I turned 30 last month, and – naturally – spent the final stretch of my 20s thinking about all of the things I wished I’d done differently. During therapy sessions, I’d go on extended metaphors involving boats, tides and storms, which confirmed my long-held suspicion that I am definitely not a poet at heart. Amid all of the introspection, however, one theme did seem particularly pertinent: exercise, or the lack of it in my life.
Something (perhaps the slight creak my right hip now makes on a regular basis) was telling me that I needed to do more fitness, and, by “more”, of course I mean “any at all”. And so, here I am, declaring that 2023 will be the year I get over my fitness phobia, the albatross I’ve been dragging around since my very first day at primary school.
From a young age, the thought of sport (competitive or otherwise) has made me panic. I was terrible at catching a ball, couldn’t run five metres without feeling out of breath and frequently found myself on the verge of projectile vomiting during PE lessons (usually anticipating being picked last or the sighs of the captains forced to have me on their teams).
My teachers let me organise the school library during PE lessons for the whole of year 6, which felt like divine intervention at the time and now seems more like enabling my dysfunctional habits. Like many habits, things only got worse at secondary school, where I would either procure elaborate sick notes from home or write them myself. When I genuinely did have a health problem, which meant I was signed off from sport for a year in sixth form, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Now, I am 30, I’m slowly realising that exercise in and of itself is not the problem, but rather my anxiety-ridden relationship with it. Speaking to friends who also hated school sports but now run, box, dance or swim has made me increasingly aware that keeping fit is actually something that anyone can – and should – do. That school bully voice in my head telling me not to try is actually just that: a voice in my head (well, apart from that time a gym instructor pulled faces at my spine and said I’d never be able to lie on the floor properly, which is, I think, an overrated skill).
Like most things related to our childhood, this is something I have had to slowly start conditioning myself out of – the odd pilates class here, a difficult but very motivational yoga class there. It’s still a huge effort, and something I think I will have to work at for a while. But I am hoping that 2023 will be the year when booking a gym class feels as much like self-care as doing a guided meditation.
At the aforementioned yoga class, there are few rules, which is a blessing for someone who has spent their whole life wondering how to fit into the sporty, active world that everyone else seemed to have got into by default. Instead, we are reminded – much like in therapy – that we are enough, and that we’ve always been enough.
As a perfectionist at heart, a worrier, someone who self-sabotages, and so many other things besides, it’s good to get out of my head and back into my body – to sweat a little, while thinking of little. I think my brain will thank me for it in the long run – and maybe my creaky hip will, too.