I have never been a person who enjoys exercise. I struck it lucky genetically, never had to work at being thin, could eat everything under the sun at stay at 50kg. Then it was 55kg. Then it was 60. And 65. Then I hit my thirties. I had two children, one of whom didn’t sleep for 15 months (9 of those I was working 12 hour days, full time load). I became some sort of permanently exhausted pigeon and boom! 75kg. BMI of 29, which for Asian descent with (comparatively speaking) finer bones is basically obese (or a beast, as I’ve heard it said 😂).
Let’s add depression to this load to carry. Killer of all joy. “Exercise to boost your endorphins, it will help your mental state!” We’ve all heard it. As a health professional I have to spruik it.
“Try just going for a walk around the block, look at your neighbours’ gardens, get out of your head!” But here’s the thing. When you are so deep in it, when you’re tired, you have small children demanding your attention, you’re trying to keep all your obligations and plates in the air… it’s all you can do to get out of bed when the alarm goes. And you get through another day. And you’re exhausted all day and fall into bed at the end of it. And then rinse and repeat. And repeat. And then you’re staring down another year, you haven’t planned any holidays, you’re fed up, strung out, snapping at your kids, your husband, angry at the world because you just want a sleep in, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
There’s a lot to worry about in this world. Raising small humans increases that stress by a factor of, oh, I don’t know, 2305857391845 times? They say you need a village, and oh boy howdy do you. Someone to talk to about your children, is this normal? Is yours doing this? Why is there screaming? What the heck is a leap and why does it result in MORE SCREAMING?! Am I damaging them by doing this? Am I failing them by not doing that?
This technological age is fantastic in that you can be supported by someone 800km away at 3 in the morning (Thanks Em! 😘), but horrific in that there is SO much more access to questionably credentialled pseudo-experts telling you exactly how you’re ruining your child’s life. And at 3am in the morning, it all *seems* to make sense.
We should be ensuring they get an hour of active play a day. We should be feeding them a rainbow of fruits and veges. All snacks should be GMO free, additive free, taste free, fun free, hand picked by fairies at dawn from your own garden. Except when you’re cutting their fruit into fun shapes and putting faces on their Pikachu shaped rice balls using nori. You shouldn’t tell them no, it damages their brain pathways. You should praise them for effort, not aptitude (yeah, so ok that one makes sense).
Somewhere along the way I got so caught up in trying to do everything for everyone that I needed a reset. Time to stop, look up, look at the big picture, set some goals. Because when you’re so focused on just getting through the day, that becomes all you do. And when you don’t plan for things like holidays or days to do things for yourself, it turns out that you don’t GET days to do things for yourself.
Last year I made the decision to try something new and signed up for barre classes. It was outside my comfort zone but something I thought I would enjoy, and as a whole I’ve stayed with it the longest out of anything I have tried, fitness-wise. I met great people, became friends with my tenders (barre-tenders, get it?) which provided the support and the community to keep coming back to it in spite of breaks and regardless of time away.
I’m lucky that my husband will happily pick up the slack where I’ve been dropping it – that he cares for our girls full time, that I get time to do things for myself without the resentment or injustice that parenting can breed. I’m also lucky that he’s smart enough to recognize that when I have time to do things for myself, I’m not a raging jerkhole.
I’ve made new friends in this little interest of mine, and it’s opened up new opportunities for me. So here goes.
Dear 35yo Me,
If I told you that in 1 year you would be up on a Sunday, squeezing a C25k session in before a double barre class and walking home, you probably would have slapped me.
If I told you that you were booked in to go to Phuket for a wellness retreat, you probably would have laughed at me then told me I was an idiot with more money than sense.
But this will happen. I promise you it gets easier. That crushing sensation? The drowning feeling? It goes away. You just need to have some faith in yourself. Set some guidelines for parenting and drown out the rest of the noise. Yes, try and be active with your kids. Choose your words to them carefully. But if you listen to them, you will learn so much more than anything the web tells you.
Cut yourself some slack. Your children are burning so much energy learning, taking things in, forming new pathways developmentally. If it’s easier for you to give them chicken nuggets and chips with some cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks so that you can sit down for a spell and have a hot cup of tea WHILE IT IS HOT, do it. Your mental health will thank you (or is it me? The time space continuum is hard).
Realize that winter will always be hard, and that you will have more energy as the days get longer and the sun shines brighter.
Sit down and spend a few minutes planning your week, it makes it so much easier and you’ll feel less stressed.
Your children will become more self sufficient and will play well together. Yes, there will be screaming, but on the whole you have two bright girls who love each other. You will be able to have a shower without feeling like there is a stopwatch going. You will even be able to sit on the couch and do something like read a book while they entertain themselves. Crazy, right?
I’m not saying you’ll get it together in a year. But consider making some small changes. Try and get out of bed when you wake up, regardless of how tired you are. Spend a few minutes with a mindfulness app (Headspace is a new discovery) – I know it sounds wacky and New-Agey, but it’s really just having 3 minutes to yourself to breathe and not have a million things whirling around your head. Try and make healthy food choices, or at least pay attention to the deliciousness of the less-than-healthy choices so you enjoy what you’re eating and don’t just shovel it down with the guilt and the emotions.
We are all a work in progress. But at least try and enjoy the work. Don’t take it so seriously, it’s life. No one gets out alive. And if you need some more advice, in the words of the great John Lennon:
“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”
Don’t be so busy, but make other plans. Don’t measure your life out in coffee spoons.
Take time to stop and look around. And relax. Future you isn’t really a preachy dick. I’m actually kind of fun. Some days.
Take care of yourself,