A confession: the reason I started going to the gym (vs now)

Just over a decade ago, I started ‘working out’ for the first time. In the early days, I didn’t really know what I was doing. The gym was an intimidating place to say the least. I was convinced that every other guy there was huge. There was me, this small, skinny brown guy attempting to build muscle.

An uncle of mine, who was into his weightlifting, used to drag me along and show me the ropes. At first, I didn’t particularly like it – especially when it came to ‘back day’ or ‘leg day’; I actually ended up throwing-up mid-session after a leg session with my uncle, who trains particularly hard – to this day, I still get nausea if I train too intensely for too prolonged a period, and especially if legs are in some way involved.

Training for the first time, and using muscles I’d not used before, it wasn’t too long before I start to notice both strength and body improvement.

gym body post
credit: NeuPaddy

As I mentioned, I was a small and skinny kid. I was one of the shortest in my year group (140 people) until I was 17. I’ve lost count of the number of times relatives told me I ‘was too skinny’ or ‘don’t eat enough’ or some other weight-based comment. Little did I know it at the time, but really this was a form of body-shaming. In India culture, unless you’re particularly rotund and chunky, you’re under-weight. Seriously. I don’t know where it stems from. Perhaps, back in the day in India, a fuller figure was a sign of affluence. Who knows, just a theory.

As a sensitive child, I was self-critical enough as it was without these unhelpful comments. I remember going on holiday to Hawaii, when I was around 17. As often happened on holiday, I’d meet other teens and tentatively hang out. This obnoxious America kid looked at my body and said to me, in front of a couple of girls by the pool, something along the lines of “Have you never thought about going to the gym?” I blushed and felt really awkward, as well as demeaned and pretty angry at this d*ck of a guy. Of course, sensitive little me just about managed to say something or other, God knows what. One of the girls there expressed shock, gasping and saying his name as if to say “Oh my God, you’re so out of order”.

Moments like that stick with you. In my late teens and into my early 20s, I stuffed my face. I’m a slow eater, and I was eating regularly, so it sometimes felt that I was eating *all the time*. Lots of eggs and chicken. Lots of bread, rice and full-fat milk. I gained muscle, and fat, and got bigger and bigger.

I felt better for being bigger, I thought, and others started to notice, too. “Woah, have you been training?”, and “Sh*t man, you got big” and “You look like a boxer man” were some of the comments I received. Ego-boosters, for sure.

However, it was a pretty shallow confidence that I gained. Really, I was still incredibly insecure. I was the same sensitive, insecure kid. Just with a bigger shell now.

My body issues aren’t quite as drastic now, I don’t think, though I do find myself comparing myself to others. Whether it’s in the gym, on the street, or with others I know. I catch myself doing it sometimes. Instagram would have really f*cked me up if it had been a thing when I was at school and university.

My younger brother, who’s got a slightly bigger build than me, whenever I make comments about his being bigger than I am, has said that I need my eyes tested, or that I might be slightly body-dysmorphic. I don’t want to minimise genuine, fully-blown body dysmorphia for anyone that has it, but I’ve had some low-level extent of the symptoms – from what I’ve read online.

Today, I still go to the gym but my workouts have changed. So has the reason I go. I exercise for how it makes me feel, and lean into that, rather than concentrate on the body benefits. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel better for looking better. I still workout and notice the “pump” that comes with recently-worked muscles, and I’m still aware of how trim/flat my stomach is. But the thing is, I don’t obsessively look at my body in the mirror like I used to, or randomly take my top off in the house and look at myself. Exercise feels really good for my mind as much as my body, and that is what I focus on. Today, I am more my natural size. I guess if I were filling out a dating profile (I’m going speed-dating next week!), I’d describe my body shape as somewhere between slim and athletic.

After a long and slow Monday, worrying about finding the right job, whether I’ll ever be happy with my ‘work’, etcetera, my gym session in the evening was my saviour.

I do a mixture of cardio and weights (going more for reps rather than really heavy weight), and also do some stretching and yoga – which also help my mind and body in a different, meditative way.

I won’t lie, I feel better about how I look when I’m going to the gym – and I still catch myself checking my body out. However, I try not to obsess so much with how I look, and I’m more desensitised to other guys’ bodies. I’m not naturally the biggest guy, and a lot of it is down to genetics and our natural physiques.

For me, the key is to focus on the post-workout feels. That’s the way to go.

✏ Written: Monday, 26th February 2018 @ 9.17pm

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What about you?
What’s your relationship like with your body? Do you go to the gym, or do a sport / other exercise? And, if you’re an Instagram-er, how do you stay sane with all those #bodygoals pics?! I’d love to hear from you on all this 💙



The desire to travel vs staying put

Now and then, I want to get away. Sometimes temporarily, sometimes for good. And sometimes to another universe entirely. Running away from a job and overbearing manager springs to mind, when I got the train to an internet cafe one morning, and sent an email saying I wasn’t coming in.

There’s something about location-independence that appeals to me, something about the nomads and travellers I’ve read about, and even come across. I know part of me is distorting the reality here, in my classic dreamer-like way.

However, for whatever reason, the idea of being able to earn, and live, and travel, whilst being anywhere in the world, appeals to me. Heck, I might even want to travel with the future kids around the world (if I have them). Freedom to roam. Again, the idealist in me possibly.

The world is a big place, and whilst I’ve been fortunate to do my fair share of travelling, there’s still so much left to see. Last year, I did 3 weeks of solo travel, and the year before a week on my own, to go to an awesome conference in Portland, Oregon. (Ah, I want to go back to Portland and explore more of the Pacific Northwest. I really loved how Portland was a friendly city, with access to nature, waterfalls and mountains. I didn’t see enough of it). Solo-travel had been something I’d wanted to experience, and I did so in a fairly low-risk manner – they were all cities with infrastructure, and weren’t so remote/“dangerous”.

My mental health was recovering still last year and, despite some low mood and thoughts beginning to creep in whilst away, I survived.

Will I do it again? I might well, in some capacity. Will I live abroad? Maybe. It’s strange. I went through this phase of yearning to get away and be somewhere else. Partly, I reckon, I feel this was for an escape from the unhappy reality I have experienced. And partly, on some level, I feel that moving away will expose me to new things, and force me to have new experiences, gain greater independence and autonomy – and, crucially, feel like an adult.

Whilst being away, even for the short time I was, I realised just how much I missed “home”. Home comforts, the security of my family there. I surprised myself a bit. I felt liked I ‘needed’ my family more than I thought I would. (At time of publishing – I’m halfway through the film Brooklyn, which I’d highly recommend, and I can somewhat empathise with the main character’s – played by Saiorse Ronan – coping with moving away from Ireland to New York).

Perhaps this will change. Or perhaps I will move away for a while.  For a long time. Whether alone, or with a significant other.

Who on earth knows what the future will hold? I’m learning to let go of some of these dreams and fantasies I have, as obsession with them can lead to despair at ‘not being there’. I am trying not to pin my happiness on just one thing – e.g. moving away, or based on future plans.

Whilst there are things that I like the idea of, I must remember to put them in perspective (for example, working abroad will not be like going on holiday), whilst accepting my life as it is right now, and being often to what opportunities might come my way, and the path I find myself taking.

I have faith.

✏ Written: Sunday, 25th February 2018 @ 1.17am

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What about you? 🌍
Are you a homebody or a traveller? Or perhaps somewhere in between? I’d love to hear your perspective on all this.

My relationship with my parents

Our relationship with our parents is, of course, an important one. From our earliest years, psychologists tell us that the bonds we form (or don’t) with our primary caregivers can dictate how we develop, and form relationships with others – as well as relationships with ourselves.

In many ways, I feel very fortunate when it comes to my parents. On a basic level, I have a mother and father who are in a relationship together, and both are relatively happy (they have their moments, for sure) and healthy. In addition, they both had a very different childhood/youth to myself and my brother.

Mum was the eldest of a group of siblings, and was helping to run the household from the age of about 10. My dad was the youngest of a group of siblings, and the first to go to university. My grandparents on both sides had been born in India, only to latterly move over to India. Mum and dad both worked incredibly hard to create a better standard of living for themselves, and as a result my brother and I were given a good education, a decent standard of living and annual family holidays.

Mum is a worrier. She’s a warrior, too, in many ways – but she’s also a worrier. I picked up on this from an early age, and I learnt to act/respond in a way that’d put her at ease, not stress her out, and keep her off my back. I’ve always been closer to my mum than my dad. I still give her hugs and enjoy time we spend together in the evenings, watching something together (including most of the ‘What I’m watching’ items on the last (and very first) awkward newsletter – e.g. The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and Rebecka Martinssen: Arctic Murders).

Am I a mummy’s boy? Aware that this has all sorts of connotations and can put off girls/women in a heartbeat… I probably am in some ways. My mother and I are quite close. Even if I didn’t talk to her about stuff/my worries and so forth (I didn’t talk to anyone about these). Whilst dad was working, mum spent time raising me and my brother, from feeding us, through to picking us up from school (I was 14 or 15 until I started getting the train, and mum or grandad stopped giving me lifts #spoiltIndianboy). It’d be mum that’d ask how school was, about how we had done in the Maths test, and so forth.

MUm is a do-er. She’s one of those people who feels dissatisfied if she’s not done very much in a day. And by ‘not very much’, I actually mean a lot. My mum and dad also work together, which has it’s challenges. I sometimes question if they’d get along better if they didn’t have to see each other all the time at work, as well as live together. Who knows. I’m not sure if I could do that with my future lady.

My dad is pretty different to my mum. He’s a bit more chilled out, and a lot more closed-off. He’s a closed book when it comes to emotions. This is common amongst Indian men – particularly of that generation and older. His mother raised several children, and his father was often away travelling from work, passing away when my dad was in his late teens; it sounds like my father was raised by his siblings. It’s not easy to communicated with him, and we’ve clashed in the past. We went through a period where we barely interacted; especially as dad often does his own thing, anyway. I’m pleased to say that we both make a bit more of an effort now. It can still feel awkward when I’m talking to my dad, because it’s not something we really did for a while, despite being under the same roof for most of my life. My therapist says this is to be expected, as we get used to doing it more. It feels like we’re closer than we’ve ever been. Or for a long time.

Mum, Dad and I are off to the cinema together next week (at time of writing), something we’re all excited about. Younger bro is away having fun of his own. We’re going to watch Oscar-nominated Lady Bird.

They say our personalities are a mix of nature and nurture. Whilst I don’t blame my parents for my being the way I am, my feeling is that my mum’s being so worried coupled with my dad being a closed book, are both things that have constituted to my being so guarded and private. And  my finding it so difficult to express my emotions. Bottled up emotions can lead to unhealthy actions and addictions. When my dad is stressed, he seems to drink more. When I’m stressed, I go in on myself and spend time mindlessly surging and flicking through the internet. And eating junk. It’s a pattern, and it can happen without my realising it.

I’m hoping to become more authentic, and by doing so also develop a closer and more honest relationship with my parents. As I’ve lived at home for all my life bar the two university years, it’s been difficult to break from the parent-child relationship, to more of an adult-adult one with each of them. It’s tricky, but we’re getting there.

Hopefully, these relationships with positively impact my wellbeing, my life, and the relationships I have with myself and others.

✏ Written: Saturday, 24th February 2018 @ 12.30pm

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What about you?
What is your relationship like with your parents? How has it changed over the years, from childhood to adulthood? Are you closer with one, than the other? I’d love to hear about what it’s been like for you.