According to my parents I was an overly active kid who could never sit still for five minutes. As soon as I started walking and was old enough to follow instructions they started sending me to daily dance classes where I was able to use up all of my energy before I peacefully settled in my bed in the evening. In primary school I was going to a 2-hour sports class every single day and attending a 2-hour dance class three times a week on top of that. Despite all of those activities I can’t remember ever feeling tired. But somehow in between the start of my menstruation cycles at the age of 13 and the end of my high school exams at 18, I have completely lost touch with my physical self.
I had invested all my energy into building my career and simply settled for being an overworked, constantly tired and lethargic version of myself with an incredibly polished CV.
Getting good grades at school and then university became a priority and my trainings and dance classes suddenly stopped seeming that important. By the time I was 25 I had not exercised regularly for over a decade, neither did I feel the need to (or so I thought). I had invested all my energy into building my career and simply settled for being an overworked, constantly tired and lethargic version of myself with an incredibly polished CV. I didn’t realise how desperately I needed to start moving my body again until I started having regular panic attacks, was waking up with fevers and shivers in the middle of the night for no reason and the hair around my temples started falling out. That’s when I decided it was time for a change.
Feeling guilty about working out
Along with fixing my diet and doing all the possible health check-ups to make sure I don’t die of a heart attack before reaching the age of 30, I decided to start doing some sort of exercise every single day. I was struggling a lot at first. Not with the actual exercises — I really enjoyed doing them. But with the guilt that I felt for taking away the time from my work. As I was fighting the feeling of overwhelming culpability with my sidekicks to the beat of the “Cardio” playlist on Spotify I realised that my life outlook was, to say the least, problematic.
The more I jumped, squatted, pumped and worked my muscles the more ridiculous my life choices over the past ten years or so seemed to me.
I worked for the sake of working, reached for new job opportunities for the sake of adding another few lines to my CV and completed university degrees to make people respect me more. In all of that I had somehow lost respect for myself and became a slave to an A4 piece of paper listing my positions. “Is it all worth it?”, I was thinking, “am I actually happy?”. I had somehow believed that focusing on my work achievements would satisfy every single need I could ever have, even though most of my needs (like moving my body more) had nothing to do with how much money I was making. The more I jumped, squatted, pumped and worked my muscles the more ridiculous my life choices over the past ten years or so seemed to me.
I remember very clearly the first time I burst into tears during my workout. It was a gloomy winter afternoon and I was jumping around to some famous pop songs the titles of which I can’t remember at the moment. Suddenly, out of the blue my eyes filled with tears and I felt this massive pit in my stomach. A few months earlier I would have simply ignored it. “Suck it up and be an adult”, I would have said to myself, “you’re not a baby anymore”. But all the times I moved my body in those few months reminded me of that little girl who was never ashamed of her emotions. So I let it out. I let myself cry. The more I moved and shook my body the more tears I was producing.
At first I could not understand it at all. But the more I cried the more I was finally getting it. I have been grieving over a decade of lost time when instead of focusing on myself and living a life to the full while building a career that would enable me to do it, I was working for the sake of working. All the choices I had made took me so far away from who I used to be that I no longer even remembered who that person was, until now. When life gets tough, some people go to therapy and others create art. I have found a way to process my emotions through movement. I knew that this was the way to do it since I was a child. I just wish I had never forgotten it.
Moving instead of meditating
Now that I have accepted the lost time and made peace with my past I use my exercise sessions as daily therapy. When I do my Zumba moves or jump on my trampoline to the latest song by Shakira I feel free again, like when I was a 6-year-old dancing around in my room, pretending to be performing on stage. It keeps me grounded and gives me space every day to reflect on how my life is going. It makes me stay on track and not overwork myself.
“Three, two, one, squat, three, two, one, squat, three, two, one, squat” — that’s the best meditation I could ever think of.
Many people swear by meditation as a strategy to stay more calm and happy. I have tried it many times with the same result. I was fidgeting, moving around and fighting with my own body trying to keep it still. Every time it felt as if there was a cohort of ants running all over my body and having a party. There is clearly still a lot of that little girl in me who could not stay still for 5 minutes. But I have never felt more peaceful than after a half an hour run, walk or cardio session. “Three, two, one, squat, three, two, one, squat, three, two, one, squat” — that’s the best meditation I could ever think of.
Kettlebells instead of teddy bears
I’ve been working out fairly regularly or several months now. Funnily enough, I no longer feel guilty about working out instead of working. Quite the opposite — I have arranged my life so that I can squeeze in as much exercise as I want to and need every day, only returning to work once I feel that I’ve had enough and can take a break. If at any point during work I start feeling restless I no longer try to deny the feeling. I take a break, get up, do a few squats or jump on a skipping rope for 10 minutes.
Teddy bears, dolls and books with DIY ideas for kids now turned into yoga mats, foam rollers and resistance bands.
My house used to be full of documents, papers and textbooks which I used for work. They all seemed very important, causally lying around the living room and the office space. In reality, I found them dull and boring. They did not inspire me in any way to do anything other than add another line to my CV. These days my flat has been overtaken by workout equipment. In a weird way all of these objects remind me of the toys I used to have when I was a kid. Teddy bears, dolls and books with DIY ideas for kids now turned into yoga mats, foam rollers and resistance bands. They are colorful and exciting. They make me feel like a kid again. I finally have my energy back and I am more like myself. And the panic attacks? I have now almost forgotten that I used to have them, though I’m pretty sure they would be back in no time if I stopped doing my daily skipping rope “meditation”.