Category Archives: Non-lifting stuff

Long time, lots of updates!

It’s been a shockingly long time since I updated here! And so much has happened. I believe last time I posted, I was still doing my remedial squats; since then I have competed again but not added any kilos to my squats sadly.

I did a competition last month in which I was hoping to get a 290kg total. Unfortunately my squats & deadlift didn’t go to plan (I wanted 105kg and 130kg respectively) but I did get a new bench personal best & total personal best. I finished with 102.5kg squat, 57.5kg bench & 125kg deadlift for 285kg total at 71.6kg bodyweight.

I’m not going to any national competitions this year, but I will be doing a divisional competition in November. Then in January I’m 40 (eek!) which means I’ll be eligible to compete at the British Masters in March! It’s in Belfast next year, so a road trip (or plane trip) is in order with my other masters pals!

In other news, I wrote a blog post for So She Lifts about creating a female-friendly gym environment. I was inspired to write this after volunteering at 3 women-only sessions at my gym, designed to introduce women to powerlifting without any pressure. I think the gym will be doing more of these sessions, maybe once every two months – it all depends on whether we can get people to volunteer to coach.

I also changed jobs! I got utterly fed up with my old job and am now working at a tiny startup. I was a bit nervous about moving away from corporate life & back into startups as I was worried my work-life balance would suffer. But my new employers are very cool and relaxed about working hours, so I haven’t missed a gym session yet.

Because I’ve moved offices I had to leave Urban Kings (the MMA gym I was a member of) and have joined a cheap Fitness4Less gym near my new work. I’ve done a few bodypump-style classes there, as have discovered that I don’t actually mind running on the treadmill so much (shock horror!). So far I’ve worked up to trotting at 6.7km/h for 30 minutes non-stop! Amazing! I’ve literally never run for that long in my LIFE! Seems aged nearly-40 my cardio fitness is better than ever :bicep_emoji:

Fitting in

At the weekend I went to my first-ever zine fest at the invitation of a couple of people I know on Twitter. I have never been to a zine fest before, or even read a zine, but I had a great time meeting my friends (and seeing old friends unexpectedly!) and taking in the novel atmosphere.

One of my oldest online friends wrote about the fest later on, about finding “your people” and being yourself, which I found really interesting. I don’t think the zinesters I met at the fest are really “my people” – I’m straight, white, middle-class, not a part of any subculture or anything, pretty unremarkable really.

So I have been thinking about what “my people” might be, and where I fit in. If I’m honest, I haven’t been feeling like I fit in anywhere recently.

I used to define myself a lot by my job, but after I moved to my current role in 2012 I never felt 100% part of the team socially (probably because I don’t go out after work much, and I didn’t always take part in chatrooms and things like that). In the last 6 months or so, that’s changed and I’ve really felt the camaraderie at work. And… that’s ironic, because due to a merger 32 people have resigned in the last 2 months, many of them my friends.

Maybe my people are powerlifting people? Honestly, I don’t think so. I have friends at my gym, but I don’t quite feel like I fit in with them either. And when I browse powerlifting-related media on the internet (be it Instagram tags, blogs, or even the Instagram or Facebook accounts of people I know who lift) I feel alienated. There’s a lot of fatphobia, healthism  and misogyny there that I don’t want a part of. And while I’ve done a fair bit of organising work at the gym in the past (e.g. looking after the website, Facebook & Instagram accounts) I’ve recently decided that I want to do less of that, as I find it quite stressful.

I guess I’m wondering here, what am I like? What do I like? I like writing code, but it’s my job, not my passion. I like powerlifting, but I don’t read about it and I don’t want to be involved in a lifting culture that’s filled with bigotry (internalised or otherwise). I like going to fat-positive events, but as a small fat I’m better as an ally on the fringes. I felt totally accepted at the zine fest, but like I was also an interloper – I have no obsessions or things I geek out about (unless you count writing code every day as “geeking out”).

This is definitely not the first time I’ve felt this way – in my 20s I tried to fit in with the poly, queer, bi crowd and it was a bit embarrassing, because I’m none of those things and they’re not attributes you can (or should!) fake. The follies of youth, eh?

I guess the short answer is to keep looking, or make my own space. Or continue not really fitting in!

2016!

I don’t know about you but I like making resolutions and I always look forward to the beginning of a new year. January is also my birthday month, and while I’m not looking forward to turning 39 (eek) I am looking forward to my birthday – not least because I’m going away to New York City!

My fitness-related resolutions for 2015 were to get a 280kg total, and to look after my immune system a bit more because I got a lot of colds in 2014. Well, in 2015 I got a 282.5kg total (result!) and I also seemed to have fewer periods of illness than before. I put the latter down to being less stressed and taking my vitamins regularly.

My resolutions for 2016 are not too dissimilar really:

  1. Get a 300kg total. I need this to qualify for this year’s British Classic and, if I’m honest, I think it’s a big ask. But I will give it a go, for my coach’s sake.
  2. Go to Pilates regularly. I used to go every Thursday but that fell by the wayside due to work commitments. I hope to take it up again, as I felt Pilates really helped with my core strength & flexibility. And my Zen!
  3. Get better with my hair & makeup.
  4. Get a better job.
  5. Moisturise!!

OK, 3-5 aren’t fitness-related, but definitely wellbeing related.

Regarding 3 (and 5) – 2015 was the year of the selfie for me, and taking regular selfies has been so good for my confidence. I only started wearing makeup every day (ish) when I was 36 and that too has been great for my confidence.

Regarding 4 – my current job as I know it is pretty much over, so I either need to stay put and pivot; or I need to move elsewhere and carry on down the path I’m currently on. I think I prefer to carry on my chosen career.

I had a break from the gym from 23rd – 31st December while I was visiting family and volunteering at Crisis at Christmas. I’ve done two sessions since, and my new program starts tonight. I would nominally like to squat 105kg at my February competition, and 110kg at my July competition (yikes) but I’m not going to beat myself up too hard about the February one – it’s only a few weeks away, after all. Aaand if I don’t make a 300kg total in July, I can see if I can guest at another competition elsewhere before September.

This year is my last as a powerlifting senior – on January 1st 2017 I become a master and a whole new set of competitions, totals and records opens up!

You asked for – feminism! A post about sports and trans* athletes

I’m not going to lie, I was really surprised to get so many replies to the poll in my last post – 43 so far! Honestly, I thought there were maybe 3 of you out there. So that was a nice boost. I won’t lie that I felt a bit drained after pouring intimate stuff into my post on mental health so it’s good to know that some people are reading my posts!

The two highest scorers on my poll were posts about my training program, and posts about feminism. I want to tackle the latter, really, as I’d have to figure out the training program thing (maybe I could ask my coach to guest post, as he’s the one who writes them!) It was a bit foolish of me to put that option in the poll, as I never read about training programs or have any opinion about which ones are better than others. I’m far too passive (lazy) & I enjoy having things worked out for me.

So I’m going to tackle the requests for more posts about feminism. I was going to write a general post about how, yes, I’m a feminist (I hope that was always obvious!) and my feminist beliefs, but that seems a bit dry. One important aspect of my feminism is that it will be intersectional or it will be bullshit (to slightly misquote quote Flavia Dzodan), and that means I am trans-inclusive (and sex-worker inclusive, for that matter).

To bring this post more in line with the (intended!) theme of this blog, I have been thinking about sports and trans*people. I think it’s been a lot on my mind recently because of two things – Janae Marie Kroc coming out as genderfluid, and Ronda Rousey’s comments about Fallon Fox (and other things).

To preface this blog: I am keenly aware that I’m writing on a sensitive subject, and therefore I’ve tried to be as correct with my language as possible. However if I’ve got anything wrong or used any terms incorrectly, I’d appreciate & welcome corrections!

I do believe that transwomen are women (and that transmen are men; although it is usually transwomen who are the more talked about). The idea that gender is solely about what is, or isn’t, in your underpants is an outdated view shared by misogynists and second-wave radical feminists alike. But what about transwomen & transmen in sports? I’m not a member of a sports authority, or a scientist, and I agree that this is a difficult issue. There have already been very highly-publicised cases of women who display “male characteristics” causing controvery in sports (I’m thinking of Caster Semenya and the horrible time she had “proving” she is a woman). There are also cases of openly trans people competing in some sports – think Fallon Fox in UFC.

There are arguments that having male characteristics (bone structure, muscle mass etc) is an authomatic advantage in sports like UFC (and powerlifting). It’s well known that men are, on average, stronger than women. The on average caveat is important, though, as pound-for-pound, one of the strongest bench pressers in the world (IPF) is Jennifer Thompson with 140.5kg at 61.4kg bodyweight. Still, a male body is an advantage. That said, there is scientific evidence that post-hormone therapy, trans women lose muscle mass and bone density, and it’s not uncommon for them to have less testosterone than cis women after two years of estrogen therapy. The IOC agrees with this, for both FTM and MTF athletes.

At the risk of being a bit rude to Fallon Fox – if she had a natural advantage over cis woman fighters, she would beat them more often ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The IOC requires trans athletes to have undergone gender reassignment surgery and had at least two years of hormone therapy before they can compete in their chosen gender. Of course, not all trans* people choose to have gender reassignment and/or hormone therapy, so what then?

As I said before, I’m not a sports authority or a scientist, so I can only state my opinion. I’m also never going to be a placing athlete or a record holder, so my views are tempered by that. But I believe that if I’m going to be true to my feminist beliefs, then of course I would be fine with competing against a trans* athlete at any stage in their transition. There seems to be this right-wing idea that men everywhere will be putting on dresses, “pretending” to be men if this was allowed, but that’s ridiculous (as ridiculous as the right-wing idea that if we let trans* children use their gender-appropriate bathrooms, those bathrooms will be filled with “men in dresses” claiming to be women – that just does not happen).

To bring this post back to the people mentioned above: for those that don’t know Janae Marie Kroc, she is (or was) a very well-known powerlifter and bodybuilder (Kroc Rows were her invention). Last year she came out and prefers the female pronoun, but doesn’t identify as trans and isn’t undergoing any sort of gender reassignment therapy or surgery. I think she is really inspiring – there’s no denying that coming out as anything oher than a red-blooded heterosexual male when you’re a bodybuilding & powerlifting idol must be HARD. Would I compete against Kroc? Well, not in any real-world scenario (because she’s a former world champ and not even in the same weight class as me!) but in a theoretical world, yes. At the moment the IPF doesn’t allow transgender athletes, but if powerlifting gains IOC recognition (as I believe it is trying to do) then it would have to adhere to the IOC’s rules, and Kroc would have to undergo reassignment if she wanted to compete officially. But “off the federation”, I think it would be an honour to just train with her, let alone compete. That said, she does ID as genderfluid, not female, so whether or not she would want to compete in a women’s class isn’t clear.

(I did want to address genderless, non-binary and genderfluid people in this post, but I will save it for another time).

As for Rousey; I know she’s not a powerlifter, but I think she has a lot of fans among people I know. I really wanted to get behind her as a feminist role model, but her transphobic comments about Fallon Fox have really put me off. Plus, I know trash talking your opponents is part of the whole UFC/MMA spectacle, but threatening to beat up Kim Kardashian and denigrating “do nothing bitches”? Not feminist. I know your faves will always be problematic, but it’s OK to let go of a fave if they prove just that bit too problematic; and Rousey is too much for me. Your mileage may vary, of course.

As a postscript to this, I read an interresting article from the Orlando Sentinel today, about the case of a body found 27 years ago which was initially assumed to be a woman who had given birth to “several” children. The article is here but it’s paywalled, so the pertinent bits of text can be read on this Tweet (hat tip to Zoe for pointing the info out). If the body of a trans woman can be mistaken for that of a cis woman who has given birth several times, does that not indicate that hormone therapy does indeed affect bone structure and muscle mass? It makes you think.

What this blog is for

I’ve been at a bit of a loss as to what to write about on here recently. At first this started out as a record of my training up to my first British Classic in 2013; from there it morphed into discussions of body image, fat acceptance & feminism in powerlifting/lifting; and also a bit of discussion of what it’s like to lift when you have a chronic health condition (endometriosis in my case).

However, I’m much more at peace with my body image now, and since I had an ablation I no longer have as serious effects from my endometriosis. I’m still a feminist and deeply into fat acceptance, but for the latter I feel like it’s not entirely my place to talk about as I’m firmly in the inbetweenie section.

So what is my blog for? I’m not a great writer and am not writing here to improve my skills (I think I’m as good as I’m ever going to get!) My training log posts are dry and boring, I think. Sometimes I feel like the effort I put into heart-and-soul posts like For World Mental Health Day aren’t worth it and are better off on my (private) LiveJournal or paper diary.

So over to you, readers (or possibly reader!) – what would you like me to write about? What do you find interesting? Are there any burning questions you’d like to ask me?

I don’t want this blog to stagnate as I do really enjoy writing here (when I get round to it!) but I also want to know I’m not entirely shouting into the void, and I’m producing things people really want to read. So let me know!

For World Mental Health Day

[Content note for depression, suicidal talk]

This weekend just gone contained World Mental Health Day, which I acknowledge each year but I always feel like I shouldn’t co-opt. I’m not really sure why, because I have mental health problems and am a long, long term veteran of therapy and medication. So this year I am (belatedly) going to write a bit about it.

It’s really hard for me to condense my experiences into one (readable) blog post. I suppose I tend to think that WMHD is not “for me” as I haven’t had any major events, like in-patient treatment; plus the fact that I’ve kept working through all my issues makes me feel they have not been “as serious” as others’.

To jump right into it: I had psychoanalytic psychotherapy from age 26-32 (in 2009), then a break until this year when I started with a more integrative therapist about 5 months ago. I was also on antidepressants for the best part of a decade, before taking a break but having to start again earlier this year.

Going into therapy both times have been off my own back, not prescribed by a GP or other health professional. It’s possible to get therapy on the NHS, but you usually have to wait a long time, and then you get a short series of sessions. I started therapy thinking I might go for a few months, never once thinking I would end up going twice a week for 6 years. It was hard emotionally, and it was expensive, and in all honesty sometimes I wonder why I did it. It was also hard socially, because I made a decent low-20k salary but didn’t have the accoutrements my colleagues & friends had. Why wasn’t I going skiing, why didn’t I have a flat-screen TV, why did I take the bus rather than the tube? I simply couldn’t tell people, you know?

I was also having go work to pay my mortgage, and didn’t have a long-term partner to rely on financially. I had days where getting out of bed was a struggle and life seemed hopeless, but the knowledge that I had to pay the bills (moving back in with my parents was never an option) drove me to do it. I did have two weeks signed off work sick after my dad had a heart attack, but that was the extent of it.

I do feel proud that I survived those years, but also jealous sometimes that others with similar issues had long-term partners or parents they could rely on. And sometimes that jealousy expresses itself as bitterness, because I am quite angry that I couldn’t rely on my family for support. Sure, if I had asked to move in with them they would have acquiesced, but it wouldn’t have been easy and I would have been expected to “pull myself together” as quickly as possible.

As for why I entered therapy in he first place. The only thing I can really say is that I was failing to cope with life. My upbringing was outwardly fine, but once I got to university aged 19 and realised that my childhood hadn’t been like other peoples’, I had bouts of sadness, crying jags that lasted for whole days, etc. I remember trying to get help from my personal tutor, but he & I didn’t have a relationship so I didn’t receive any.

In my mid-20s I had my first very intense, “true love” relationship, which turned out (looking back) to be very destructive. I wasn’t raised with guidance on relationships, except for a few basics which indicated I should do anything necessary to please & keep a man. Obviously this led to some terrible choices. As this relationship was breaking down I knew I needed some sort of help, but not what; and at that time I was also reluctant to take antidepressants (I don’t feel this way now). I had a consultation with BACP, was referred to a local therapist and the rest is history.

It was only once I was in therapy that I really discovered the root of everything. For example, I say above that I wasn’t raised with any guidance on how to be in relationships, but obviously at the time I did not know this. It took many many hours of unpicking to uncover it all. I went into therapy thinking my family was pretty normal; I came out realising that yes, ALL families have their problems, but the particular problems my family had/has have affected my life in XYZ ways. If that makes sense (it does in my head).

Psychoanalysis definitely wasn’t a magic bullet for me, but I finished up when I was 32 (with much relief, I have to admit), had a couple more destructive short-term relationships (for good measure I guess), then life gradually became better. I met my boyfriend when I was 34, we very quickly bought a house together (within 18 months) and I felt happy enough in my life to give up antidepressants about 6 months after we moved in together.

Unfortunately life isn’t always smooth sailing, and starting from about a year ago I started to slide back into depression. The difference this time was that I started having suicidal thoughts, which I hadn’t had before. Back in my 20s, I wanted desperately to “disappear” back then and never see my friends/family again, but this time I did have suicidal ideation. Life had no joy and I felt I was merely existing. Eventually I caved in and saw my old therapist for a session, and together we decided that I should try therapy again although with a slightly different slant – this time I know most of the why I feel this way, but now I needed help with the how to deal with it.

Now I am seeing an integrative therapist once a fortnight (as opposed to twice a week) and it is very helpful. The main difference between this type of therapy and the psychoanalysis I had before is that the therapist guides what we talk about more. In traditional psychoanalysis, I did most of the talking and some sessions were merely me sobbing uncontrollably; in the sessions I have now, we deal more with practical reactions to difficulties. I realise this is not an exhaustive list of the differences (I am no writer, unfortunately)

I’m also back on antidepressants and they help me cope day-to-day; I no longer feel suicidal or there I’m just a blank entity doing repetitive actions in a grey world. Unfortunately my GP will only prescribe them to me on a 28-day basis, so I have to see him every month.

I still have many issues to sort out with my family, not least now my parents are older and we may not have many more years together. I don’t want them to die without feeling more at peace with our relationship. I have also been working through the fuzzy bombshell which was moving in with my boyfriend – after being completely independent until I was 36, building a joint life with someone (even the limited “joint life” my boyfriend & I have) has been very hard. It is still very very fundamental to my mental health that I can look after myself, on my own, and not have to rely on anyone else; and happily my boyfriend is very on-board with that.

Even now I still couldn’t point to one “cause” of all my issues. Depression and its ilk are chemical imbalances in the brain, but there are also social factors. For me, a lot of it comes back to my upbringing, my strange family life (which I don’t want to go into in details because I still don’t know if my family read this!), my unpreparedness for personal relationships, the endometriosis I’ve suffered from since I was at least 15 (probably earlier), working in a male-dominated industry rife with sexism etc. All of this has led to a bitterness and anger that I don’t want to let go of, and a mistrust of love & happiness. I would like to eventually embrace love & happiness, but these things take time.

I do feel sad and embarrassed that it took me until my mid- to late-30s and a lot of therapy to figure out things like: My body is my own! My life is my own! I do not have to do whatever it takes to keep a man! Being married is not a homonym for happiness! Sex is not a horrible thing I have to endure for a man’s sake! And honestly, I’m still not entirely there – for example, I’m still worried about my parents’ reaction to my tattoo, should they ever see it. But I’m trying to live my best life now, to do what I want (and this is scary!). I look back on my teens & 20s as wasted time, never living my life (just living the one my parents or male partner expected of me). But I can’t go back and change those times, I can only try to live my life now how I want to. Although you can’t solely look forward, you know? Because your past is still part of you.

I’m sure there will be people who read this and think “God, why didn’t she just cut negative people out of her life?” or “Why didn’t she just do XYZ?” (I have had many of these comments elsewhere; hi they are not helpful) and I do understand that it might seem baffling that it took me until so late in my life to work things out. What can I say? Everyone’s life experience is different, and this is mine.

God, as mentioned above I am NOT a writer, and this is the usual jumbled mess. I guess the TL;DR version is:

– I have found therapy really useful
– Not everyone with depression has a family/friends/partner to rely on; in fact the family/friends/partner are often a root of some issues
– I am immeasurably proud of the fact that I did this myself
– But sometimes I am sad & bitter that I had no choice
– I want to try to live my best life now, because life is short & getting shorter

If you’re interested in therapy, I started with the BACP and went from there – going for a consultation, finding a therapist. The second time, I tried two therapists out – one recommended by my previous therapist, and the other recommended by a friend. So ask around and see if your friends can recommend someone too. And of course you can go via your GP (although I have no experience of that myself).

For fellow insomniacs

Going a bit off-piste today with an attempt at writing #interesting #content as opposed to my usual stream-of-consciousness posts. I had a bad night’s sleep earlier this week & had the idea to write about insomnia, especially in light of how important rest is when you’re training – and deity knows that with 5 weeks until the British Classic, I need as many unbroken nights as I can get right now!

I’ve had insomnia in varying degrees of seriousness over the last 10-11 years (yikes). At its worst I think I went about 12 weeks of only having 2-3 hours sleep a night; at the moment I have maybe 3-4 bad nights a month. When I started getting my sleep patterns more under control, I remember the absolute relief of going to work and not feeling utterly terrible. Not being able to sleep is awful – it’s bad for all aspects of your health, physical & mental. Here are some of the things I’ve used over the years to help me catch some decent Zzzs.

Good sleep hygiene

I know, you’ve seen the advice about sleeping in a dark, cool room; going to bed at the same time every night; and not using screens before bed. You’ve seen it a hundred times. Thing is, these can really work.

The easiest one to implement is no screens; yes we all love scrolling through Twitter for 4 hours before bed, but it’s not good for us. I confess I’m not great at following my own advice – my phone lives by my bed at night, and sometimes I sneak a peek; but generally I try to stay away from my phone/iPad/TV for at least half an hour before bed.

The most difficult is probably going to bed at the same time every night. If you’re 25, the idea of not staying up until 2am on Friday night is probably anathema, but at 38 it’s no big deal for me. I tend to be thinking about bed by 10.30pm every night, and lights-off by 11.30 – yes, even on a Saturday! And even on holiday too (when I was in Vegas I think my boyfriend & I were the only people within 5 miles who were in bed before midnight!)

Epsom salt baths

I am a huge fan of Epsom salts for soothing my achy muscles, but they’re also great for sleep. A 10-15 minute soak in a warm bath with Epsom salts, followed by a glass of water and a bit of quiet time before bed, and I’ll be in the Land of Nod before you know it. I buy my Epsom salts in big bags from a local old-fashioned, no-frills chemist (aka. drugstore) but you can order them online (useful if you’re buying them 5kg at a time!). You can even get lavender-scented salts especially for helping you sleep – these look awesome.

Aromatherapy

Along the same lines as the lavender-scented Epsom salts above, I find aromatherapy is great for helping me sleep. A few months ago a friend sent me this Sleep Serenity Pillow Mist from Avon, and it’s lovely – a couple of spritzes on my pillow and I immediately feel more relaxed.

I’ve also found the scent of Lush’s Dream Cream really soothing. I started using it to heal up tattoo (which it’s been great for) and now I associate its scent of lavender & chamomile with bedtime relaxation.

Meditation podcasts

One of the first apps I downloaded when I got an iPhone was Andrew Johnson’s Relax. I can’t remember who recommended it to me (it was that long ago) but it’s fantastic. It’s also available as an mp3 for those who don’t have an Android or iOS device; and while he has other podcasts specifically for promoting sleep, I find Relax to be the most…. relaxing.

Quiet Life

This one might be a little controversial, as there are studies out there saying that herbal remedies are bunk and contain little (or no) active ingredients. So this is completely from my own experience (also I AM NOT A DOCTOR). But I have taken Quiet Life tablets on and off ever since I took my A-levels (20 years ago!) as a way to stop repetitive thoughts and ease my mind. They have also really helped me sleep when I’m having periods of panic/irritability/anxiety. Who knows, it might all be hokum and I may just be experiencing the placebo effect [insert shrug emoji]

Incidentally, there’s nothing in these things that’s banned by WADA 😉

Pharmaceuticals

Above & beyond all these things, there are remedies your doctor can prescribe for you. Personally I’ve taken melatonin (a prescription-only medicine in the UK, but available OTC in other countries) and tamazepam; the former is relatively gentle, the latter is more or less a chemical cosh and should only be taken under strict guidance.

I am also taking antidepressants (citalopram in my case) which were initially prescribed in part for my insomnia, and they have really helped with the inability to sleep brought on by worry/intrusive thoughts etc.

As ever, don’t do anything without talking to your GP (or other healthcare practitioner).

What are your sleepytime tips? Have you ever suffered from insomnia?