I know, I know. This is something you never expected to read on my blog. But hear me out.
It’s no secret that 2016 took its toll on me in terms of health. Some of it I am not quite ready to write about, and some of it I wrote about openly. By the end of 2016 I knew that I had to make major changes to improve not only my physical health, but also my mental health.
My physical health
Now let me tell you something about me that you’ve probably already guessed: I am the least sporty human being you will ever meet. No, really. I’m even worse than that other person you just thought of. In high school I was forced to play netball because I was tall, and I was awful at it. I used to amp myself up to go to practice by telling myself that I can read afterwards, or use our super slow Internet to look up celebrity fashion. I was forever wishing that it would rain so that our games would be cancelled. Don’t even get me started on the shitshow that was summer sport.
I’ve always been naturally slim, and so I never really felt the need to do anything ‘sporty’. Okay wait, that’s a lie. During my varsity years I gained a lot of weight because of unhealthy eating, and because I was living my best booze life as a student. #NoRagrets (Ironically I don’t even drink alcohol anymore, except for the odd gin and tonic every other month.)
But basically, for the majority of my life, I’ve been able to ride on the coattails of my genes. And for a long time I thought that just because I wasn’t gaining weight, that I was healthy.
When I moved to Cape Town I decided to change this. So I started going for walks on the Promenade. At first I did it in my ‘normal’ clothes, but then I started getting into it – walking faster and pushing a bit harder. I then bought myself a pair of Nike trainers and made an effort to go for walks at least 3 – 4 times a week. I loved it. It may not have been the hardest exercise, but it did wonders for my psyche and kept me relatively fit.
I was enjoying it until I let people’s comments about it get to me. I was told that walking isn’t real exercise, and that I needed to do more. So I went back to the drawing board.
This is what I came up with:
I decided to go for a run on the Promenade. Literally every person in Cape Town is a runner, so why can’t I be one? Because I hate it, that’s why.
Apparently running releases tension and gives you endorphins. All I felt was existential dread.
Here’s some CCTV footage of me running.
Adamant to stay away from the gym, I looked for other forms of exercise. Pole dancing is excellent exercise, and it’s all about building upper-body strength while jamming to cool music.
It’s also a massively social environment, filled with chatty girls in crop tops and shorts and a cramped space where you need to share a pole. I only went to two lessons and my introvert meter almost exploded.
It was definitely not right for me, but I do think that if you’re a social person – it’s a pretty awesome way to do exercise.
Yoga is fantastic for getting rid of stress, clearing your head and toning. But it can also get really pricey, which is why I ended up doing the one thing I tried avoiding from the start…
In July 2016, I started feeling the winter blues quite heavily, and I knew that exercise would alleviate it a bit. My boyfriend had always been really into his gymming, but it never really appealed to me. I’m not a competitive person, and I don’t like other people in my space – so gym just didn’t make sense to me. But I could no longer go to the Promenade due to the rain, pole dancing wasn’t my vibe and yoga was too expensive. So I did the one thing I never thought I’d do: I signed up for a Virgin Active gym membership.
I did thorough research on which gyms are the most crowded in the city area, and eventually found out that the one at the new Christiaan Barnard Hospital is beautifully modern and relatively quiet. I asked them to give me two vouchers to try out the gym before signing up, and I took J-P with me for moral support.
Here’s what I learned that day:
- The bathrooms at the gym are AMAZING. Big, beautiful back-lit mirrors, clean showers and hairdryers and straighteners in the locker rooms.
- There are so many options for cardio – in my head I was stuck on treadmills and rowing machines, but there are lots of other options.
- Gym, or specifically the one I go to, isn’t as much of a competitive space I thought it would be. In fact, no one really even looks at each other. Everyone is there to take care of themselves.
- My body is ridiculously long and I had to adjust every single machine to accommodate it.
- Normal people sweat from their armpits, maybe a bit of hairline sweat or a lekker SULA (sweaty upper lip alert). Me? I get bum sweat. You know, because my body is forever out to embarrass me.
- I don’t want anyone to see me naked in the locker room, nor do I want to see anyone naked.
- I was never ready. J-P pushed me so hard that first night that I had to go to the bathroom to lie down, because I started seeing spots and almost fainted. #TrueStory
So did I go back?
Yes, because I learned that the rumours were true. Gym truly is for everyone.
And so I started going to gym 2 times a week. I know this wasn’t nearly enough, but my work schedule was hectic (I worked at two offices in two different suburbs every day) and I struggled to go more often.
My aim was never to lose weight, but to clear my head, tone up and get fit. For the first few months J-P went with me and forced me to push myself. It was hard. I often left gym with bruises and blisters on my tail bone from rowing. But having him by my side gave me more confidence, and helped me to learn my way around the gym.
Then my insomnia started, and things came to a halt.
Suddenly I was only sleeping 3 hours a night, which forced me to sleep after work. I was literally too tired to go to gym. I tried a few times, and I was so exhausted that I had no physical strength to do cardio or even lift a basic weight.
During that time I went to a few doctors for help, and one of them suggested that I stop working out for a while or attempt to go in the mornings before work. He had a theory that I was going to gym too late, and that adrenaline was staying in my body too long – adding to my insomnia. So from the end of November until the end of December I stopped for a while, desperate to find any reason for what was happening to me.
Taking care of my mental health
In 2016 most of my money went towards medical bills. It was such a strange year for me, because I only took one sick day the whole year – yet I was never truly healthy. Most of my issues were related to the female reproductive system (thanks, Eve) and as painful as they were, I could somehow tolerate them.
But as you all know, I didn’t feel the same way about my insomnia.
So by the end of last year, when I was at wit’s end, I went to a doctor who I was told is a “hormone expert”. He turned out to be a normal GP with a deeper understanding of the role hormones play in the body.
I’m going to be honest: I expected a miracle. Instead I got SUPER expensive supplements and advice to go off The Pill.
The supplements were a monumental waste of time and money. But ditching The Pill made a huge difference in terms of my mood, irrational aggression and my overall outlook on life. I’d like to write about this in a separate article, because I have a lot to say about this topic and I think it could help a lot of women. I’ll save that for another day, though.
By the end of December 2016, I wasn’t gymming, sleeping or seeing any results from the supplements. So I decided to flush them down the toilet (it was incredibly satisfying), go back to gym and see a psychiatrist.
I know everyone has their opinion on this, but here’s mine: I have fokkol time for holistic approaches to mental health, and no amount of green tea or supplements will cure my insomnia or depression. I understand that adjusting your diet could assist with it, and I also believe that getting endorphins and serotonin from exercise are great. But do I believe these things on their own are enough? Definitely not on my level.
So in January I went to the psychiatrist, got the meds I needed and moved on with my life.
Where I am now
I’ve only been on the antidepressants for a week, and it’s taking me some time to get used to it. I’ve had some spells of dizziness, and my mood has dipped on some days (due to the fact that my body is adjusting to the serotonin) and I’ve been dreaming some weird stuff. But I truly believe that in the long run I’ll be okay. I believe in the power of medicine, and I believe in myself. I’ve always been a really ambitious person, and for a while last year I let my sadness consume that part of me. But I am done with that.
I started gymming again, and I am really proud to say that I’ve managed to maintain a routine of 3 times a week. My legs are toning up, my resting heart rate is healthy and I am taking care of my body. Am I super fit and the ultimate gym queen? LOL, definitely not. Do I want to enter a marathon? Not the hell. That’s not what it’s about for me. I just want to know that I am taking care of my body.
I also learnt something really important from three fellow bloggers; patience.
I’ve been following Talya Goldberg’s fitness journey on her Instagram since last year, and I love that she’s so honest about reaching her goals. She posted sometime last year about how her fitness was a gradual process, and how she still indulged in delicious treats every now and then. It’s a breath of fresh air to not just see “I lost 5kgs in one week!!!” photos.
Gun Run part II.. so i didn’t really have a game plan for Gun Run other than divide it up into x4 5km segments, not think about anything beyond that 5km & just knock them off. had looked at the map to see where start was, trust me to have read it backwards though 😂 first 3km realised i had gone out waaay too fast, mainly due to claustrophobia, trying to get some space. first 9km were okay, saw Kloof Road gradient, LOL’d & started walking which it seemed 75% of people were doing. km’s 12 & 13 were fun cos i loveeee downhills. got to Camps Bay turnaround point – nausea pill had clearly worn off & i felt like i was going to be so sick. what followed felt like self torture. at 18km i came soo close to switching off my watch & walking home (which was just up the road) but knew i would be so mad at myself if i quit, so in my mind, a compromise was that i just had to finish, even if i walked it all. the best thing about the whole day happened in the last 1km though, bumped into @thisiscath & @stacerehbock & somehow ran the last lil bit with them. at the end my time was 11 minutes slower than my best 21km, 11 min didn’t seem like a lot to me before i started running, but it really is a lot, especially when you want to be getting faster. was really frustrated, disappointed, feeling so over running & races & tracking time when i finished. got home, threw up twice (TMI? 😬 ha) & then slept for a solid 20 hours. urgh how do i have so much to say.. part III about what i’ve taken away from the experience coming later ✌️️ *photo obvs not an accurate depiction of what i felt or looked like 📷 @ashortgirlsworld
Then there’s Shante Hutton, whose post-baby body is right up there with Chrissy Teigen’s. Her post is once again proof that time and patience are some of the most important parts of getting in shape.
So this is me 🌿9 months post baby 🌿2 years from starting to incorporate exercise into my life 🌿7 years from losing 10kg (in a really unhealthy way & I’m constantly trying to fight that) … You’d think that with a Dad who used to be a personal trainer I’d be more inclined to like exercising. Ha. It’s taken me a long time to actually enjoy the buzz of a workout but more importantly, it’s taken me a long time to find something that I enjoy doing. I’ve tried running. But seriously, why? I’ve tried yoga but it’s not busy enough for me. When I was pregnant, I did walking exercises everyday because that was all I could do without feeling as though my hips were dislocating. Now, I’ve found a mix of cardio, kick-boxing and HIT YouTube videos (Body Project) and it’s got me all kinds of excited – I think the Bandit can’t quite believe it either. Oh it’s no picnic. There are so many days I don’t want to put on my gear but I just think of all the benefits that exercise has given me – great recovery after birth – able to run after a very active baby – less illness – can eat a jar of Nutella and not feel too guilty about it 😛 So I’m really trying. And I’m really starting to see what all the fuss is about. 💪🏼You exercise types might be on to something and I hope I can stay the course. For all of you who are trying to get fit/stay fit – GO GET EM TIGER!!🐅 ……… #workout #fit #healthy #exercise #mom #baby #youcandoit (And yes, I’m wearing @woolworths_sa men’s boxers because they are ridiculously comfortable)
Lastly, there’s Aqeelah Harron Ally who recently wrote a post about her PCOS – a post I knew took courage to post. I loved this part of her article, where she said that she made a commitment to do moderate exercise every week and how it improved her health significantly.
“When 2016 came around I made the commitment to myself to be healthier and I really stuck with it. I strictly took my multivitamins each day and made sure I exercised 2-3 times a week. Not hectic exercise. Just some exercise, be it a class at gym or following a bodyweight YouTube workout video or some light yoga. I made the specific point to accept healthier eating and exercise as part of my life, non-negotiable. I was never raised to be active, or forced to eat my vegetables and it really came down to retraining my mind and body to know and do better, even if I did feel clumsy and weird and like I didn’t know what I was doing. Except for one bout of food poisoning, despite overworking myself in 2016 I never fell sick, not even with the winter flu.” Read more here.
What I want you to take from this
- You need to look after yourself no matter what. In 2016 I put so many things and people first, and it came at a very high price. Listen to your body and take care of it. Everything else can wait.
- Any exercise is better than no exercise. Everyone who so smugly looked down on my Promenade walks can truly kiss my ass.
- There’s something out there for everyone. Whether it’s surfing, rollerblading, dancing, hiking or rowing – you’ll find something.
- Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Don’t ignore it, and don’t let things fester. I understand that it is extremely difficult to reach out when you are in a bad space, but I promise you that even speaking to one other human being about what you’re going through will make you feel better.
- And then most importantly: I still hate running. BYE
Thank you for all the supportive emails, Twitter DMs and Facebook messages I received after my post about insomnia last year. I got such incredible advice and insights from all of you, and you made me feel less alone in a time when I felt like an alien in my own body. Thank you for having my back.