This post is about my fitness journey. The peaks and troughs from my teens to my thirties, and how I've managed to finally find a balance that suits me, and a mindset that will hopefully set me up for good health later in life too.
My hope is that you may identify with some of the stumbling blocks I have come across, and how I've overcome them, so that you can reach a happy balance too.
In my childhood
I've always seen myself as a moderately fit person.
Although I've never been particularly skilled, and I knew I would never be the top of the class, or make a career of anything fitness related.
As a teenager on our school hockey tour, I described my hockey skills as - what I lacked in skill, I made up for in enthusiasm.
My Dad has always been a big fitness inspiration for me, and that is how we spent most of our father - daughter time. We'd either go cycling, to the gym or he'd make my friends and me do the bleep test in the garden all Summer.
The biggest issue for me growing up was that I wasn't very competitive...at all.
I went to Judo for months and never progressed from white-belt because I never had that competitive spirit that would make me want to throw my judo partner around. Despite my fathers encouragement, and being black belt.
I always wanted to be a gymnast, but couldn't even do a cartwheel, which the other girls in the gymnasium found hilarious, and teased me for. So that aspiration didn't last very long!
I was encouraged to take part in cross country running, going as far as County trials, but I never enjoyed it, and just didn't have that fire to make me want to beat my times, or other runners.
Hockey was different, I loved it, but was forced to stop playing because it clashed with the school orchestra practice times. As they had enough hockey players, but not enough violinists. So by the time I was in my late teens and had stopped playing violin so much, I had very little skill in hockey (not that I could have ever been that good!).
I loved the team spirit, and with a group of people I could feel competitive. It was about US, not ME.
As part of our fitness regime for our hockey tour to New Zealand aged 17, we were signed up to a step aerobics class held in the gymnasium by our Spanish teacher. This was my first experience of a fitness class and I LOVED it. I was instantly hooked, as it had all my favourite things, we were a group, there was loud music and it was FUN.
This is what fired my passion for fitness classes. It's my favourite form of exercise at home.
On to my twenties...
Like lots of people my twenties passed in a bit of a blur.
I dabbled in fitness classes, trying spin, aqua-aerobics etc but never really committed for a few legitimate reasons.
The issue with my twenties was that I never lived in any one place for more than 2 years.
I alternated between home and University while studying, then moved my whole life to Cornwall on my own. I had no friends, and didn't know anyone there. Thankfully Matt joined me 6 months later, but it did take time to settle in.
This was followed by more location moves, as we tried to get jobs closer and closer to home.
My focus was on my career, and settling into the new places we lived. I accepted jobs with long commutes, because it was part of the ladder to get me where I wanted to be.
This meant except for holidays, our work-life balance was shifted significantly towards work, which is what I had grown up to believe was the right thing.
I remember speaking to a colleague who chose to work part time, despite having no children or family commitments. He did it to allow himself to have just enough money to pay the bills, while also pursuing his hobbies. I thought he was mad! He was wasting earning potential and career progression.
Little did I know that less than 10 years later I would be doing the same.
Anyway... back to the fitness!
The point is, while I did the odd fitness class, and in some places walked to work every day, it wasn't my focus. Nor was it a regular part of my daily life. And I could get away with it, I was lucky to have a pretty good metabolism so even though I didn't feel particularly healthy, I wasn't putting on weight either.
And in to my thirties
So we reach my thirties. I still cling onto that notion that I'm moderately fit, despite not doing any regular exercise for the past 10 years. Funny how your mind works that way isn't it? I think I will be eternally 21 in my head.
The combination of loss, and turning thirty did something to me, it made me realise my own mortality. And I'm not alone in this, with a lot of women in their thirties starting to visit the doctor more regularly than they used to.
The turning point was November 2016, almost a year ago.
We had been trying to get pregnant for over 18 months and were under the fertility clinic with some possible issues, but none confirmed.
We had a hard time with 'actively trying' - as in having sex when you HAD TO not when you WANTED TO based on your cycle and ovulation. This had put pressure on us as a couple, and also me during my dreaded (and frequently late) periods, because it had all been for nothing. And that hope of - it will be worth it - vanishing for yet another month.
October/November 2016 felt different. It was 6 months into changing my work pattern to 4 days a week (to try and reduce stress, and allow myself to pursue my hobby - this blog), and we had a few nice things booked. A trip to Amsterdam and a weekend away.
I had ovulated that month, which was rare, and everything just seemed to happen naturally, we were in a good place. I was SURE this month was the month.
Looming over me was also the one year anniversary of our chemical pregnancy. I had got pregnant in the October/November 2015, and lost it the first week of December. Despite not being pregnant for very long, this had been especially traumatic for me in the midst of the infertility diagnosis, because I felt my body had blown our only chance.
So it felt serendipitous that everything was aligning just right, and that we would get pregnant that month.
...And my period was late.
But it still came, it just added a week of false hope to boot, so that when it did arrive my disappointment was even deeper. Which is pretty much how I'd spent the last 18 months.
I was sick and tired, physically and emotionally.
I couldn't do it anymore, I realised the efforts to get pregnant and start a family were eating away at me - my mental health, my overall well being, and even my relationships with my family and friends.
Because I was no longer the positive happy person they knew, I was lethargic, short tempered and had become a little reclusive too (this is something I still struggle with at times, but it is a lot better than it was).
We decided we had to do something about it. I wasn't prepared to ruin my life in the hope of something that might never happen.
It was time to face facts, get real, and focus on myself.
After all what good would I be to a child if I got pregnant in that state anyway? And if no children ever came I didn't want to be unhealthy and ostracized from my friends and family too (totally of my own doing).
So we decided to stop trying to get pregnant for the next 6 months. And also asked the fertility to delay any referrals to the IVF clinic.
Getting back into it
That weekend we booked a 3 week surf holiday to the Maldives for May 2017, and I set myself a goal to get fit, and have a 'beach body' by the time we went.
I certainly had enough incentive. What nobody tells you about surf resorts, is that the few women there are athletic, slim and look like they could be on the cover of sports illustrated, or a surf magazine. Which had always made me feel self conscious in the past.
Setting the goal of a 'beach body' is something I would usually be wary of as shallow, and missing the point of fitness, and health. BUT I needed a distraction, and I hoped it would improve both my mental and physical health at the same time.
So I researched local gyms which had the variety and availability of classes that would suit my work rota, and signed up that month.
The issue is that despite having a goal, incentive and a timescale I didn't have a plan or a routine.
My aim was to attend 3 evening classes a week, focusing on spinning, because that is what I enjoyed most.
I had learned from previous fitness kicks not to try joining with a friend. I knew I had to do this for myself.
May came and I hadn't really reached my goal. I certainly didn't have the beach body I envisaged, but I did feel a lot better in myself.
We got back from the Maldives and although I felt a lot better in myself thanks to exercise, and new medication (I had been put on thyroxine in February which made me feel better on numerous levels as well as regulating my periods). But I was still feeling sad about our recent infertility diagnosis that February, and I felt like I needed to do more.
My fitness revolution
One week I had an especially heavy work load, and I wasn't able to go to the gym at all. This was getting more and more frequent. I also needed to be especially productive on my day off, and didn't like the idea of going to an evening class as it made my day disjointed and meant I'd be cooking late.
So I reluctantly signed up to a morning class, thinking it would be a one off just to keep on top of exercise.
This was the game changer.
I had turned down morning classes with friends so many times - because "I'm really not a morning person", and now here I was attending them of my own accord.
I had finally found something that worked for me.
I found that when I aimed to go after work, I would always end up having a bad day, or missing my lunch. So I would get to the end of the day and make excuses not to exercise.
I also didn't like waiting until the end of they day on my day off, as I felt it would loom over me all day and limit my other plans.
By shifting my routine to go to the gym in the mornings I had no excuse, except from sleeping through my alarm!
I allow myself just 15 minutes to get ready, that way I know I won't snooze and drift back to sleep. It also gives me a sense of urgency in the mornings, which I need because I find it difficult to wake up.
I am home before my alarm would usually go off for work, so I can also take my time in the mornings, which is a luxury because I am usually the type of person who sacrifices breakfast for those extra 10 minutes.
And I feel so much better for it, I have a sense of calm that comes over me through the day.
I can go home, and have the evening totally to myself to do whatever I like. No sense of guilt that I should be exercising.
I can also tell a big difference from my FitBit on the days I get up to exercise. I never realised how sedentary my job was until I noticed I struggle to burn 1800 calories on a work day without exercise. This gives me an extra incentive to get up and go to the gym, because I know if I don't I will consume more calories than I am burning, which explained why I had gradually been putting on weight.
In fact by regularly exercising and taking our own lunches to work I have lost a stone since our Amsterdam trip. Not that I focus on weight, but the IVF clinic looks at your BMI before issuing treatment, and I was getting dangerously close to the limit, whereas now I am comfortably within it.
I'd still like that 'beach body', but I'm also realistic with it. I look back through old photos of me aged 17 in New Zealand, probably the fittest I've ever been. And I don't have a perfect beach body even then, so am I really going to get one now? Not without having a different body!
My mindset has changed to see exercise as a tonic, even when I'm working. I always loved exercise before I started working full time. But stress does strange things to you and makes you stop liking things you used to, and turns things that are bad for you into a comfort.
I try to reject stress where I can, and focus on exercise and living as well as I can. Being more strict with myself and my routines, because as hard as they are to stick to, I know I'll feel better for it.
And not relying on others to help me feel better. This was an excuse I always used in my 20's not to exercise. Because I had no one to go with, or if my friend who I'd signed up to a class with couldn't go, I would bail too.
This time around I go to the gym on my own and for myself. I don't rely on anyone else to motivate or encourage me. It comes from within, as a tonic to sooth my demons.
So, by challenging my own doubts and shifting my routine I have realised I CAN be a morning person, and I CAN enojoy exercise again.
By studying my daily routines, and using tools like my FitBit I am more informed of what I actually do so that I can remedy it. As opposed to drifting day to day using the same old excuses and never getting anywhere.
I am by no means at my goal yet, but this shift in mindset and routines feels like half the battle, which is why I wanted to share it with you.
My hope is that by February I will be able to run the half marathon I have signed up to, with friends to help raise money for a local cancer charity (who have been helping our friend through his treatment). An added inspiration for this is my Mum, who completed it last year in 3 hours with little to no training other than long walks! (Go Mum).
If I could simplify this advice it would be to really look at yourself, how you're feeling, what you want to change, and how you live your life day to day.
Assess your situation and challenge yourself to change simple things like the time of day you go to the gym, who you go with, what exercise you do. It may seem difficult or pointless at the beginning, but it's only by trying different ways and challenging your pre-conceived ideas that you can really find something that works for you, instead of making the same mistakes over and over.
I hope you've found this post interesting, or it has provided you with some inspiration or comfort that we all find it challenging. I will be following up with a quick round up of the gym kit I like to use, and also a much shorter bullet point list of how I would recommend people try and get back into fitness, as someone who is in that struggle themselves.