The Gym Diaries

Part 1

You know how it is. You’re stuck in lockdown, the pubs are closed and you’ve been staring at the same four walls for what feels like an eternity? Lockdown after lockdown has left you feeling deflated, bored, and quite frankly, sick of how you feel about yourself. Been there. 2020 left me at a major crossroads in my life and my way of dealing with this was unhealthy to say the least. I wasn’t taking care of myself mentally or physically, I wasn’t treating my body like the temple that it is and I certainly was not to be found anywhere remotely near a gym.

So, when I got a job at a local gym I figured now was the time to take control of how I felt about myself and see if working out really would make the difference gym-goers claim it does. Plus, I knew the image of me panting and squeezed into stupidly high-waisted leggings had the potential to make people laugh. All in all, it made sense to record the ramblings of a gym novice trying to make herself feel better.

A bit of background on me - I’ve suffered with depression for most of my life. My symptoms range from moderate to severe and although I can go long periods of time without experiencing an episode, when they arrive, they arrive in full force. My moods and self-esteem are so low they’re chilling with the Titanic, I have trouble concentrating, I cannot stay awake and honestly? Push ups are the furthest thing from my mind. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand, and this charming little cocktail meant that I found the idea of walking into a gym full of giant men lifting weights and women bending over backwards in lycra absolutely horrifying.

Before I started working at the gym, I was NOT into exercise. Sure, I walked everywhere, but to be honest, my most regular interaction with a raised heartbeat came from running for the train. So yeah, I was probably the least likely person to step inside a gym, let alone work for one.I knew the basic science already: when we exercise, our bodies release chemicals called endorphins. These react with the receptors in our brains that reduce our perception of pain. Simply put, exercising can boost your mood, tackle feelings of anxiety and depression, improve your sleep and reduce stress. No brainer, right?

Finding the motivation was another thing entirely; it took me a good month to even book a personal training session and when I did, it was hell. There is NOTHING more humbling than realising you can’t lift more than 2kg above your head, seriously. It made things clear:

I didn’t want to feel like this anymore. Years of battling mental illness left me with an inner strength that helped me tackle life on my lowest days, but my body just didn’t have the tenacity to match. I wanted to look at myself and know that my body could be as strong as my mind, so it was time for a game plan.

I booked myself in for a Wellness Consultation with one of my colleagues and spoke to her about what I wanted, and why I felt I’d been unable to achieve this before. It really helped that she had a background in mental health, and I would advise anyone joining a gym to check out how much they prioritise this as it can make a world of difference.

We set up a basic plan, focusing on what I wanted (to gain muscle, get stronger and tone up) and how often I could realistically train. At first, I wanted to train 5 days a week for at least an hour and found that this fit into my schedule quite nicely, but over time I’ve had to juggle other commitments and make peace with the fact that I can’t always control when I can make it to the gym.

Be ready to adapt your routine if necessary and don’t put pressure on yourself to smash it every single time. Listening to your body and taking time out when you need it is the most important thing, and you’re less likely to commit to a routine if it feels too overwhelming.

I fluctuate between 3 and 4 days a week, and I find this helps me to balance other parts of my life, including studying, working and having a social life. And you know what? I’m seeing results. My body is getting stronger as I lift heavier weights (hello, 4kg) but the biggest improvement I’ve seen is that of my mental health. My moods are lifted, I feel more capable so my self-esteem has sky-rocketed and I feel more able to cope with stress. It’s not a walk in the park, and some days I really struggle to get myself out of bed, let alone on a treadmill, but the feeling I get when I actually show up for myself is something I wasn’t quite prepared for. It’s GOOD.

I feel prouder, more confident, and stronger in my body and mind. Some days it’s hard, some days it’s actually impossible, and I still have to remind myself that it’s okay to have bad days, or just days when working out isn’t my priority. Learning curves and all that! All I know is, I’m trying, and you know what?

I think it’s working.