The Bigger Picture: Exercise

From time to time, I will feel the need going forward to write about other things than poetry.

According to the way in which BMI is measured I am, right now, eligible for the above programme.

Except, I am in the best shape of my entire adult life, can deadlift 65 kg and bench press close to 45 kg. I still get breathless going upstairs at certain times of the day, because of the way my body works. In essence, I’m a train: it needs a while for me to get going, and then I can work for hours. It’s also taken nearly six years of incredibly painful, mental and physical challenge to get this far, and to understand what one body is capable of achieving. 12 weeks of support, to be honest, seems like a bit of an insult. Being healthy needs to become a full-time commitment, and trying to make schemes best fit for most people is often doomed to failure.

Exercise is also not the answer for everyone. Throwing terms like ‘fat’ and ‘thin’ about is insulting to so many, and using BMI as a benchmark is increasingly being cited as a damaging and dangerous. The key, undoubtedly, are measurements like biometrics, and a genuine understanding that not all human beings are born the same. I’ll never be ‘normal’, after all, because my body’s a lot longer than most people’s and my legs are shorter than many others, and it is high time that we stop using old-fashioned labels to try and define fitness. I really hope in the next 10 years that there’s a move away from ‘wellness’ as a visually-defined ideal. People are not all created equal.

My last Biometric reading, before Christmas 2021

Since I started at my gym, as you can see, I’ve put on nearly 10 kilos. Most people go to exercise in order to lose weight as a path to health and fitness. Not me. I’m here to fulfil my weightlifting ambitions, and become a better cyclist. In the last six years I’ve completed numerous bike events (including Ride London) and last year I completed my first 10 km run. In all this time, there’s been a running battle between body and brain, one that has lost me friends and caused numerous amounts of emotional grief. You are not exercising to fulfil someone else’s idea of happy, or indeed fit. You should be doing it to give yourself happiness, with an improved quality of life.

If exercise does not do this, the answer may not lie in being what other people think is acceptable or beautiful, and this is why I think more Gyms need to be putting mental health front and centre in their wellness plans. What is it that stops you from achieving your goals? Why do you eat in the first place? What changes would you like to make, not only to be healthier, but to feel mentally more capable of changing your life? Just giving someone 12 weeks to change and no support or motivation to do so is not helpful. I’d love to see more Personal Trainers with Mental Health First Aid qualifications, and more Pharmacists with the same.

This has never just been about eating less and exercising more, even though that’s basically the point you need to reach to succeed.

At the start of the month, my Gym awarded me the title PT Hero after deciding that I’d worked quite hard and deserved some recognition. They presented me this in a packed exercise class, which was good practice for the day when I do indeed win a Poetry Award and I don’t crumble to dust with the attention. It also made me realize that, in all my adult life, I never really felt I’d achieved something until someone else took the time to tell me so. I have medals, I’ve fundraised over £1000 for mental health charities, but nothing thus far feels as important as this, and that’s odd when I spend a lot of time not getting worried about other people.

It makes me ask the question: why does this matter? Normally I’d take time to work that out but not today. Achievement and representation are not the same thing. For decades, I hated exercise, found it hard and stressful, because I could not push past the idea I had to look and act a certain way. Once the tyranny of appearance was dealt with, and once I started seeing women like me being given greater prominence in the wider world, it was easier to believe that this was acceptable, that I could be the strong, capable woman I had always wanted to be but never known where to find.

All the awards in the world are not as important as being respected and encouraged as a strong and capable person.

I am tired of the manufactured Influencer outlook, so many people have, on life. I want to hear about failure, and stress and concerns because only by knowing other people feel like we do does anyone ever get anywhere. It’s not about being at the top of a pile and looking down: we all need to lift each other up, help collectively to improve life and wellbeing for everyone. If my Award inspires someone, if my exercise chat makes someone thing or maybe just sharing the Sky article changes someone’s view, it’s worth talking about. I am also tired of people shouting at each other, as if knowing the ‘right’ answer will help everybody in the long run anyway.

We need to stop telling, and start showing what matters most.

I Don’t Like Mondays

Learning how to take criticism is a life-long journey. Sometimes, it is simpler as a writer to just switch off and ignore everybody, but there are also moments in the development process where the right commentary can completely alter the momentum of a project. For many successful writers, Social media is a place you simply don’t go to. There’s a very good reason for that, and it is seen every day, often with quite depressing regularity from the same group of destructive, morally ambiguous users. Those who now feel their voice is more important than anything else, and will comment relentlessly on anything which they feel an opinion is warranted on, are slowly eroding away centuries of conventions that have kept many institutions afloat.

Criticism relies on some fundamental principles to remain relevant and useful.

Philosophy underpins much of what I am: it should be the same for everybody, but for some, all that matters undoubtedly, is the self and nothing more. Having a reasonable debate with such people can become impossible face to face, so one anonymity is introduced the entire delicately balanced structure will come crashing down. If you don’t grasp the basic concept of the Social Contract, I’d urge taking some time on Wikipedia and other sources to learn about Jean-Jacques Rousseau, because this is a fundamental part of existence that really does matter quite a lot, and extends into pretty much every aspect of our current lives.

Grasping criticism effectively comes from the realisation that your work and your ego are two different things. A criticism of content is not a personal attack, just as a disagreement over ideas or beliefs should not become a fight. Once one is able to establish basic tenets of existence (everyone is equal, regardless of sex, ethnicity and religious belief) all of this should be a simple, hassle-free process. However, that’s not been the case for… well, since that bloke came down a mountain with a bunch of carved tablets which were supposed to keep everybody in check.

Rules only have relevance if everybody sticks by them.

In reality, with so many people now granted a voice that can be heard in places that would never previously have been the case, the rules of our Social Contract on Social media are distorting and warping. Lies and truth become the same thing because individuals are unable to distinguish where one starts and the other ends. Is this country an enemy, or a friend? Is this leader asking for peace because they want it, or have circumstances dictated the need to change direction? What set of circumstances have pushed this movement to emerge now, and why did this not happen years previously? So much of life is filled with questions, yet few people take the time or thought to consider the answers.

Most days, people complain about what upsets them the most.


April 14-20th is Mental Awareness Week, and it is really rather important that everybody, regardless of their own personal issues, grasps how society as a whole is contributing to slow, overall disintegration by refusing to think outside our own lives and issues. Criticism should be an essential part of the creative process, and yet so many people now refuse to take the concept on board. Without it, you will never grow and improve, but most importantly of all, you will lose respect from those who, in many cases, simply wish to help and support.

Learning to deal with contention, now more than ever before is vital to developing as a better human being.

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