Category Archives: Self doubt

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).

You might not remember, but my idea to get a 280kg total in 2015 was based off the GBPF Women’s Rankings, where the results of all the major nationwide competitions are totted up and a top 20 for each weight category is produced. In 2014, the woman at #20 in my weight category had a 280kg total, so I wanted to match that so I might know I was at least somewhat decent.

Obviously, I got a 282.5kg total in this year’s British. Hurray! Then this year’s League came out, and the #20 woman in my weight class has….a 315kg total.

Bollocks. Forget moving the goalposts – the goalposts just got up and sprinted away.

I never really had any designs on getting into the rankings myself, but I couldn’t help look up all the other competing lady lifters from my gym and I am the only one who isn’t in the top 20 for their weight class. I know comparing yourself to others isn’t the done thing, but it’s kind of hard not to when the whole point of competing is…to compete.

Still. Still. I am doing okay. I have longer-term goals, you know? In 15 months time I will be a Masters 1, and all of the Greater London M1 records are there for the taking (for what they’re worth!). Plus the people who run the gym I lift at have asked me to be involved in running women’s only powerlifting sessions, which will be excellent (if we ever get round to organising it!). I am not the best lifter in the country or even in my gym but I do lots of cool stuff.

When I received my participation certificate at this year’s British, the organiser Paul Rees took the time to tell the audience that I “do a lot” for my gym and for powerlifting in general. Which made me tear up a little :`-) It is nice to be recognised.

(Plus I am currently 96th in the combined Wilks powerlifting league so that’s nice!)

I’m back to the gym but to be honest I’m feeling quite down about it. I know that after a break I’m going to be comparatively feeble, and I know that everyone else won’t be, and I know I’m not supposed to compare myself to others (but let’s face it, when you compete how can you noti?!) but I still felt bad when I went on Monday.

Of course, I haven’t even lost that much strength – I did the prescribed squats at the prescribed weight (paused squats, 3 sets of 5 @ 70%/70kg) and I did some fairly decent rack pulls (3 sets of 3 @ 90kg, then singles up to 115kg) but of course I can’t help but compare myself to the new-ish girl who was rack pulling 140kg. I’ve rack pulled 135kg before, and I’m probably 10 years older than her, so I ought not to be comparing… but how often do our brains do what they ought to do?

A giant irony, given my last post, is that I managed to lose 2kg in Las Vegas. Not from lack of food (I ate mostly fast food on holiday, because the USA is the only place that has Popeye’s and In-n-Out Burger), but from lack of training. Therefore the conclusions I can draw from the 6 weeks of volume training I did before my holiday are that volume work does indeed give me a ton (or a couple of kg) of extra muscle weight. Plus, given I can still pause squat 70kg after 2 weeks off, it appears to have preserved a decent amount of my strength when I wasn’t training.

One thing that’s definitely fallen by the wayside is my flexibility. I went to Pilates today and hah, I could barely do any of it.

Ah, talking here about my envy of other lifters at the gym definitely helps. I know alllll the rhetoric about how we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to others, but it’s a thing that’s easier said than done.

Confession time

I have a confession to make: I have been wibbling about my weight. I’m not saying this to get sympathy, I’m saying it because I’m human and even those who preach self-acceptance can have wibbly times.

I had this idea that I would have liked to be 71kg-ish by the time I went to Las Vegas. 71ish because I was 70-71kg at my last two competitions and I thought I looked great. I wanted to look that great when I went to Vegas.

Of course, this was completely glossing over the fact that when I looked great at under 71kg, I FELT TERRIBLE. Mentally, I was fretful about food and as moody as hell. Physically, I had bad stomach issues from going low-carb, and (TMI time) basically couldn’t poop. Yay.

Guess what? I go to Vegas in 4 days and I weigh about 73.5kg. And I feel… conflicted.

On the one hand, bloody hell I’ve upped my cardio, done volume work with weights, walked 9000-10000 steps every day, and for the last 10 days (since my boyfriend went away on business) I have eaten “right”. What gives?

On the other hand, I have never previously done volume weights, or this much cardio (at least not when I was also lifting) so I couldn’t have predicted that I’d end up heavy. I simply didn’t know what my body would do. And I’ve done some pretty good stuff in the last week: on Friday I nailed sets of 10 clean & jerks with a 20kg sandbag; and last night I did those 5 sets of 8 squats @ 70kg [bicep emoji]

So I should feel proud, really. The only little doubt I have is that I’m worried I won’t make weight (<72kg) for my next competition but I will have to cross that bridge when I come to it. I definitely won’t be doing volume weights or so much cardio during competition prep, at least.

And the good news is that my clothes still fit…mostly. The size 14 dress I aspirationally bought to wear in Vegas may have to stay behind. Or I could just buy some suck-you-in underpants, amirite?!

I absolutely cannot wait to go to Vegas. The last two weeks at work have been very, very stressful and I’ve been struggling a bit with my mental health (especially with my boyfriend being away and not always being available to rant at thanks to time zones!) Hopefully a break will do me good, and when I come back I’ll have 6 weeks to prep for my next competition (May 16th!)

A thing about food, and orthorexia, and some rage

I do get frustrated writing on here sometimes (ditto pretty much anywhere else I write) as I forget that unless I explicitly say something, it’s otherwise not implied. E.g. things like my intersectional feminism, my history of discovering fat acceptance & accepting myself before I started lifting. I feel as if what I’ve tried to say just hasn’t come across. So in the avoidance of doubt:

Posts like the previous one, and this one, are basically me saying: “Loads of lifting blogs out there are blogs about how the writer was unhappy with their body and/or had food issues before they started lifting, and how they fought and/or resolved those issues through lifting. For me, I have developed for the first time (admittedly quite mild) food issues and lost confidence in my body because of lifting and the culture surrounding it”.

I just want to put it out there, you know? In case anyone else has developed food issues or body confidence issues because of lifting. Just like I wanted to put my post about endometriosis out there, in case anyone was Googling “powerlifting endometriosis” like I was, and finding nothing.

I say I have food issues – but yes, they are very mild. It’s more like niggles and doubts, and inner conflicts as my FA conditioning causes me to push back against them. I’m not going to pretend those doubts don’t exist, but if I express them I don’t want people to rush in thinking I’m an ingenue or completely unschooled in self-positivity. I went through 6 years of pyschoanalytic psychotherapy, so one thing I’m really good at is self-reflection (sometimes too good).

I write about these things on here to show that having doubts and niggles about stuff you’re otherwise positive about is normal. I just can’t bring myself to be the sparkly fountain of advice and positivity that other bloggers often are.

(Melissa A Fabello basically nails it in this thread)

I read the recent glut of news stories about orthorexia with interest because I think it is a thing; that “healthy eating” is now such a bloated and disgusting monster that people argue about the kind of coconut oil you buy and is it good enough, not just IF you use coconut oil or not (hence my comment about KTC brand yesterday). Among many, many other examples. It has got utterly ridiculous, IMHO.

I am definitely not an orthorexic (although the head weasels love to tell me I should be) but probably more a rage-orexic, when people claim they only care about “health” eat foods that indirectly cause other people to live in poverty and hardship (I guess “health” doesn’t extend to people outside their circle). Or who endlessly go on about only eating pasture-raised animals while promoting the consumption of foods that contribute to the extinction of other animals.

Or maybe I’m a fuck-you-rexic, because every time I see someone going on about the evils of something I consume (like low-fat yogurt) I just want to eat more of it in a fuck-you gesture.

One thing that annoys me in particular is that I get a ton of fitness/nutrition followers on Twitter who seem to be all about leanness and paleo, which I never understand (I try to emphasise the “hello I’m fat” thing in my bio) and then they go & bloody favourite my photos of the kind of foods they themselves would never eat. Are they going “Oh wow yeah, yummy pizza”? If so, I really hate that falseness; you’d never eat that, so piss off, it’s not for you. It reminds me a bit of You Did Not Eat That, which I’m not going to pass any judgement on.

Incidentally, if you want a nice intersection of capital-P Paleo & orthorexia, this is pretty fantastic.

It's probably Obama's fault.

It’s probably Obama’s fault.

Whew, that was possibly my angriest post for a while, eh? Feels good to get it all out though.

Last night I went to Bethnal Green & met a new lady who just started lifting there while I was away. Exclamation point! She seems pretty good so far – can squat with ease & already squatting 40kg & benching 30kg. Many thumbs up! Unfortunately she asked me if I had any nutrition advice (hah) and all I could offer was my discount code for MyProtein & that she should probably ask someone else.

  • Squats: worked up to 5 sets of 3 @ 70kg. Still feeling so out of shape post-holiday!
  • Romanian deadlifts: 3 sets of 8 @ 50kg
  • Dimel deadlifts: 2 sets of 20 @ 40kg
  • Machine rows: 3 sets of 5 @ 20kg each hand; then 2 sets of 3 @ 25kg each hand
  • V-sit ups: 3 sets of 10
  • Glute & ham raises: 3 sets of 10

I had intended to go to my other gym for either a jog on the treadmill or a spin class today (I know!) but as per usual I ended up lunching at my desk.

Holiday in NYC

No post from me for a while because I’ve been on holiday in New York, which was fantastic. Sadly I’m back at work now, and I have a serious case of the post-holiday blues. Damn.

Yes please.

Yes please.

The main purpose of the holiday was to EAT DELICIOUS FOOD and we certainly achieved that. We had fantastic meals at – among other places – Cherche Midi, Bowery Meat Company, Pies ‘n’ Thighs, Tacombi and Mable’s Smokehouse.

Buuut, of course, there was a bit of taint there as – especially towards the beginning of the holiday – I felt some guilt about eating so much. The stupid, sad thing about it all is that I never felt food guilt before I started lifting and reading food/nutrition blogs. In a lot of ways I wish I’d never started reading food blogs, following fitness people online* etc. I wish sometimes I could lift in isolation to all the other bullshit that goes on around lifting (and I guess I could, if I wasn’t also committed to doing things like refereeing, for which I have to read things around powerlifting federations, which invariably brings with it talk of nutrition and leanness etc etc).

Don't mind if I do.

Don’t mind if I do.

Anyhow, my bad feelings did dissipate towards the end of the holiday. I think a change in my routine always gives me a bit of anxiety, even if it’s a nice change in routine, like a holiday.

Obviously I didn’t go lifting while I was away, but I did make use of the hotel’s fitness centre… once. It was just a small affair with cardio machines & some dumbbells (in pounds!). I decided to hop on the treadmill & see how far I could run; turns out I can run for 10 minutes non-stop at least – I would have gone on for longer but damn I was bored by that point. Running for 10 minutes probably doesn’t seem like much to people who run/jog regularly, but given I rarely do any cardio (save for short sprints every couple of weeks in conditioning class) I was kinda surprised. Maybe I should run regularly. Or maybe not!

If you insist.

If you insist.

We also walked miles every day we were there. Not particularly fast (who can walk fast in snow & ice anyway) and my joints did not thank me for it, but we walked. Sometimes I forget that walking counts as exercise.

I got back to the UK on Thursday & went to Bethnal Green on Saturday. I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do, thanks to feeling massively out of shape + having jetlag, but I had a pretty good workout. I carried on with the competition prep everyone is doing for February 28th, but obviously not with my full weights.

  • Squats: worked up to 3 sets of 4 @ 65kg (was meant to be 85kg if I’d not been away). These felt dreadful
  • Stiff-legged deadlifts: 3 sets of 7 @ 40kg
  • Bench: 5 x 5 @ 40kg, then one monster set of 10 @ 40kg. I am coming to the conclusion that I’m a far better volume bencher than I am for singles, which is crap as obv volume doesn’t count for a whole lot!
  • Low incline dumbbell bench: 10kg, 5 reps; 12.5kg, 2 sets of 5 reps
  • Landmines, pullthroughs, other bits
Oh, go on then.

Oh, go on then.

Tonight it’s back to the gym again, probably for more squats. I am feeling kinda blah about it, though – I don’t like training when I have no competition in sight, it all seems a bit pointless.

That said, I’m back off on holiday in March and I want to be feeling fitter by then. March is another EATING holiday and I do not want to feel bad about what I’m eating there, so maybe I will feel better about eating everything in sight if I’m back to my normal fitness levels. Maybe.

I won’t deny, I do feel a bit like a Body Positivity traitor feeling this way, though. Urgh. These things are so hard sometimes, you know?

* Incidentally, apropos of reading fitness/nutrition blogs (although I try to avoid it), I was thinking the other day that I feel like an absolute rebel when I eat low-fat yogurt or cook with KTC brand coconut oil (as opposed to one of the expensive brands) because both those things are so demonised by some nutrition bloggers. God. What’s deemed “right” or “wrong” really does depend on who you read, doesn’t it? Hence my reluctance to read ANYONE. (You can pry my cheap KTC coconut oil from my cold, dead hands!)

Back in the saddle for 2015

I hadn’t been planning to get back on the scales so soon into 2015, especially since I’m currently visibly larger than I was a few months ago (and very few of my clothes fit properly!) but curiosity overcame me after my workout on Saturday. I was 72.0kg – i.e. exactly on my weight class. It’s a relief, but I’m not entirely pleased – if I’m the same weight but larger, I’ve obviously lost a lot of muscle/condition!

It’s funny, to look at me I (or someone else) would think I’ve “put on a few pounds”, but I haven’t. Weight & size are funny things.

I’m pleased to realise I’m secure enough in my body positivity that, when I realised my clothes & bras were too tight, I just pulled an old larger-band bra out of the cupboard & decided not to wear my smallest pair of jeans for a few weeks until I get my condition back. No drama, no biggie.

What I’m not doing well with, at the moment, is the aspects of my self-confidence which don’t hinge on my appearance/body; this is all a carry-over from my least-favourite time of the year (late October – Christmas) and I’m definitely Working On It(TM). Unfortunately most of the positivity-boosting stuff you read this time of year is about your weight/body/size etc, which I have no issues with.

(I’m going to call it “mind positivity” as a direct corollary to “body positivity”, and if that makes no sense to anyone except me then [shrugging lady emoji])

Friday 3rd January was another “play” gym session, but happily I should be starting a new program tonight. This is the program taking everyone up to either the Greater London competition on February 28th, or the British Masters Classic in March; I won’t be competing at either thanks to a holiday I have booked in January, but I’m still going to follow the program. Training without programs gets boring pretty quickly.

So on Saturday I just decided to take things easy & see how I felt after the break (and after the intense conditioning session & did on Friday!)

  • Squats: worked up to 5 sets of 3 @ 60kg. It appears I still remember how to squat.
  • Dimel deadlifts: 2 sets of 20 @ 40kg
  • Bench: worked up to 5 sets of 3 @ 40kg
  • Upright rows: 15kg, 3 sets of 10
  • Abs, stretching etc