When I was a student, somebody I knew once criticised me for going for a run because she considered it to be un-feminist. “But aren’t you conforming to patriarchal beauty standards by jogging to be thin?”
Firstly, even if I did want to “conform to patriarchal beauty standards” that would be my choice and it would be just fine if I wanted to.
Secondly, that’s a huge misconception about why women exercise. I say women, because I don’t think that men get this bullshit. Men are allowed to exercise to be fit, to be strong or because it’s fun. Women apparently exercise to loose weight. I know this because every time I talk about going to the gym at least one person chimes in and says, “But you don’t need to to to the gym! You’re so thin!”
Again, if I wanted to go the the gym to loose weight or to keep weight off that would be my choice and it would be just fine. But it’s not the reason I go to the gym so it’s really annoying. And it’s exactly this kind of attitude that does enforce the patriarchy, by assuming women are thinking about their weight all the goddamn time.
Now I have gotten that off my chest, I can move on to talking about the real reasons that I exercise.
I have another memory from around the same time that I was told that jogging what un-feminist. I remember running late at night, around and around the block in which I lived. I remember the way the street lamps hit the pavement, and I remember how powerful I felt. How alive it made me feel to work my legs and raise my heartbeat after a day hunched over a computer writing my dissertation. I remember how soundly I used to sleep, often still in my running kit, when I returned from these late night runs.
I’ve had a couple of panic attacks this week and both (at least partly) took place at the gym. I learnt a valuable lesson here about the answers always being more complicated than I pretend they are (I have to re-learn this on a regular basis). I had been counting down to the gym re-opening as though it would solve all my mental health problems. True, I always do feel better when I exercise, and the gym can often give me some much needed structure, but obviously it’s never that easy.
The gym I go to used to be an LA Fitness Gym, but has re-opened following a refurbishment as a Pure Gym. It’s taking me a little while to adjust to the changes, and some of the things that they’ve changed have made using the gym a pretty anxious experience for me.
Hi there folks, and welcome to part two of what I’m thinking of calling “The Anxiety Diaries”. Part one saw our intrepid heroine pour her heart out into a blog post and share it on Facebook and Twitter. She had loads of supportive messages from internet friends, IRL friends, and total strangers, telling her she was brave and that she wasn’t alone.
Sounds like a happy ending right? And it was kind of happy, I was blown away by how nice everyone was being to me. The following morning I woke up feel pretty embarrassed and worried that I was attention seeking. Do I deserve all these people being nice to me? I don’t think so.
I tried to blame it on the patriarchy. Woman are taught to just get on with it, and to not speak up about who they are. Society is making me feel shame!
In the end I just felt confused and even more tired.
[Trigger warnings for mental health]
Yesterday, I spent 40 minutes answering questions about my life, my habits, my thoughts, and my feelings. I was more honest than I am with most of my family and friends. At the end of the appointment I was told that I am displaying “moderately severe” symptoms of depression and “severe” symptoms of anxiety. Hey, at least I aced the PTSD test! With a score of just 24/88 I’m barely displaying any symptoms at all.
Now, I am struggling with the identity shift that has come with a mental health diagnosis. I’m not just grumpy and neurotic. This isn’t just a slightly charming personality trait. I am formally, clinically, depressed and anxious.
I was surprised at my reaction. Even though I have offered support to friends with mental health problems without (or so I thought) judging them in the slightest, I guess I felt that I was somehow above them. I was the person who had their shit together, and who other people (the kind of people who didn’t have their shit together) came to me with their problems. In short, I have been a bit of an arsehole. And I might have carried on being an arsehole, had I not married someone who has their shit together even more than me.