Physical activity and personal fortitude

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At the core of every change in my life, there has always been physical activity.

In high school, it was every single sport. When I first moved to Vancouver as a teen, it was long solo bike rides, and intramural basketball. When I went through a rough breakup in my 20s, I turned to yoga. When I moved to Toronto 3 years ago, I took up running again. And recently, I’ve been working more and more on strength training.

Exercise is always there in one form or another, but when I’m seeking real change in other areas of my life, I usually undertake some kind of measurable physical challenge.
The past year has been filled with a lot of uncertainty. I left my job, and spent a lot of time hopping back and forth between Toronto and the West Coast, wondering what to do next. And because I needed something in my life that I felt sure of, I trained for my first ultramarathon. With all of the things in my life that were beyond my control, or that seemed nebulous and unsure, this was one major challenge that I could diligently work towards, that wasn’t entangled with the same complications as all of the other decisions in my life. I could just run. And in running a great distance, I could prove to myself that I had the fortitude, strength, and discipline to accomplish this one big thing, even if I was feeling a little lost about where to direct my energies in my career, and in daily life.

Then the fall hit, and I spent a lot of time travelling, and I fell a little out of my routine. I took a break from running because of injury, and took a break from the gym because I was mostly out of town. And that’s fine. Sometimes our bodies need rest, and sometimes as people, we just need a break from commitments and routine. But a month in, I was getting antsy. And I finally made some decisions about my life. For years, I’ve been saying, “I want to live in Toronto AND in BC! I want to work on all of these side projects! I want variety in my life!”, but instead of doing anything about it, I kind of just put the idea that I could make that happen on a shelf, and kept looking for a full-time job that I knew that I would never be fully satisfied with. Why? Because trying to do things differently is scary. TBH, every week I waffle back and forth between feeling like this is a great idea, and everything is going to be amazing, and thinking that it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m going to be broke as fuck, and actually just fucked in general if I keep thinking that full-time freelance is going to be a thing that I can do without just completely burning out while at the same time not getting anywhere. And by the way, who do I even think I am anyways? JUST GET A JOB, DUMMY.

But there is one important thing that I can do that always makes me feel better and stronger and more capable; that let’s me know deep in my bones that I’ve made the right decision; and that I know what I’m doing. And that thing is physical activity. Yes, there is also maintaining relationships with friends, and informational interviews, and hustle, and eating right, and other forms of self care. But nothing makes me feel so completely in control of my own destiny, and empowered and sure of my own strength, as overcoming physical goals. So I’m back at the gym, five days a week. I’m back running three times a week. I’m rowing, and lifting weights, and sprinting up hills. I’m pushing myself until my muscles shake and my lungs burn. And it’s not because I want to fit into a dress, or lose weight, or get my body beach ready. It’s because physical activity gives me a clarity of mind that I just can’t get anywhere else. And somehow, the more I build physical strength, the more this strength of body somehow spills over into strength in every other aspect of my life as well. It’s like I’m physically building myself a well that I can draw on for the energy that I need in other parts of my life.

I know that if physical activity isn’t a part of your every day life, that it can be really hard to get started. Maybe you’ve never been active; maybe you were teased as a kid and you hated sports; maybe you recently had a baby and you feel estranged from your own body; maybe you just think that exercise is stupid and it doesn’t fit in with your personal narrative about yourself.

I’m going to make you a promise though – if you find one physical thing that you think you could possibly like, and just try it for a while, let’s say once a week for three months to start, you will start to notice a change. Not necessarily in the way you look. You might not lose weight, or get swole, or have a thigh gap. But you will feel differently. Slowly that thing that you were dreading will become something that you look forward to. The thing that was so hard will become easy. And over time, your body will surprise you. Rather than being a fleshy vessel that you inhabit, it will become a source of personal fortitude.

So this blog post is part personal essay, part challenge. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active, or you’ve never been active at all, give yourself the space to just give it a try. Not to “get fit”, or fast, or slim, or whatever, but to build your well. I know that getting started sucks, but I promise that one day down the road you will wake up and realize that physical activity has changed your life. All you have to do is keep showing up.

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Mental health and community

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Photo by Academy of Lions

Thank god for community.

If you’ve read through a few of my blog posts, you probably know that I am a person who lives with a generalized anxiety disorder. And that every now and then, this is also coupled with depression.

Under usual circumstances, I am very careful about balancing my life so that I can mitigate the negative effects of these mental health issues. But over the winter, I was unemployed, and broke, I let my gym membership lapse, I got a month long severe sinus cold – which further interfered with seeing friends and physical activity – and I fell into a depression.

For me, and I’m sure for many people, my anxiety and depression manifest themselves as a complete withdrawal from the things that matter the most to me, and incredible amounts of insecurity and self doubt. From a logical standpoint, I know that the things that I am thinking about myself are irrational and untrue, but this doesn’t make them any easier to deal with.

When I’m in the depths of depression, every venture outside of my house feels like a farce. Every interaction with anyone who matters (whether friend or colleague) feels like I am putting on a one woman show of “someone who is ok”. And when I do let it slip that I am not coping all that well, I get so incredibly nervous that I am coming across as needy/incompetent/a mess, that I completely fumble my thoughts and words, so that I am met with confused head tilts, which only makes matters worse.

I wouldn’t consider myself spiritual, and I don’t believe in THE SECRET, but I have had enough experiences where “the universe” gives me exactly what I need, that I do believe in serendipity, and also the general goodness of the humans around me.

I was sitting at home yesterday thinking to myself, I NEED TO GET A REGULAR WORKOUT SCHEDULE AGAIN, OR MY MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES ARE GOING TO BURY ME. Then later that afternoon, I got an email letting me know that Academy of Lions would now be offering Community Classes; I immediately signed up for three this week. Just knowing that I would be having a solid workout in a gym that I really love, and that I would be able to access classes regularly even in my incredibly broke state, took such a burden off my shoulders. I went to class that afternoon, and a few minutes in, I could already feel the fog lifting. For me, really serious exercise is not an option – it is literally what keeps me alive.

Once I get working again on a regular rotation, I will be very happy to pay my monthly gym fee to go and work out. But while I am going through this transition, I am so incredibly thankful that community classes are a thing that exist, and that my community offers them.

So if you’re a gym owner, or yoga studio manager, or whatever, I know that it might seem counterintuitive to offer regular free classes when you could simply be registering paying clients, but the loyalty and positive word of mouth that you will garner from giving back will be well worth your while. And in the process, you might actually save someone’s life.

Toronto updates

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Hello Blogworld!

It’s now been just over four months here in Toronto. Things are going pretty well so far. I’ve done some dating, made some friends, found a yoga studio, done some side contract work, and joined a pretty awesome running club.

Life is good. I guess that this post is going to be a little summary of life to date, as well as some general observations about moving to a new city and life differences between Toronto and Van.

LIFE TO DATE!

Like I said, I have finally settled into a new yoga studio, which is great, because I was really missing something from my life without it. Over my four month break, I lost a lot of my flexibility and arm strength, which is a MEGA BUMMER, but I am looking forward to getting it back. I’ve also started running with the Parkdale Roadrunners a few times a week, and it’s been so amazing in terms of fitness, and just making me feel great about life. I’ve decided that I’m going to do a long slow train for the Detroit Half-Marathon in October. It’s gonna’ be great. It’s been wonderful to feel FIT again. For years, I’ve been doing cycling and yoga, with maybe some dodgeball or other sport thrown in there, but something was just missing. I was very slowly putting on weight, and just feeling like I needed more in the physical activity area of my life. Now, a few months into running, I’m feeling stronger and faster, and I’ve melted off that extra ten pounds of love handles. The love handles were not a huge deal, but I am just happier that they are not there anymore. Plus, slowly making pals with this group of runners is awesome. I can’t wait until 6-8 months from now, when we are actually buddies, and running is this great healthy and fun social activity that is a big part of my life. ANYWAYS.

Other things… also did some contract work with Emily Carr again, and work is going well, and I am feeling more competent and awesome about career stuff than I have ever felt in my life. It’s amazing.

I also seem to have more confidence about dating than ever before? I have a long history of being kind of “why doesn’t anyone loooooooove meeeeeeee????!?!” And now I know why. It’s because if I’m honest with myself… I was kind of desperate. I was so eager to have a bf, that I would just bend over backwards to accommodate any kind of behaviour or schedule, even if it didn’t really suit me. I didn’t even really have to like the person like crazy. I would just do it. This is not an attractive characteristic. It wreaks of nervous insecurity. I’m not sure what happened when I moved. But after about a month of being here, that characteristic was gone. I feel calm and confident, and like I know what I want and what I don’t want, and like if something is going to work out then that is great, but I do not have to strain myself to make it happen.

OBSERVATIONS ABOUT MOVING IN GENERAL

It takes a long time to get settled. A really long time. I am still in a kind of mid-way home, where it’s good, but not quite HOME. I often miss my Vancouver apartment, which was not perfect, but reflected me so well, and was definitely mine. I miss sitting on my porch and listening to the rain, and having friends over for dinner. I miss my books, and my art, and my kitchen corkboard full of mementos.  I miss getting home late, and turning on music to dance around my livingroom, and smoke on my porch.

I miss my friends. So much sometimes that it hurts. The Internet helps things, but I miss the everydays of our lives together. I miss J and Clayton on the weekends. I miss easy hangs. The thing that is both wonderful and exhausting about being in a new city, is that there are so many new people to talk to.  It’s so great, but it also means that most social interactions take a lot of energy. There is no “Just come over with some chips to drink beer in my livingroooooom. I’m still in a housecoat, but can we just watch trashy TV and talk about our love lives all afternoon?” I don’t know how else to summarize best friends level of comfort differently right now. So, I miss that.

Again, as with friends, places are easy to miss. In a new city, when I want a specific thing, I might not have any idea how to get it. It took me like 3 weeks to figure out where to go for my birthday, because I didn’t know where the type of place that I wanted to go to existed. In Vancouver, it would have been easy. Or like, if I need weird cheap crafty things… where do those come from?

Anyways… so things are great, but hard. Exciting, but also lonely sometimes. I can’t wait until the summer, because it will make everything way more awesome. I can almost taste how awesome summer will be.

TORONTO VS VANCOUVER

I lied. I actually am going to leave this for a future post. I am so sleepy right now, and I’ve been writing/working on different projects on my computer for like 4 hours now, and it’s time to hit the hay.

The one thing that I will say, is that despite the cold, I am really loving the snow/sunshine as opposed to RAIN ALL THE TIME. The snow is still a magical novelty to me at this point, and even though I am dying for summer, the snow is so beautiful and I love it.

I also love how friendly people are in Toronto. I was warned before moving here that Torontonians are cold. I’m not sure what happened that those people had that experience here, but I personally find folks in Toronto so incredibly friendly, and non-flakey, and genuinely interested in other humans; I think that people here are about ten billion times more friendly, and more likely to make friends with strangers than anyone in Vancouver. But that’s just been my experience.

ON THAT NOTE – SLEEP TIME!

Until next time.

SLEEP! SLEEP! SLEEP!