Life is shit, but isn’t it wonderful?

Forty-five minutes ago (at the time of starting to write this) I decided to go on a walk. I’ve been working from home the last two days and not really left the house. I’ve also been procrastinating a lot, not doing a huge amount of anything productive, and today I had too much caffeine. As a result my heart rate has been far too high and I’ve felt fairly anxious all day.

Over the last few days I’ve not been feeling wonderful. I’ve been talking to various friends and family about how if you’re feeling stagnant you’ve got to do something proactive to change that, you’ve got to seek out new challenges and adventures and search for what you’re passionate about. You’ve got to actively live, rather than just exist.

But for all my pep talks to other people, I’ve been feeling a bit down myself recently. I had a bleugh moment several days ago about my age and the fact that even though I graduated a good year and a half ago now I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything since then that I want to do, or even discover what ‘I want to do’ actually is. I became acutely aware that whilst I’m still relatively young, I’m getting older, and I’m not going to be young forever. If I want to achieve anything, I’ve got to start actually working towards whatever it is that I want to achieve. But then I thought: what’s the point?

The following night, somewhere in between sleep and awake, I had the sudden thought that I needed to tell my aunty Dodo something related to what I’d been thinking about prior to that, or that she’d like to know about it. It took a moment before I remembered that she died a few months ago. And, god, wasn’t that like a punch in the chest.

Earlier today I watched a TED talk on Youtube – Pico Iyer talking about The Art of Stillness – thinking it would be an interesting topic to talk about here. In the talk, which I will link to below so you can listen to it yourself, Iyer talks about how the way to develop more appreciative eyes is by going nowhere and just sitting still. He talks about how you need to take moments to reflect on your experiences and where you’re going, you need to sit still and switch off from everything else going on in your life sometimes in order to find out what moves you most and what makes you happy. Iyer says at one point that if you don’t sort your mind out, all you can give to other people is your exhaustion and your distractedness.

I found a lot of truth in what Iyer was saying. One of my biggest self-image problems over the last few years is the constantly recurring idea that I am a boring person with nothing about me that would interest other people. This isn’t true, but this way of thinking stems – I believe – from the constant procrastination and distraction that I’ve used to ignore that I feel dissatisfied with how my life is going right now. If you’re ignoring what you’re feeling, if all your thoughts are going on distracting yourself, no wonder you feel you have nothing of substance to offer anyone else. Life becomes passive rather than constructive or creative.

So, inspired by the talk, I decided to go on a walk this evening and get some fresh air. I chose my favourite 2.5 mile circular route and put on the Les Miserables soundtrack as it had been good while since I last listened to it. Over the course of the first mile I reflected on several different things that will probably make it to this blog at some point (or, I know will make it to this blog as they tie into a post already drafted), but eventually everything came back to feeling stagnant and impatient.

Impatient because I already know that I feel stagnant and I’m not doing anything with life at the moment that I feel passionate about. I’ve reflected on this many times, and I’ve come up with numerous ideas of how I can change this – see my Mission Statement (for Being 23) for an example. As I said in my last post, each journey starts with a single step and we should focus on that rather than being paralysed by the size of the journey, but sometimes focussing on that one step makes you feel like you’re hardly moving. That it doesn’t matter what you do because it’s not making any difference – whatever ‘it’ is.

I thought about how many people I know who feel like this at the moment, and how many tales I’ve read online of people of a similar age feeling the same thing. ‘Quarter-life crisis’ – is this a new thing? I feel like it must be. Growing up you hear about mid-life crises, about people who realise that their lives are half over and they’re not (or no longer) doing what makes them feel alive. But more and more recently you hear people in their early to mid twenties talking about a similar thing, adrift in uncertainty and dissatisfaction with life.

Part of it, I think, is to do with the way society treats growing up. From our early teens, the favourite question is ‘what are you going to do next?’ – what GCSEs are you going to take? And that’s important because that’ll affect what A-levels you take, which is extremely important because your choice of A-levels will influence what you can do at university and what you can do as a job, and do you have any idea what you want to be when you grow up?

No, I don’t. My dad is in his sixties and he has no idea what he wants to do when he ‘grows up’. And now I’m set free in the world where my path is chosen not by what comes next academically, but by what I want to do. Who knows what that is? We’re constantly told to follow our passions in order to lead a happy life, but I don’t know what those are. I’m young. I haven’t experienced enough of life yet, but I still feel like I should have some of these answers down by now. I mean, if in order to succeed you have to know what you want to do all the way back when picking your A-levels, how on earth am I going to “succeed” this late in the game?

My walk wasn’t really working. Yes I was getting fresh air and it was helping my legs recover from the exercise I did yesterday, but it wasn’t making the antsy feeling go away like I’d hoped it was. All it had succeeded in making me do was acknowledge that I wasn’t happy with where my life is at right now and feel frustrated at how slow change seems to be.

A mile in it started to rain. Big, lashing, freezing drops of rain – or maybe sleet, it did snow this morning. Rain teaming so hard I couldn’t see through my glasses anymore and I was quickly soaked to the bone.

I couldn’t help but laugh.

It’s just typical isn’t it? You’re ambling along pondering about how shit life can be, and in retaliation life rains on your parade. Isn’t it wonderful? For the following remaining mile-and-a-half I felt cold, wet, but unmistakeably alive. I could acknowledge that it is OK to feel sad, that I did feel sad, and at the same time as wanted to burst into laughter. Tomorrow’s another day. Life will go on. Things will change.

As I reached the bottom step of the staircase leading up to my house, looking forward to finally being warm and dry, the rain stopped.

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“Losing weight would be easy if it wasn’t so tasty”

Today I had the delightful opportunity to watch myself giving a presentation and then be critiqued by ten other people. Twice.

My ability to give a presentation aside (I improved vastly in the second – got rid of any nervous gestures with notes, was more open and expressive, etc..) – the camera doesn’t lie. “Where has Anna been for the last two weeks?” you might ask, also wondering about the non sequitur there. Well, quite frankly, I was busy gaining that double chin that I thought I’d got rid of but took pride of place in the video clip.

I exaggerate, obviously. I was paying far more attention to everything else about my presentation for the most part, since I’m spending two days learning how to improve my presentation skills. However I couldn’t ignore the chin, no matter how hard I tried. It seemed to appear every single time I opened my mouth.

There is no doubt as to the reasons for the appearance of a second chin. Over the last three weeks, I have gained weight. Whether that is actual weight or water weight remains to be seen, as I’ve not stepped on the scales in about a month. What was I doing in order to gain all this weight? Well, having a good time I suppose!

First of all came the winter holidays, the time that almost everyone I know puts on a few pounds. You can’t help it – there are days dedicated to eating a huge amount of food. In our family we don’t just have a huge Christmas dinner and then eat leftovers for a few days. First there’s a Christmas Eve buffet at my aunt’s house, in which my immediate family is notorious for turning up, being the first at the buffet and then leaving pretty soon after we’ve stopped eating. Christmas follows with a big fancy breakfast (usually smoked salmon and scrambled eggs), followed a couple of hours later by an enormous Christmas dinner and pudding (often more than one), then bits and bobs for dinner. That’s not including any chocolates that might have been opened during the afternoon.

Christmas is followed by Boxing Day, in which my family tend to have an EVEN BIGGER dinner. This is because Boxing Day is usually the day that our cousins visit. The dinner is very similar to Christmas dinner, but rather than just having one roast meat there is also the leftover meat from the day before added. More desserts, snacks and chocolates throughout the afternoon, and then a fairly large supper that evening whilst entertaining guests.

For the rest of the week that I spent with the family, I got into the awful habit of eating tonnes of chocolate just because it was there. This is the precise reason why I don’t keep it in my house. If I have it, I’ll eat it, even if I’m not hungry.

Then on the 2nd January I flew out to Toronto to visit one of my friends. In an extremely bizarre stroke of luck, when it came to buying my tickets economy seats were three times more expensive than business class for the flights I wanted, so I flew in relative luxury for the first time in my life! The first thing I got extremely excited about was the free food available in the airport lounge.

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As you can see from the picture, I started my holiday healthy with every intention to continue. After all the food I’d eaten over Christmas (and chocolate particularly) I was craving fruit and feeling fresh! However my enthusiasm for healthy eating quickly descended into a whirlwind romance with everything bad for me but delicious (see previous video).

It started on the plane. Three course meal to start – nothing unhealthy. Cheesy salad for starters, mushroom pasta for the main and a decadent chocolate and toffee pudding for dessert, followed by sandwiches and scones later on in the flight.

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Poutine topped with pierogis, sour cream and bacon quickly followed upon landing, as I was informed I couldn’t start a trip to Canada without trying their famous dish. What followed was a week of eating many, many delicious carbs. I had several pizzas, many dishes of pasta (usually with pesto), poutine twice more (once drizzled with truffle oil), quesadillas, shawarma, more fries, desserts, muffins, and I’m pretty sure I’ve missed something out of that list.

On top of all that heavy food, we managed to watch nearly two entire seasons of Supernatural in a week. Rest assured, we definitely did get out and see the city, and I very much enjoyed visiting the ROM and the AGO. But when it’s -30C or snowing very heavily sometimes you’re just going to sit inside and watch TV.

So over the last three weeks I’ve eaten a lot more than usual, and foods that I wouldn’t normally consume in such large quantities. I also drank less water, definitely consumed more salt and did a lot less exercise. Is it any wonder I’ve gained weight? I think not.

But I’m back now and more in control of what I’m eating and how active I can be. I decided that rather than keep my goals vague – “I want to lose the weight I’ve gained”, I’m going to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. So over the course of February I want to lose at least 4 lbs. It’s a small goal, but it’s a start. It means I need to lose just 1 lb per week. If I pay much more attention to what goes in my mouth and start doing more exercise again, that’s definitely doable. I will weight myself at the start of the month so we know exactly what I’m aiming for.

And since I’ve told you that I’m going to do it, I will be keeping myself accountable, and I hope you will too! Ask me about it, remind me, make me feel awful if I don’t at least work towards it! Check in with me throughout February to see how I’m getting on.

Now onwards to plan!

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The Journey So Far

I realised that whilst I’ve done an ‘Introduction to the Blog’ post, I haven’t really given an introduction to me personally other than what’s in ‘About the Author’. So here is a fairly quick overview of who I am and my health and fitness journey so far.

My name is Anna, I’m 22 years old and I live in London, although I currently work in Havant (just outside of Portsmouth) as a Business Analyst – a trainee technology consultant of sorts. In almost exactly one month’s time this information will be out of date, as my birthday falls on December 11th and I finish this project on December 19th (fingers crossed for a London-based role next time!).

Currently, this is me:

(Well, this was me in August. I look pretty much the same except I now have longer hair)

I’m 5’7″ (171cm) and weigh roughly 160 lbs.

I’ve weighed roughly 160 lbs for the last nine months now, and I would like that to change. Whilst I care more about my fitness and strength levels than I do my weight, I’m definitely aware that I inherited my dad’s family’s propensity for weight gain along with my mother’s appetite. If I’m not careful, I gain very quickly.

The difference between how active I was as a child and how active I was as a teenager is quite impressive. Between the ages of 2 and 10/11 I did several forms of dance, floor gymnastics, and swam quite a lot. I also ran around a lot whilst playing as most children do, and was a fairly hyperactive child. Unfortunately, as I started to grow up, I fell into the trap of not wanting to go to dance and gymnastics anymore because I was missing the television that I wanted to watch. Mum tried to keep me there, but ultimately failed, and so I quit my main form of exercise (we didn’t have P.E. lessons in primary school).

Prior to the start of secondary school I’d had a number of problems with ingrown toenails. This was the result of my dad accidentally standing on my foot a few years previously, or, as he likes to tell it, the result of me placing my foot under his. Around the time I started secondary school, aged 11, I had an operation on both feet in order to prevent me from getting an ingrown nail every again. Whilst it worked, I was unable to do P.E. lessons for some time, or any other form of physical activity, and by the point I could start again I was unfit and I hated exercise.

This hatred of exercise lasted throughout the remainder of my teenage years, except for a short period of three or so months aged 16 when I joined a dance class again. Whilst I really enjoyed the class, I had a lack of self-confidence and a shyness throughout. This meant that when the class re-started after Christmas break, I couldn’t bring myself to phone and find out the right day/time, and so never went back. I had also long since discovered the internet and computer games by this point, and basically spent my non-school waking hours sat in front of a screen.

Continue reading →

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