A few years ago the idea of putting on a pair of boxing gloves and trying to bob and crochet made me (and everyone else who knows me) cry with laughter. I was always the girl with two left feet; more likely to accidentally hit my face than accurately hitting a punching bag. Although I was very suspicious about the gym, I managed to stay reasonably fit and strong through an active lifestyle, but formal exercises have always felt that I was not there. I trusted my brain and largely ignored my body.
But at the end of 2017, at the age of 35, the rather tightly screwed hinges of my mind worked loose. Thanks to a combination of outside stress and overtime, I found that I was no longer the confident, decisive and happy person I had been. My thoughts cleared a pit of worry and panic. My life felt overwhelming and I couldn’t enjoy the things I loved. I wasn’t feeling well and had to find a way to get better.
As someone who writes about women’s health, I managed to tick the list of self-help boxes on my route to recovery. I have diligently added weekly exercises to my schedule, along with therapy, mindfulness, more time outdoors and reducing my workload. I did not expect that I would enjoy it, and I knew that I needed one-on-one help to motivate myself to exercise regularly. I could never run or regularly take fitness classes if I felt so low.
With some financial support from my parents, I hired a personal trainer. I explained that I had no intention of losing weight. I was not going to shift my fear the way I looked. Instead, we worked on improving my balance, flexibility and strength, which showed me that I could do much more than I thought. My trainer, Jo, presented exercise in a way I had never seen before: as a way to boost myself instead of shrink, and to make my body stronger and fitter for the things I wanted every day to do. With this framework, firmly anchored in investing time and energy in myself, I finally realized that I understood why I would like to make exercise a part of my life.
Then one day a pair of boxing gloves arrived. I laid them on and focused on the pads in front of me. I had never taken a blow and expected that I would feel ridiculous. Instead it felt good. I quickly learned how to turn my fist and then quickly pulled it back to guard my face; how to soften my knees, and use the strength in my legs and abs until every puncture, every cross and upper cut felt powerful. My fist made an increasingly louder and more satisfying thunder against the brake pads and we started moving back through the room with the force of my thrusts.
Soon sessions were almost entirely based on boxing. I now play during sit-ups and, with difficulty, from a low plank position. I run fast jab / cross circuits with active rest periods, driving my knees to the gloves, in addition to slower circuits focused on technology. It is hard work, I swear a lot, and I love it.
I doubt I would win a fight with someone; I try not to succeed or compete in a conventional sense. Instead, including a timeout in my schedule acts as a weekly reminder to value myself. And I soon realized that the progress I made was physically wrinkling in how I felt emotionally. Sometimes I had to force myself to put on my sneakers and I would arrive tired, helpless and frustrated. Yet an hour of focusing would push my entire being to perfect the squat or push myself during the interval training on a mental reset button. I would take my bad week on the pads and leave sweaty and with a red face, but I felt both brighter and lighter. Everything I had heard about endorphins and exercise turned out to be true, I just had to find the right sport and a compassionate teacher.
Challenging physically while I am mentally thinned has not always been easy, but the boxing gloves have a protective layer over much more than my knuckles. In the low moments, which still come regularly, I have something new to fall back on. My body has been stepped up. When I run, it takes less effort; if I can dig for hours in my garden, my back won’t hurt anymore. Now, when I wonder who I am and what I am worth, I look at my arms. Thanks to the boxing circuit, my newly defined muscle reminds me of what I am made of: the determination to thrive and survive.