The Big Bad X’s- Exercise & Anxiety
I’ve been a big fan of Lena Dunham for a while now.
Her television show ‘GIRLS’ makes me laugh, cry and scream “THAT’S SO WHAT IT’S LIKE!” at my television during every single episode.
Her book ‘Not That Kind of Girl’ spoke to me, had me nodding along and made me believe that maybe I could even write my own book one day.
Her feminist views and politically aware Tweets have me RT’ing like nobody’s business and her Instagram has always been a refreshingly raw insight into her seemingly normal life- boyfriend, dog and bare-faced bed pics and all.
A week ago however she REALLY won my heart.
Lena’s never shied away from her body shape, in fact her body confidence is sometimes so in-your-face, it’s overwhelming. That being said, I’ve always thought how brilliant her approach is and backed it 100%.
She’s happy with her body, so why the hell shouldn’t the rest of the world be?
If she’s okay to write herself into nude sex scenes then power to her! How fucking liberating! (Cue any Beyonce song- they all work.)
But it was this Instagram upload from about a week ago- specifically the caption- that has inspired me to write this blog.
If I could have stood up and given her a round of applause, I would have.
If you’ve been a reader of my blog for a while now, you’d know that recently I’ve begun to exercise regularly for the first time in my life.
Up until now, I’ve been kinda blessed with a long, slender body shape (thanks Ma!) however at almost 28, I was feeling so ‘blergh’.
Not only was I noticing dimples on my ass (not the cute kind, let me tell you) but I just wasn’t feeling toned or healthy.
I was puffed walking up my apartment stairs, I wasn’t drinking enough water, eating the right stuff…was having trouble with sleeping and my anxiety was through the roof.
Like Lena, I’d been told time and time again to give exercise a go. By my friends (usually those super fit ones who go for runs for funsies on a Sunday morning) by my doctors…. In fact even by Big Brother himself.
During my time in the house, I was experiencing severe anxiety and guilt due to some of the shitty decisions I was making. Being trapped in such a small space, with none of my usual creature comforts to calm me down, I ended up in the diary room in a bit of a state.
BB: “Have you tried going for a run or doing some exercising in the gym?” said the velvety voice behind the mirror.
ME: “HA Big Brother, do I look like someone who goes for a run?”
In fact it would be almost another year before I took any of this advice seriously.
I’d always been an anxious kid. As a 5 year old, I used to make my Dad check all the gas appliances in my house before I went to bed, in case there was a gas leak and we were all blown to smithereens in our sleep.
At 7, I’d make sure I knew where all the exits were in the movie theatre incase there was an earthquake and the ceiling caved in, burying us alive.
It got so bad at one point; the nightly news was banned at our place.
My parents couldn’t handle seeing me cry and worry about all the bad things going on in the world- I took it to heart and lay awake at night making deals with god to spare my family.
As I got older, my anxiety got mislabeled as “puberty blues” as I worried myself sick over normal things like exams and fights with friends. I even won “Most Likely to Have A Nervous Breakdown During Her HSC” in my year 12 yearbook (I did in fact vomit before every exam…)
However it wasn’t until my first year at university that I experienced my first panic attack.
It was exam week. I’d been pulling all-nighters at the uni library, living off vending machine junk food and my brain was fried. My girlfriend at the time had convinced me to take a break and do some grocery shopping so that we actually had real food to eat at home.
I was in the supermarket aisle, trying to pick which pasta sauce to buy and all of a sudden the number of choices was overwhelming. Then the aisle seemed to stretch out and go forever. The florescent lights got so bright I could barely see. My chest got tight, my breathing shallow and I had this overwhelming urge to get the fuck out of there. I was going to vomit. Or possibly pass out.
Old mate “anxiety” reared his ugly head a fair few times over the next couple of years but always at times where it seemed to make sense. Moving house, changing jobs, break ups. It was awful and upsetting but it never stuck around for too long, so I never gave too much thought to it.
That was before Big Brother.
Leading up to the show, during the show and most definitely after the fact, my anxiety has been at some all-time high’s.
I’ve spoken before about the kind of states I’ve managed to work myself up into- where I’m crying non-stop, unable to calm myself down. Pacing back and forth, feeling like it’s the end of the world and not knowing how I can help myself, how I can self-soothe or better yet, figure out a way to stop myself from getting to such an awful state in the first place.
Before you say it, I’ve seen multiple professionals about my anxiety. Psychologists, life coaches, spiritual advisors… you name it, I’ve tried it.
And I’m also aware there is medication available; medication which I’m aware has helped hundreds and thousands of people with their anxiety. That’s fantastic but I’ve got an addictive personality and I’ve always tried to avoid medicating if possible.
I at least wanted to try all other options and avenues before I decided to rely on taking a pill to fix me.
However it got to a point after Big Brother, after my big move to Melbourne and a pretty gut-wrenching break up that I felt pretty lost and desperate. I’d tried most of the suggestions given to me; I’d changed my diet, I’d eliminated some of the stress triggers in my life like toxic friends and situations…I’d tried breathing exercises and meditation music.
There was one suggestion left, perhaps the most common suggestion. The very thing I’d successfully avoided for 27 years of my life.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it alone. I’ve always been a very social person. I’m at my best surrounded by other people, friends especially so I enlisted a friend who was also feeling like it was about time she started looking after herself better and together we joined Kaya Healh Clubs in Melbourne.
Kaya had all the usual gym equipment that I’d seen before but they specialized in yoga (another suggestion I’d heard more than once but one that I’d struggled with previously. Trying to tell an anxious person to “switch off their brain and clear their thoughts” is almost laughable. If I knew how to do that, I wouldn’t be sitting on this foam mat in $100 Lulu Lemon pants!) and pilates.
It didn’t take long for me to become pilates obsessed. It’s low intensity enough that I’m not red-faced and puffing within 5 minutes (which would just put me off the whole thing entirely) but fast paced enough that I don’t get bored, or lost in my worried thoughts.
My favourite is Pilates reformer, which uses a machine that kind of resembles something out of a horror film- that or something from Christian Grey’s red room but is actually this magical machine that lets you work out almost every single muscle in your body in new and interesting ways each class.
The change on my mind and body was effective almost immediately. In fact, I think I may have skipped home from my first class and slept like a baby that night.
As I got more and more into pilates, even adding some running and cardio to my fitness regime, I begun to finally realize what everybody had been talking about for all these years.
I kicked myself for being so stubborn and pessimistic. For not taking their advice or listening…at least giving it a go, sooner.
Pilates and exercising in general has, as Lena said, helped my anxiety in ways I never thought possible. Not only am I feeling healthier and looking more toned, my head is clearer and less clouded with worries.
And when I do find myself getting anxious, or feel an attack coming on…I just chuck on my gym gear and head to the gym.
I put on a Spotify “I AM WOMEN, HEAR ME ROAR” playlist and run till I’ve forgotten what I was worried about.
Or I hit up a pilates class and focus my brain on holding my plank.
So again, echoing her Majesty Lena Dunham’s sentiments last week; to those of you who might be struggling with anxiety, OCD or depression- I know it’s fucking annoying when people tell you to exercise. In fact, when you’re feeling like that it’s sometimes the very last thing you feel like doing.
But please, please, please, PLEASE take it from me. Or Lena.
Give it a go. Just give it a try. Most pilates/yoga studios will let you try out a class for free before you have to sign or pay anything so just go in, take a friend, and give it a shot.
It may help and it definitely won’t hurt.
For more facts or info about anxiety, or if you just want to speak to somebody about it please hit up Beyond Blue.