This morning I had a brave moment. I stood naked in front of a mirror and looked at my body.
As a 60-year-old fat woman with poor hair and Type 2 diabetes, currently spending a minimum of 3-4 hours a week in a chlorinated swimming pool, this is not something I do very often. I prefer to avert my eyes, getting dressed quickly out of mirror view, only sitting at my dressing table to take care of my face and appalling hair. To apply the bare minimum of makeup. And even that is something that I get through as quickly as I can. A quick check of my clothed body before venturing out into the world is the most examination that I usually do.
When I embarked on my swimming challenge (for Diabetes UK – swimming the channel in my local pool over 3 months for those of you that do not know) it was for 3 reasons.
- I needed to something to improve my fitness levels
- I wanted to raise money for this charity on behalf of my Type 1 daughter
- I thought it would make me accountable – if I went public, I would have to stick at it, particularly if people were sponsoring me!
I have tried the public thing before with varying degrees of success, but sponsorship is extremely motivating!
Healthwise I really thought that I would see weight loss and an improvement in my blood sugars.
What has actually happened, is that I have gained 5lb and my blood sugar is all over the place! I am also hungry. All the time. And not for salad! I also ache. A lot. Pushing myself to do 30-40 lengths each swim from a standing start of no real exercise is a push.
However, my clothes are a little looser, I don’t get out of breath so much and I do feel proud of myself. So, I decided to brave the mirror.
Its not a pretty sight. Don’t worry, I know I overshare, but there are no photographs to scare the children! I can see that my body has changed shape. Its never going to be that “acceptable” sight that adorns our magazines, newspapers and social media. There are lumps and bumps, drooping and scars. The last two of course are connected with Zoe, my daughter. A caesarian scar and droopy boobs after breastfeeding are a reminder of something wonderful. Creating another human being. Someone who I love and am so proud of. I do not regret them. But the rest are testament to years in sedentary jobs, a total lack of self-esteem which resulted in eating too much, and a lack of interest in exercise for exercise’s sake.
I grew up in the generation that played outside. There were only 3 television channels and none of them broadcast all day. I read books, built dens, rode my bicycle. We did PE at school on our lovely field and it was competitive. My mum cooked everything from scratch and once a week we got pocket money for sweets. Sixpence I believe. And I didn’t spend it on chocolate – my joy was a jamboree bag!
I was always a little chunky, although back then I had good hair! In beach pictures I looked long-legged and healthy. But I was the fat one in the class. And it did affect me, I felt somehow less. Not pretty, unattractive and that stayed with me for a long time.
Now I could continue and talk about all the bad stuff that happened in my life and made things worse. My parents divorce when I was 16. Someone I loved very dearly dying when I was 21. Being a doormat for numerous partners and believing that was normal. My first marriage that ended in drunken violence when my daughter was 6. Piles of crap! We all have them.
I could blame my weight problems on all of that. When my marriage broke up, I topped the scales at over 26 stone. At the same time my job became unbearably stressful and I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. There is no doubt that all the stress played its part in my diagnosis, which was discovered at a routine work medical. But my life choices were all unhealthy ones.
When I met Nigel in 2003 I was still over 22 stone. He is a Labrador and loved/loves food. So I fed us. It’s what I do. We got a grip in 2008 when we decided to get married and we both lost a lot of weight.
By the time we moved to Morecambe, 21 months ago, my weight had settled at just over 18 stone, give or take 5lbs. Last summer I embarked on healthy habits – better eating, more walking. I felt better but then for six months from August I had a spell of really bad health, including my fall downstairs at the end of November. That fall was really a turning point for me. I have never felt so physically frail, so immobile. It scared me.
Since I started swimming various bunches of muscles have taken it in turns to hurt. It started with my biceps. Although I have not lost the bingo wings I have much improved strength in my arms. Next my calf muscles. Useful in a 3-storey house! This week it is my stomach muscles and my quadriceps (yes I googled!).
My stomach is a really weird shape. Where the muscles are contracting. I have an umbilical hernia that is more pronounced (too small to warrant an operation apparently), with great hollows either side below my waist. The tops of my thighs are like rocks!
Sorry for the visuals. What I am trying to say is that nothing stays the same. With a bit of effort and determination you can change your landscape. It might take a while, and it may never look exactly how you want it but what is more important is the hidden landscape.
Yesterday in the pool I was completely overwhelmed and tearful. Note to self: No-one notices if you cry in a swimming pool. This challenge has become about so much more than me getting a bit fitter, or raising some money for a good cause. It is about changing my beliefs, pushing myself. Stretching my limits.
I have realised that for a long time I have avoided things that might stretch me, physically and mentally. My opening thoughts are often about how difficult something might be. I make elaborate plans to avoid challenging physical or mental situations. To the point where I avoid going to places where I cannot park close by. Where I don’t speak out loud when I believe something strongly. My default thought has been “I can’t”.
Every time I go swimming, I feel fear. Fear of not being able to finish the challenge. Fear of looking awful in my swim suit. Fear of being in the way of faster swimmers. Every time I get past 30 lengths, I feel better. I feel triumph. I am exhausted but I do have a sense of achievement. I feel the fear and do it anyway.
In the end it does not matter what I think. It does not matter what other people think. It is just thoughts. And I can choose to pay attention to them or not. I can choose to love this body that I see in the mirror with all its lumps and bumps. I am choosing to work on making it fitter so it can last longer. Its not easy, and it is not always enjoyable. But I will persevere. And when I get to Calais – bugger the blood sugar! There is a chocolate croissant with my name on waiting for me!
P.S. Its Sunday now and we were back in the pool this morning for an hour. 34 lengths more to add to my tracker. I am at 7.7 miles now and got a new badge!
And the other thing? When I read this blog to my lovely husband before publishing – he told me that he thinks I am gorgeous! Whilst I know that he includes this battered overweight body in his definition of gorgeous he also knows my inner landscape really well. I am blessed to have him in my life!
If you would like to know more about my coaching or my swimming please get in touch!
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This seems an appropriate song, and a great way to live – looking through the eyes of love!