I’ve been writing this post for like two weeks. Write, delete, write, delete, write, delete.
Everything I was writing was somehow off, I just didn’t like what I was reading. One version looked like the story of a pseudo-hippie and her newly found light shining from within. Another sounded like a motivational post, you know, like those you read on The Huffington Post and stuff (but the bad ones, those that get a lot of “this writer should find another job” comments).
So I kept it in a corner of my folders waiting for inspiration.
Inspiration didn’t come.
I was almost about to give up but you know, the thing I want to talk about is a pretty big deal for me and I feel like it should get its spot on my blog. Not that anyone cares but hey, it’s a milestone in my life and writing it somehow keeps me accountable and makes me want to stick to my good resolutions.
So this is what happened: about three months ago I stopped smoking and I started exercising almost every day.
I can already hear “Woooo all this big introduction and you just wanted to say you stopped smoking and you discovered how to give your butt and abs a lift? Please *insert eye roll*”
But no, really, it is a big deal! Most of my friends can’t imagine me without a cigarette and the last time I attempted some kind of exercise was two years ago. I’m lazy as a panda and my relationship with my health was, there is no better word, toxic (let’s not go into details here, but on some days the best description for it would have been “self-destructive”).
When I announced these news to my friends, the conversations went pretty much like this:
Me: “By the way, I stopped smoking!”
Friend: “What?? Naaa you didn’t”
Me: “I swear! And I started exercising, I go to the gym like every morning”
Friend: “OK either you’re making fun of me right now or you need an exorcism. Is it really you?”
That’s pretty much how it went every time, with minor variations like “Finally I’m so happy for you!!” (the healthy friends who never touched a cigarette and have the biggest entertainment in hiking a 4000 meters-high mountain) or “What? Noooo really? Can I still smoke when I’m with you?” (my party buddies).
Anyway, it’s been almost three months since my new non-smoker-regular-gym-goer life started and I’ve never felt better.
The thing is, I don’t even know how it happened. How did I make this decision, finally, after 17 years smoking (yep), regularly replacing meals with a glass of wine (*shame*) and clubbing as the only way to move my butt?
I work in healthcare, specifically in oncology. I have been well aware since years that I was killing myself, that I was really unhealthy and that I should have changed my habits way earlier.
So what was different this time?
I don’t know, but something just clicked in my head.
I tried to stop smoking a couple of times before but never lasted more than 2 or 3 weeks. I wasn’t ready I think, I simply wasn’t motivated enough. And the gym part, well, remember when I said I’m lazy as a panda? That.
In the past I always started an exercise routine because I wanted to lose weight. But exercise doesn’t really help as much as nutrition to shed the pounds (well if you run 1 hour a day I bet it does, but that wasn’t nearly the intensity of my training) so after a month and no results I was always giving up.
But this time I started exercising because of very different reasons:
1) It helps me to stay away from the cigarettes
2) My approach to my health has completely changed and I exercise to be healthy, not to lose weight so I don’t really have a goal in mind. And that helps (although I start to see that my body is becoming more toned, which is a very pleasant “side effect” :p )
I think the reason why this change started to happen is (and this is the part in which I sound like an pseudo-hippie) because my mental health improved a lot in the last year or so.
I have been talking here a lot about how I have been working with a psychologist to fight my (past?) depression and anxiety issues.
I feel like my unhealthy behaviour was going hand in hand with the darkness in my head: who cares about being healthy when your mind is full of demons and you wish to die every other day? (sounds tragic but that’s pretty much how it was)
Slowly, while my soul was healing and I was finally starting to see the positive things in my life, I felt like my behaviour wasn’t reflecting what I was feeling inside. Treating my body in such a bad way simply wasn’t fitting anymore my inner life (see, I told you I sound like a hippie. I just need to start with Yoga now and I’m done).
I started to feel the need for a change in my lifestyle already months ago, but I wasn’t ready for the action yet.
There is a mechanism that goes on in our heads that makes us feel protected and safe in our old habits even if they are completely toxic (guys I’m not that smart, my therapist told me this, and it’s true). So even if I was feeling an awkward separation between the light that was starting to shine again in my life and my unhealthy lifestyle choices, I was still taking “comfort” in my old habits.
Then one day everything changed, that was the click in my head (more like a bomb going off really): my best friend here in Singapore was diagnosed with breast cancer.
It was a shock, it took me weeks to realize it was actually happening. In the end I think we were all a bit in denial.
She sometimes picks me up at work to have lunch together and so she did three months ago, the day before her first chemo.
After lunch, I lit a cigarette as usual. We were talking about wigs and head scarves, trying to make jokes and laugh about it and all of the sudden it hit me.
It was like seeing myself from the outside: I was sitting there with her, talking about chemo, and I was smoking a freaking cigarette. I felt ridiculous, I felt like I didn’t make sense at all.
She was fighting for her health and there I was, throwing mine away.
I suddenly saw how disrespectful I was being towards her, how I was telling her I was supporting her with my words but my actions were saying the opposite. I felt deep inside all the bad things I was doing to my body.
That day I smoke my last cigarette and today I have been smoke-free for exactly 2 months and 28 days.
Exercise kind of came naturally with it: passing out on the treadmill after 2 minutes of light jog is the best reminder that your body is fucked up and I kind of knew that every small improvement in the gym would give me enough motivation to stay on track with my newly found non-smoker life. So I made the effort to wake-up early every morning and hit the gym before work, because exercising at any other time of the day was completely incompatible with my schedule.
I will be honest, the first couple of weeks I thought I would die every single time I finished with my treadmill routine. I couldn’t jog 5 minutes without wanting to throw up and afterwards my muscles were so sore I could barely walk.
But very soon I started to see some changes: I was getting to work wide awake and was able to focus much better on my job. I enjoyed my food better, and I started craving for nutritious and healthy meals (I’ve read this a lot in magazines and blogs and thought it was bullshit and would never happen to me, but it did! Life really moves in mysterious ways…). I kept going and it got easier and easier and, to my immense surprise, I started to enjoy it.
Now I workout between 4 and 6 times a week and I’ve never felt better. I already feel like I’m a better me, Alessia 2.0
As a chronic pessimistic (a bit better than before, but by character I will never been the queen of joy and the half-full glass) I sometimes think that I don’t know if I will keep it up, or if I will miserably go back to cigarettes and couch potato mode in a month or two, but it really feels like this time I’m in for the long run.
And about my friend… she is simply the best. She just finished her 12 chemo sessions and she has been dealing with this ordeal with an incredible strength and her usual positivity and sense of humour. I honestly never met a more positive person than her, she has brought so much light in my life…
She has opened an Instagram account where she is sharing her journey @Pinkpassionproject and if you want to pass by and leave her a hug (or if you’ve been through this before, share your experience with her!) I’m sure she will be very happy.
I can tell you, I have learned a couple of very important lessons from all of this:
- Mental health is very important. At a certain point, months ago, I was seriously depressed and had quite a bitch of an anxiety disorder (I’m still very anxious, but I am learning to manage it): it was obvious that this would reflect in my lifestyle choices and in my behaviour towards life and people. Sometimes our society pushes us to be in a certain way, to achieve certain standards of perfection or, more simply, of socially accepted and health-conscious behaviours. And I know very well that a healthy behaviour can be very tough to achieve if your mind is going round in loops of doom and worry. Unfortunately seeing a therapist is still a taboo in many places on this planet we call home, especially in Asia, where I live. But seriously, there’s nothing wrong in seeking the advice of someone that can listen to you objectively and can give you sound suggestions free of any personal interest. It doesn’t mean you are sick (although in some cases, like mine, realising you have a problem can actually help). Even if you are just a little bit worried, or a little bit anxious, or have a little bit of a difficult time in your life, seeing a therapist can really help. You don’t need to get to the point to be depressed and suicidal to make the very healthy decision to have a little support in the (more or less) tough times of your life. I’m not saying that everyone should exercise, or stop smoking, or be healthier, or free of anxiety and perpetually happy. That is not my point. I am saying that a therapist can help you remove some of that dark fog and help you see (and decide) clearer for yourself and be more at peace. With everything.
- When life gives you lemon, make that freaking lemonade. That is what the attitude of my amazing friend towards her battle with cancer is teaching me. Let’s be honest, life sometimes sucks. Things behind your control will always happen, shit will always be there behind the corner, impatiently waiting to hit the fan. And sometimes it will seem like it’s too much for you to handle. But you can actually choose how to deal with it. And the choice of my friend, her positive attitude, her joy even in the darkest moments and her relentless will to fight, put everything in perspective for me and showed me the actually size of my problems (= tiny). I could get back into a dark state of depression and inertia for what happened to her, but I chose to react and to be a better friend. And I chose to do it, in part, by changing some of my habits. More simply, I chose to DO something. Sometimes it seems like our feelings and our moods are totally controlling our behaviours and actions, but never underestimate the power that, in return, your actions and attitude can have on your feelings.
I will probably keep writing about this topic here on the blog because it really helps me to stick to it and keep going forward (if you follow my Instagram, you probably have noticed that I post about the gym on my IG stories a lot. It’s for the same reason: putting it out there helps me to keep going).I hope to come back with an update on my journey to a healthier life soon 😉
In the meanwhile, big kisses