Falling in love with my FitBit

For anyone who knows me, they will know I have spent a large portion of my adult life avoiding exercise like the plague. I dallied with the gym in the mid-nineties thanks to a nymph-sized co-worker who thought the exercise room in the basement had been put there for something other than clandestine after-hours office affairs. I bought a bike and cycled up the VERY BIG hill to the train station for three weeks after we moved out of London, and then it rained and I got fed up with soggy helmet hair so I bought a car on my credit card instead. I loved pre-natal yoga, but suspect it was hormone-related, and also, let’s face it, not actual exercise. The personal trainer I treated myself to, to lose the baby weight, lasted a full year, but that was only because I was desperate. Once my jeans went back on, I was done.  And since then…nothing. For the entirety of my late thirties and early forties, I have done no exercise at all; and in the meantime taken up being a writer, which is about the most desk-bound career you could possibly think of, and improv comedy, which involves hanging out in darkened rooms above pubs, drinking pints and eating crisps for dinner.

All in all, not exactly a lifestyle Gwyneth Paltrow would approve of (Not that I’m a huge fan of kale shakes or vagina steaming either, to be honest, so like I give a fuck). The point is, up until I turned forty, I got away with it. And then the middle aged spread began, and I had a small thought that I should do something about it.

So off I went to something called Barrecore, because it was near where I lived and I could park right outside. Barrecore, for the uninitiated, is like a cross between Pilates and torture. For my efforts to plank my way to a better body, I was rewarded with a frozen shoulder that needed months of physio and a steroid injection, followed swiftly by a hip injury that needed another six months of physio and a blanket ban on ever going back to Barrecore by my therapist. So I found myself, at forty three, ‘suddenly’ up a dress size and a bit more flobby around the middle than was ideal, and in a HUGE panic about having to don various versions of ‘leisurewear’ for the rest of my life, because none of my clothes fit me anymore without three pairs of Spanx and a sports bra.

Around about April, I resolved to do something about all this. After twenty years of being a complete lazy arse and relying on good genes instead of cutting carbs, it was time to change it up. I gave up bread. I cut down on booze. I tried to eat better, snack less, and even switched out my flat whites for americanos. I started playing tennis, because I’ve always loved tennis, and I live in Wimbledon, and it seemed a bit silly not to at least have a go when you’re surrounded by courts and clubs and it costs less for a lesson than a trip to the cinema (if you count the extortionate but obligatory fizzy drink, popcorn and pick ‘n’ mix). And then, because I’d managed to accomplish an hour of exercise a week and not injure myself, or feel like I was going to throw up, I added a ‘Couch to 5k’ app to my phone and began to run. Tennis fulfilled my need to combine physical activity with social interaction. C25K allowed me to switch off from the rest of my life and enjoy the fresh air and peace while I ran. I got a suntan. I felt good about myself. My stomach began to flatten out a little. And just like that, I began to hate exercise a little less.

All of this has stunned my husband, who is waiting for the sky to fall in, or at the very least, for me to injure myself again. But so far, so good. SO good, in fact, that I asked for a FitBit for my birthday last month, and he actually agreed to buy me one.

I can’t imagine life before it. For a person who is somewhat goal-oriented, it’s the ultimate self-improvement tool. I wear it everywhere. I sleep in it. By around dinner time, I become obsessed with the steps I’ve taken, the flights of stairs I’ve climbed, the number of minutes I’ve been active for; I question my commitment to myself if I haven’t fulfilled my goals for the day by the time I sit down in the evening. Right now it just buzzed me to tell me I need to get up and move and I’m fighting the urge to try and dictate the rest of this on Siri while I walk. To be honest, if I’ve had a quiet day working from home, walking around the living room while I watch TV just to get to 10,000 steps is a fairly regular occurrence, and last night I went up and down the stairs three times before bed while I brushed my teeth, just because I couldn’t bear to underachieve my ten flights goal I set myself. I study my sleep patterns each morning, comparing how refreshed, energised or happy I feel with my deep sleep to light sleep to REM ratios; if I haven’t achieved my requisite number of hours sleep, I go to bed early the next night so I can. It is, by default of me being in almost permanent competition with myself, making me a fitter, healthier person. But the weird thing, the really weird thing, is how happy it makes me.

I wonder, will this happiness last? Will the romance blossom and me and my FitBit be a marriage made in heaven, or will it be a fling, the passion dying as quickly as it came? Who can tell? Maybe I’ll tire of it telling me what to do, telling me off, buzzing at me when I’m busy with other things. Maybe as the winter comes on, I’ll cycle through feelings of guilt and resentment about not making my quota of steps because it’s pissing down with rain and I want to stay indoors and drink hot chocolate and write a book, and end up dumping the thing until the clocks change again and eating pies and drinking pints and buying bigger jumpers to drape over my muffin top in the meantime. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve finally hit on a way to make exercise something I want to do, rather than something I have to do. I think, dare I say it, I may have found the ‘one’, who will guide me and encourage me to get out there and do it.

I have fallen completely and utterly in love with a wristwatch. To say it’s life changing would not be an underestimation. I love the buzz on my wrist to tell me to get my butt out of my chair and move around. I love the fireworks that go off when I hit my steps goal for the day. I love the graphs, the averages, the satisfaction that comes from knowing I’m improving my number of active minutes by going out and running, or getting a better night’s sleep by going to bed before midnight. That ‘buzz’ that everyone always talks about having after exercise, that I never, ever felt, is suddenly tip toeing into my life, filling me with the feel good factor, and making me want to do more.

I have my limits. Boot camp, for example. Marathons. Anything involving mud or cycle pants with bum padding. But I’m like that girl who dumps all her friends as soon as the man of her dreams comes along – I don’t want to have a massive night out, or eat crap for lunch, or go for another cup of coffee and a croissant, like I did in the good old days. I’d rather slip on my beloved FitBit and go for a good long walk.

 

 

 

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Tears on my pillow

In the scheme of things, today is no biggie. I mean, I’ve had worse. People other than me are having worse right now. A friend lost her father suddenly this week. There’s thousands of people whose homes and livelihoods are devastated thanks to the most terrifying hurricane I can remember. President Trump still has the nuclear codes. But this morning began with rain, credit card fraud and a phone call that left me in tears. So I’d like to think my day might improve from here on in.

Why was I crying? Well the bottom line is something to do with being let down by a friend, and that triggered a feeling of frustration and loneliness usually reserved for the much darker days of my early expat experience, which in turn has led me into the rabbit warren of doom, questioning my ability to really be successful at anything very much. I got from ‘my life is full and happy’ to ‘everything is turning to shit’ in about 42 seconds, which was a record, even for me. I know: these are just normal feelings that come and go as we journey through this little thing called life. It’s not like I haven’t felt this way before, and I know it will pass. I just don’t like it. I don’t like this feeling of being crap and having stuff fall apart at the seams despite my very best efforts and intentions. Especially not before 10am in the morning.

It’s a few hours on and I’m still a bit on edge. I realised, earlier, that I haven’t cried in FOREVER. Nor have I self-assessed my feelings for quite some time, which is probably bad, because it means I’ve been ignoring myself. So as I write (this being, in itself, a step forward to regaining the zen mindfulness I’ve missed these past few months) I start to assess why I had such a violent reaction. I wonder if it was really the phone call? Sure, that was the catalyst, but was it the cause? Usually September – and with it turning one year older – is like a shedding of skin, a time to get going with new projects, revive passions for old ones, and generally rush headlong into life again after the stagnation of the summer. Why is this one different?

Maybe I need to spend more time with my thoughts and feelings, to reevaluate what is making me passionate and what is not; what or who I need to walk away from to be happy and find the new balance I obviously seek. I feel like I’ve had to do this a lot since we moved back to London, but then is this really all that surprising? I spoke to another friend – a newly arrived fellow expat – last week, and reminded her it takes three to five years to really feel settled and accepted into a new place. I think I should probably take my own advice and remember I’m only two years into this particular adventure. I’m still, in some ways, experiencing reverse culture shock. I’m certainly nowhere near the ‘mastery’ that is the golden snitch of the expat/repat experience.

When I think about how I felt two years into our Dubai posting, maybe it’s not so shocking I struggle to find my way here at times. I realise my feelings right now, today, are reminiscent of all those years ago, of not quite having found my groove, of missing the people and places that were part of what made the sum of me – of having complete faith in every aspect of my life.

I know I accepted sometime at the end of last year that my life in Dubai was truly over. My friend’s wedding – feeling like a visitor for the first time, instead of coming home – I knew, then, that ‘there’ was no longer home. When I hit the 2-year mark in June, my friend said ‘wow, it’s like you’re really gone now,’ which I suppose was a truth of sorts. But home still isn’t here, not quite: I still feel a little lost, like I haven’t quite mastered this new world – and some of the bits I created in the meantime I kind of wish I hadn’t. So maybe that’s why I’m crying. It’s just another step in the mourning process, in the acceptance that things aren’t the same as they once were, and I’m still learning the new rules of the game.

I know I’ll get over myself of course; in true extrovert style, I just need to surround myself with the right people – people who make me inspired, who make me feel supported, loved and needed because of who I am, rather than who they would like me to be. Fortunately I’m seeing them later tonight. Ironically, they all come from Dubai.

 

 

 

 

#amwriting

I love summer holidays. I mean, everyone loves summer holidays, sure; but I’m pretty certain I love them more. To the moon and back. Or at the very least, the east coast of America.

My husband’s family hail from the Massachusetts area (The Spirit of America!), and so we take an annual pilgrimage here to see them, as well as my sister and her family, who are in New York and come up for a few days to join us. We usually squeeze in the odd dinner with friends and my mum and stepdad have recently taken to joining in the fun as well. It’s a big bonanza of a summer, and the past few years we’ve spent a whole month here, just so we don’t have to cram everyone in and feel like we’ve never even had a holiday by the time we get home.

It’s hectic and hot, and on busy weekends, a little overcrowded at the house, but lazy days on the beach and dinner by the water and endless rounds of tipsy evening Bananagram battles more than compensate. And maybe thanks to all of this, I go through a strange transformation that confounds everyone who knows me: I become a morning person.

To be clear, I am NOT a morning person. I hate waking up, I hate getting up, and eight years of parenting have failed to cure me of this. I have not ‘got used to it’. I’m a night owl, and a terrible procrastinator when it comes to bedtime; I’ll find any number of projects to do at 11pm that will see me through until the early hours, and have been known to deny myself of sleep for the most ridiculous of reasons, like trying on old ballgowns to see if they still fit, or watching back-to-back episodes of shockingly bad tv until I can’t bear it any longer.

But when I’m in Rockport, everything changes. Maybe it’s the light, which is beautiful at every time of day, but especially at dawn; maybe it’s the peace and quiet, the simpler life away from the city; maybe it’s just the friendly relaxed vibe of this wonderful place by the sea… but every day for a whole month, I’m in bed by 10.30, and the next morning find myself awake early enough to catch the last of the cool morning breeze, grab a cup of tea, and plonk myself down in ‘my chair by the window’, to do the most luxurious, ‘me time’ thing I can think of: write.

Why don’t I write like this in England? Or anywhere else, for that matter? Why should this place inspire me to be so prolific, where so many other places fail? There’s a reason why people pay a fortune to go on writing retreats, clearly. The very act of being isolated from normal life, with the knowledge that I have a whole month – not 10 days, or a long weekend – but a whole month with nothing much else to think about – inspires me to write, and not just a little – a lot. There’s plenty of time to let ideas develop and get them down on paper, without the interruption of the school run, or nice-to-have can’t-turn-it-down actual-real-life paid work, or the temptation of a coffee with friends. I don’t have to arrange play dates or go into town for a meeting, or promote a show, or visit the supermarket for the third time in as many days. No one is texting me, WhatsApp-ing me, Facebook message-ing me – and if they are, I’m 5 hours behind them and don’t even carry my phone with me most of the time. Fact: my phone hasn’t been charged in 3 days. It still has battery. That’s got to be some sort of record.

Or maybe it’s the light. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. I’m writing and it feels good.

 

 

 

My first menopause

‘Your test results were very interesting.’ My gynaecologist looks up from the typed paper in front of him and smiles.

I smile back, an idiot grin with my heart beating overtime. ‘In what way?’

‘Well, you have no oestrogen.’

‘Sorry?’

‘Here’s your results here.’ He points. ‘It’s so low as to be unregisterable, see? And here is the average for a man.’ He points to the information table on the right hand side of the page.

‘I didn’t even know men had oestrogen.’

‘Oh, yes. And more than you do. I have more oestrogen than you. Jeremy Corbyn has more oestrogen than you. Arnold Schwartznegger has more oestrogen than you. There’s a good chance you’ve had your menopause…’ he looks up at me again. ‘Although you don’t look like you’ve had a menopause.’

‘You don’t know what I looked like before,’ I reply, a little in shock. I’m 42 years old and Arnold Schwartznegger has more chance of getting pregnant than I do.

HRT

My gynae and me discuss the issue at some length to try and unravel the mystery. I had trouble conceiving at 34 and my family history is one with early menopauses casually sprinkled throughout, so it’s perfectly possible. The middle aged spread I can’t get rid of, the insomnia, the casual way in which I am prone to tears; it all points to some sort of hormonal breakdown. But my gynae is convinced I can’t possibly have had a menopause without noticing, and my normal, pre-menopausal FSH levels would back up that theory.

‘We’ll prescribe you some pills and pop a new coil in. If you feel like superwoman after a month and you don’t have breasts like bullets (cue mildly inappropriate hand gestures) then we’ll know we haven’t overcooked you and we’ll probably carry on with that and just keep an eye on things.’

‘How will I know if it was the menopause or not, then?’ I say.

‘If you have another menopause, it wasn’t the menopause,’ he says. ‘It’s about a 60/40 chance you’re through it.’

I leave the office a little shell shocked, wondering a) if my gynae is a stand up comedian in his spare time and b) if I’ve actually pulled off the menopause of the century. What if that’s it? I ponder. No night sweats, no hot flushes, vague forgetfulness, marriage still relatively intact…please GOD let that be it.

A month later, thanks to a big pile of pills (which, let’s not dress it up, it’s HRT), I’m feeling pretty superwoman-y. I’m running twice a week (which is a first in a lifelong history of exercise avoidance), I’m playing tennis, and I’m able to remember things much better than before. I’m running a business, parenting, and balancing a pretty hectic social life, and for the first time in a long time, I don’t feel permanently knackered. I realise I’m 42 and I don’t care if I’ve had my menopause. I try not to think too much about the scenario where I haven’t; I figure only time will tell, and if I feel good right now, then who cares?

I think about writing, because it’s what I do. I think about how I used to blog, and how much I enjoyed spending time on my thoughts once a week or so, to make sense of things that happen, be amused by life, or tackle a difficult issue. I tried to start another one a year ago, about being a middle aged feminist. But I realised, feminist though I am, I didn’t want to work within that particular remit. I wanted to do something that celebrated all the quirks and wonders of mid-life. Being in my forties is turning out to be miles more fun than my thirties, and infinitely more satisfying than being in my twenties. I’m wrinkly, a bit floppy and fat, but enjoying the ride. So I’ll write about that, I think.

Welcome.