In true fashion, I wanted to write something about identity for months, as it is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, but of course couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to say. Just as well I don’t write for a living…. Anyway, this weekend has been something of an epiphany for me, so thought I’d commit my pish chat to paper. Or a screen, to be exact.
I guess the concept of identity is something we all struggle with in some way. We all ask ourselves “who am I?” at some point in our lives, or at least I do. The thing is, I don’t think we have just one identity as such, rather our lives are made up of lots of different ones. I read somewhere recently that we shouldn’t act differently depending on who we are with, that we should show the same aspects of ourselves no matter who we’re talking to, and by not doing this it means we’re not being true to ourselves. I’m not sure I fully agree, since I’m going to talk to my Dad differently than I would a work colleague or friend, for example. Obviously our underlying personality will remain the same, but I feel as though having different identities is part-and-parcel of who we are as humans. So wtf am I talking about? Well, when I was doing a lot of soul-searching last year (read: freaking out over my impending birthday), I thought about all the various identities I guess I’ve ascribed to myself/lived/embodied (?) over the course of my life: child; student; traveller; pilot; runner/triathlete; engineer; daughter/sister/auntie; friend; lover; talker of pish, and I guess loads of other things I can’t think of right now. The thing is, can we still identify ourselves as a particular person/thing when we don’t do it anymore? I’ve not flown a plane for a few years now, and when people say “Oh Lee’s a pilot” I feel kind of embarrassed because I feel like a cheat – while I still have my licence, and will definitely use it again some day, I couldn’t just rock up to an airport and fly something because I’m out of practice and would need to get back into it. Though as an aside, I have to say, when I fly anywhere these days I do often daydream about what would happen if the pilots carked it and they asked if anyone in the back could fly. This daydream always ends with me saving the day of course, but hopefully I’ll never need to test the theory. Anyway, being a part of that life, living at an airport in Australia for a year and flying every day and hanging out with like-minded people was such a good time of my life, and I sorely miss it. It was the right choice to take a different path in life a couple of years later, but I miss being that person. I guess everyone needs to find their ‘tribe’ or a group of people they feel a kinship with. Flying gave me that, but then again so do my running pals and triathlon pals (some of whom know each other, some of whom don’t). So do all my other friends that I know for varying reasons. These different aspects of my life all add up to one great whole, so I’m really lucky to have so many ace folk in my life, even if they’re not all in it at once. For me, this idea of identity is so important because essentially I’m saying to people ‘look at me, this is who I am’.
So I guess the problem is not what I’ve been describing above – that’s all good, positive stuff – but the negative aspects of identity. There is one overarching identity I feel I’ve had my whole life (well, since my teens I guess), that overshadows everything else on that list that I’ve not mentioned yet, but is the real crux of the matter and affects every aspect of my life: being fat. I think I was a fairly skinny kid, but as I grew up I was always a little bit bigger than everyone else. Of course kids are total bastards when it comes to things like that, so school was full of lots of fat & ugly comments that, funnily enough, didn’t particularly upset me at the time (I was sound enough even then to know that folk being nasty to you are essentially arseholes and need to be ignored), but I guess those comments grind away at you and the insults start to stick a bit. I’ve always been a bit shit at dealing with failure, and never thinking I’m good enough, so of course this was just something to add to the list to beat myself up about. Wind forward 30 odd years and I think having such a dismal view of myself is now more due to habit than anything else. This is just how I feel about myself, and I never really question it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of all I’ve achieved in my life, and I’m really happy with what I’m doing now, but the only thing I still hate about myself is my size.
I absolutely understand that many people reading this (if anyone can be arsed to!) will be screaming at the screen for me to “well just fucking sort it out then and stop moaning!!!”. I COMPLETELY get that, and understand why people would think that. It isn’t just a thing about food/exercise though. I know what I need to do in that respect, so I’m not even going to bother talking about that because it is boring and obvious and blah blah blah. This is about looking in a mirror and being embarrassed about making eye contact with myself (I know, fucking nuts) because I’m ashamed at what is staring back. I don’t even have a full length mirror at home. It’s about walking about at work or in the street or basically anywhere and feeling huge and sheepish about how I look, and feeling like I have to hide away, and can’t stand tall because I feel so overwhelmingly mortified and humiliated. Believe it or not though, in my head I don’t FEEL like I look. I think I’m a reverse anorexic – I think of myself as being strong and confident and proud then I see myself in a shop window or a mirror and the person staring back, horror-stricken, doesn’t match how I feel. Even writing this now it sounds ridiculous, but it has taken me soooooo long to understand that the only way to let go of all this shite is to actually start to love myself. I know, cue the vomit buckets. Believe me, I hate all that cheesy, vom-inducing chat about loving yourself as much as the next person, but annoyingly I fear it is actually true! DAMMIT! Also, I’m not talking here about being pretty – I can’t change my face, don’t want to, and other folk can worry about how I look. While it sometimes feels as though I’m eternally single, I’ve had my fair share of blokes over the years, and they didn’t give a shit about how I looked, so it isn’t about me hating myself because I’m worried what other people think. If people can’t see past the exterior and see how awesome I am (hehehe), then that’s their loss. The problem is I’m so mortified about myself that I’ve stopped letting anyone in. I’ve kind of shut myself off from that part of life (i.e. relationships etc.) because I find it hard to deal with how I feel about myself, and even more so how to deal with seeing myself through someone else’s eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I love to receive compliments about how I look (who doesn’t?), but I really, really, REALLY struggle to accept them and think folk must just be trying to be nice, that they don’t mean it. Because the crux of the matter is I wouldn’t say such nice things about my appearance, so why would anyone else? To anyone reading this, I am NOT fishing for compliments, so don’t try to give me any or I’ll get annoyed. Again this isn’t about how others see me, it’s about how I see myself.
Sooooooo, I’m actually about to get to the whole point of this waffling monologue! Hurrah!! If you’ve not died of boredom by now, congratulations. So, despite all of that stuff above, I’ve recognised lately that I really need to adjust how I feel about myself, but no matter how hard I thought about it I couldn’t get to a place where it just clicked, where I’d finally say ‘bugger this, i’m actually going to start being happy with myself’. Miraculously though, this last weekend has just been the tonic I needed. Cue a weekend in Blackpool spent cycling indoors with other nutters for three days! As epiphanies go it’s an odd one, but I’ll take it! When I lived in Edinburgh, I went to the wonderful world of LifesCycle, run by Jeannie and Andy, and I fell in love with spinning. This isn’t just like the normal gym spin classes which I find pretty generic and dull, rather LifesCycle is like a little family that you become a part of, where you get a great workout that blows away the cobwebs, makes you smile, laugh and generally just feel sooo happy. It is a place where I made good friends too. I’ve been away with the LifesCycle gang to Italy a couple of times on spin weekends, and just loved them. So I knew I’d have a blast in Blackpool, but honest to god it feels like it was life changing! (Time to rinse out the vomit bucket and get ready to reload).
Despite the fact I have used about a gazillion words to get this far into this post, I can honestly say I don’t think I can fully put into words how I’ve felt this weekend. I’ve done virtually no exercise for months, but I managed to crank out 7.5 hours worth of spinning in three days. I had no idea I had that in me. I felt mostly strong, occasionally tired and unable to go on, but I managed to power through and I can honestly say I cannot remember a time in my life I’ve felt this good. I’m not even aching?! I think the crux of it is that no matter who you are, what shape/size you are or how fit you are you can get something out of a spin class. You don’t need to worry about fannying around with road bikes and traffic and wind and rain. It’s warm and comfy (ish), faff-less and fun. When I do these classes I feel as strong and powerful and alive as I’ve ever felt. I’ve got great thighs for spinning, not so much for long slow running, so I guess I’m better suited to it!! I used to love road biking but tbh it kind of scares me now. The spinning was like a catharsis, it felt so visceral and all-consuming. I’m such a visual person, I imagined I had pistons in my legs, fuelled by a fire in my belly that I stoked with electrolytes and maintained with the oxygen I was breathing in. It felt as though every cell in my body had come alive, as though I was burning all the shit and negativity away and was awash with positivity. I love the dark, and I always feel really comforted by darkness, so the atmosphere in the place was perfect – dark but with amazing visuals projected on to a screen, banging, bassy tunes and this energy that was palpable. I love to just close my eyes and internalise how I feel and just go for it. It got so emotional sometimes too. Anyone that knows me knows I’m just a big girl and a total sap, but even I was shocked at how much it all just meant to me. Honest to god it feels like all these feelings of hating myself and all that pointless rubbish have just seeped out of me (I did sweat a lot, to be fair). I’m actually laughing as I write all this because it sounds so bonkers, but I just don’t know how else to put it. I think I just needed this weekend to show me that I can be whoever I want to be, and I don’t need to define myself by my old feelings. I feel like a new person, ready to actually get myself the life I want. I want to be healthy, and I can only do that if I look after myself, and I can only do that if I can look in the mirror and feel good about myself, fat or not. So I’m no thinner today, but I feel like a weight is off my shoulders and I can feel as though the spark and zest I had for life is coming back. I WANT to make changes now, rather than know that I should but then struggle to make them.
Christ, I do go on a bit! I didn’t mean to go on so much, but I just had to get all this out so I can leave it behind and just get on with stuff. I’ve always believed that ‘What’s meant for you won’t go by you’, and I think meeting the wonderful Jeannie and Andy and the LifesCycle family must have been fate, otherwise I wouldn’t have been there this weekend. Everything just comes together at the right time sometimes 🙂
So, watch this space 🙂
Thanks for reading.
Love Happy Pea x