Last week, I headed off to Dorset to spend a week at The Body Retreat, having been very kindly invited down to review their Weight Loss Retreat here on the blog. I figured I’d go down for a bit of a holiday, coast along in some exercise classes, and eat some tasty food. Bob’d be my uncle. Easy.
So while I’d packed for running, swimming, weights and even (gulp) Zumba, I hadn’t adequately equipped myself for what can only be described as a bit of an emotional breakdown, three days in, halfway up a never-ending rocky, muddy, slippery mountain path.
(Okay, it was a hill. But you get my drift.)
I stood there, soaking wet and covered in mud, in excruciating knee pain and hopelessly out of breath, feeling more lost and alone than I’d ever felt – having fallen so far behind thanks to my limp that I’d lost sight of everyone else on the trail, and appearing to have left my confidence in my ability to do anything somewhere a little closer to sea level.
I was, for want of a better phrase, totally over it.
The thing is, for a long time, I’ve coasted. Life’s been good. I have a job I adore, a nice place to live, amazing family and friends; and I eat well, love my body, and work out regularly – so for the last six months or so, there’s been very little trauma to write home about.
That said, my old self – my disabled, overweight, depressed and painkiller-addicted self – has been at the forefront of my mind of late. Since my (emotional) attempt at the Sport Relief run, I’ve been a little wobbly – because, now I’ve put down roots in my new life, it’s as though there’s a big disconnect between me now, and me four years ago.
For a chronic over-analyser like me, it’s frustrating to say I’m not sure how best to describe it – other than to say it’s a sort of fear that this current state of affairs can’t possibly last, and a strange kind of loneliness that comes from being a completely different person to the one I knew so painfully well only a few years ago.
And so it was on this hill, alone and in pain, knowing the only solution was to either stay put and hope someone would come back for me, or to pull myself together and move forward despite the sheer impossibility of it, that I felt more like my old self than I have done in a long, long time.
And I freaked the hell out.
I welled up; I started breathing even more heavily, despite not actually going anywhere; I had a full-blown panic on a retreat I’d figured I’d coast my way through, because hell, I was a fit person. I was ‘done.’
But no – in that moment, my perception of myself as a healthy, can-do-pretty-much-anything, kicks-ass-takes-names kinda girl completely fell apart, there and then.
Now, I know. I know, really, that it wasn’t that big a hill. If it had been, everybody would’ve been stuck where I was, having the same freakout. But I’ve had several knee surgeries, and my patella seems to be held on with sticky tape and glue, so sue me. For me, in that moment, it was fight or flight – and I knew the only option was to do what I’d done when I first put my crutches to one side and hobbled on to a treadmill, back in August 2010.
One little step at a time. One foot in front of the other.
Those are phrases you hear bandied about, but never really take in, especially when you’re a person that is, to all intents and purposes, fit and healthy. It’s easy to take the idea for granted – just put one foot forward, then another, until you get to where you’re going. Easy.
But both physically and emotionally, on that hill I was totally burned out – and I’d lost all sense of the drivers that normally keep me moving forwards. I’d reached a point where the only thing I thought I could do was stop, sit, and wait for the inevitable shame of my fellow team-mates coming back to rescue me.
But the voice in the back of my head – a tiny little voice, compared to the apparent vortex of negative self-talk I’d fallen into – kept on saying – one bloody step at a time.
And that’s exactly what I did.
After eight steps, I’d stop, stretch my hamstring, flex my knee, breathe, and do the same again. And again. And with every attempt, I’d get a little stronger, and a little more convinced that I could get there, no matter how long it took. I thought about the words I’ve said to myself so many times – you can, and you will. I thought about the people I’m lucky enough to work with and hear from through this blog, all of whom are on their own upwards journeys, one step at a time.
And I thought about myself, hobbling into that gym in 2010 and filling out the joining papers, despite the confused looks of the other guests who figured my task was impossible.
And as I turned yet another endless corner, I heard my roommate’s voice, faintly, from what seemed like a million miles away, letting me know the end was finally in sight. I was almost there. One foot in front of the other.
I made it to the top of the hill feeling like I’d been through a war – and, presumably, looking like it, too. But man, was that a lesson for me – or rather, a reminder of how impossible things have to be done.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it’s painful, slow, and seemingly never-ending – but when you get out of your own head, move away from the huge, impossible tasks and think about the tiny little moves you can make to get to where you’re going, it’s amazing what you can actually achieve.
But it’s a matter of trusting in each of those steps, and never, ever forgetting to respect and have empathy with the person you were yesterday, the day before, or – in my case – four years ago.
Because one day, those worst times – the ones you want to move on from, forget, and block out – may just be the inspiration you need to put one foot in front of the other, one tiny step at a time.