I suppose I shall have to forfeit the 30 Day Shred Challenge, and return to the old swimming, which I was loving anyway. I think I’ve decided to swim the length of Loch Ness this time, which, surprisingly, is further than the Channel! Who knew?!…




Culture, Health

Oh, Captain. My Captain.

Collective mourning, it’s a weird thing, isn’t it? I never met Robin Williams. Most of us didn’t but I’m willing to bet a lot of people felt a little sinking of the heart to hear that not only he passed away, but that suicide is suspected.

I’m sad because he will always be Genie in Aladdin, and Peter in Hook, and Mrs Doubtfire, and Alan Parrish in Jumanji. These are all films I adored as a child, so perhaps, psychologically, his death is another nail in coffin (excuse the metaphor) for my childhood.

Or perhaps I feel sad because he had one of those faces that just made you smile. How could you resist those twinkling eyes?

Or maybe it’s because, as someone who’s suffered from depression and taken anti-depressants for the last five years or so, I’m heartbroken to see someone so successful, with the world seemingly at his feet, finally give in and give up (if suicide is the verdict).

Or maybe it’s just sad when someone dies.

When it comes down to it, I know very little about the man, other than the roles he played, but here’s a few of my favourite quotes from him.

You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.

See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.

A woman would never make a nuclear bomb. They would never make a weapon that kills, no, no. They’d make a weapon that makes you feel bad for a while.

Men can’t fake an orgasm, who wants to look that dumb, you know what I’m saying?

I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.

Time is the best teacher, but unfortunately, it kills all of its students.

No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.

And finally…

You have been a fabulous audience! Tell you what, you’re the best audience in the whole world. Take care of yourselves! Good night, Alice! Good night, Agrabah! Adios, amigos!

Challenge Betsy, Health

Getting shredded…

Yesterday was my first day of the 30 Day Shred. Now, if you tell most people that you’re doing a home exercise DVD then you might forgive them for assuming that you’re not really doing that much. A bicep curl here, a squat press there, a swig of water here, a sit down and have a breather there. But if you know who Jillian Michaels is, then you might reassess that assumption.

Jillian Michaels is scary. She’s a trainer on The Biggest Loser, which, if you don’t know, is an insane American show where morbidly obese contestants compete to lose the most weight each week. Jillian is known for her catchphrase, ‘Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going.’

I like to think I look like this when I work out...

I like to think I look like this when I work out…

Oh yeah.

Anyway, so she released this home DVD in 2008 and it’s still on the bestseller lists. The idea is to do intense exercise for 20 minutes each day which replaces an hour or so of cardio. There are three levels, and you go up a level every 10 days. Each level consists of cardio, strength and ab exercises. The dvd case claims you could lose up to 20lbs in the 30 days. I guess that’s only the case if you don’t eat a tub of ice cream in one sitting like I do on a regular basis…

This is what I actually look like..

This is what I actually look like..

While losing weight is always a nice bonus, I’m actually doing this as another personal challenge to get me off my arse. So back to yesterday, and Day One. I guess the swimming meant my fitness levels are a bit higher, which is fortunate else I might have puked, fainted or died. As it was I simply ended up dripping in sweat and prostrate on the floor for half an hour afterwards. No exaggeration. But it sort of felt good. And then, as the day went on, and I could feel my muscles beginning to ache in recognition of some exercise, it felt better.

This morning, I persuaded Mr T to do it with me. So there we were, both in our gym kit, beach towels on the floor as temporary gym mats, windows open for a breeze, as we squatted and lunged to Jillian’s dulcet tones. I was thrilled to see he was just as red and sweaty as I was. Huzzah!

I won’t bore you with daily (or even weekly) updates. But if I manage to make it to Level Two, you’ll definitely be hearing something – probably a demand for cake!…

Have a lovely weekend all! x


Challenge Betsy, Health

Don’t pee in the pool, people!

So, I’ve been swimming a lot over the last month. And it’s been fun, mostly. I’ve lost 8lbs (woop!), but also gained some fun facts. Here you go:

  1. First up, and it’s a biggie and a no-brainer – don’t pee in the pool, people! We know this, it’s obvious, it’s also gross if you do. Why would you want to be swimming (however diluted) in someone else’s pee? Just because Olympic champion swimmer (and professional dumb ass) Ryan Lochte says swimmers always pee in pools, doesn’t mean you have to join in. And despite his thoughts that ‘[t]here’s something about getting into chlorine water that [makes] you just automatically go’, he’s wrong, ok? Chlorine water does not make you do that. That’s what bladder control is about, Ryan.
  2. Never wear a white swimming costume because it will go see through, and people will see your bits.
  3. Never wear a nude swimming costume because it will look like you’re naked and people will assume they’re seeing your bits.
  4. It is always an awesome day when locker number 007 is free.
  5. For a few hours after a swim, when you sweat you will always release a slight eau de cologne of chlorine.
  6. You will be nicknamed by your fellow swimmers. While I don’t know mine, I do know that regulars at my pool are known as Happy Slapper (slaps his hands down rather than dips), Naked Guy (see No.3), All The Gear (and presumably no idea, this swimmer has all the gadgets and still swims like a dying dog). I imagine my nickname must be something like Mesmerising Mermaid or Graceful Water Goddess. Certainly not The Hippo or The Manatee. God, I hope not!
  7. Skinny jeans are even harder to put on than usual. Not because of new bulging thigh muscles, but because of the clammy sweaty residue that clings to your body even after a cold shower and ten minutes of downtime.
  8. It is not acceptable to shave any parts of your body in the communal showers.
  9. Ditto getting naked in the communal showers.
  10. Water Zumba for the Over 60s looks like a blast!
  11. Goggles are annoying little buggers – the lenses get scratched, the straps get loose, and inevitably they let water in at some point. Also, they steam up. Ugh.
  12. You will probably find yourself goggling ‘swimming workouts’. Stop it.
  13. You find yourself racing people in the ‘slow’ and ‘medium’ lanes, because, apparently, you’ve turned into a competitive douchebag.
  14. You get righteously annoyed when you’re stuck behind someone slower than you, but feel your own steady pace is perfectly acceptable when there’s a faster swimmer up your butt.
  15. You can’t hear children scream underwater. Wow! That sounds sinister. But really, put your head (not a child’s) underwater and it’s incredibly peaceful.