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

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.



Betsy Loves, Challenge Betsy, Health

I swam the Channel!

I did it. I totally 100% did it. I have swum the Channel (in a pool, over a month). Phew! Tomorrow, I will be sharing my wisdom regarding pool etiquette, a.k.a. Do not pee in the pool.

Now I have to find a new challenge. Thoughts? Suggestions? If I carry on with the swimming, I could escape from Alcatraz, say hallloooooo to Nessy or paddle in the Nile. Currently, I’m dabbling with the idea of picking a less intense swimming challenge and throwing in Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred. I may live (or not!) to regret this…

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Challenge Betsy

That awkward moment

We’ve all been there, unless you’re extraordinarily lucky. You know, that moment when someone waves to you, and you wave back, and then you realise that they were waving to someone behind you.

Ugh. That moment. That moment that happened to me this morning at the swimming pool.

I’d chatted briefly to this one guy while my body recovered from the unexpected exercise I’m putting it through, then off I went again, trying not to drown.

A few minutes later, I was at the deep end. Recovering. Again. Have I mentioned I’m pretty blind? And I don’t wear contacts. So when I saw some guy wave to me as he left the pool, I stupidly thought it was the chap I’d been chatting to. I waved back. I’m polite like that. Then, on an instinct, turned my head, and realised this guy was waving to the very pretty young blonde lifeguard sitting high up behind me. She sniggered a bit (I don’t blame her; I probably would have), I sank as low as I could in the pool, took a deep breath and tried to regain my confidence with a far too fast length of front crawl.

I have to go back tomorrow. I still have 15 days of channel swimming left. Sigh…

Challenge Betsy, Health

That time I swam the Channel (not really, but sort of!)

Sometimes it’s healthy to realise you have enough going on in your life to not add any more complications, and sometimes it’s a great idea to challenge yourself a little.

This month, I’m being challenged; and it’s proving tough. I’m a good(ish) swimmer. I never mastered butterfly, but I can hold my own in frontcrawl, breaststroke, and backcrawl; I once swam a mile in Lake Windermere to raise money for charity; I used to swim on various school teams. But that’s as far as I go.

A few weeks ago, Mr T’s brother (T3) told me he was thinking about swimming the Channel. ‘The Channel?’ I replied. ‘The actual Channel?’ I was reassured that ‘no’, not the actual Channel, but in fact, 22 miles in a swimming pool spread out over the period of three months.

Now I know I could NEVER swim the Channel. There are many reasons for this. Number one, big bodies of open water scare me; if I can’t see the bottom, I begin to have issues. Number two, sharks; don’t try to tell me they don’t come into the Channel because I know they do, ok? Number three, continuously swimming for 22 hours would probably kill me and I’m not that strong.

So, the actual Channel aside, I thought this sounded like a pretty cool challenge, except, in my infinite wisdom (and arrogance?…) I decided I’d do it in a month. So this means swimming a mile Monday to Friday in my local pool, which takes me about 45 minutes. I’m on Day Four, and I’m tired. So very tired. I also carry a lingering scent of chlorine.

One of the things keeping me going is this awesome app from Speedo where you can log in your challenge, and then it shows you your progress in the actual Channel; admittedly at the moment I’m bobbing depressingly close to Dover still, but I’ll get there!

Was it a great idea to challenge myself? Who knows, but I do know it’s going to be a very tough month!