Finding my way back to the gym

I have had a long and complicated relationship with exercise, my health, weight, and my size, and I have gone into this several times over the years here on the blog. I’m not going to go into it all again, don’t worry (there’s over a decade worth of archives for y’all to rummage through if you’re curious). For the newer readers among you, just know that:
1) I am as lazy as all get out
2) Really. I am supremely lazy.
3) I weigh more than I should.
4) I have PCOS and part of my particular presentation is insulin resistance which makes it a) very easy to gain weight and b) bloody difficult to loose weight.
5) I have joint issues (primarily wrists and back) making some of the exercise I used to enjoy (archery, rowing, yoga) almost impossible.
6) Before you say anything about swimming being a joint-kind exercise, I’m not a swimmer. Just… not.
7) I did actually used to go the gym a lot (like daily) and genuinely enjoyed it, then I got an office job and moved cities and sort of… stopped. Then I turned round one day and a decade had passed.
8) Have I mentioned I’m lazy?

None of this is exactly earth shattering and put on the page it doesn’t look like much, but it’s important to know the background.

In the last few months I’ve reached a point in my life where I have said “enough is enough!” I’m 34 now and it’s only going to get harder to get healthier. Note, I said healthier. I am being firm with myself and NOT making it about a number on the scales or my clothes size. My goals are to be able to take the stairs without getting out of breath. To be able to run for the bus. To try and head off at the pass even more of the health issues I am at risk for due to my size. To be more confident in the body I do have and to take care of it.

That being said, is weight loss something I am aware of? Yes. I know the number I am now and I know my hypothetical “goal” number. I have worked out that number after careful consultation with my doctor and knowing what is best for my particular body and set of health issues. Ideally I will loose 10-20kg (20-50lbs) over the next two years. That will probably equate to being a dress size smaller? Maybe two in some stores? Nothing more.

To reiterate: The weight loss in and of itself isn’t the goal.

Nor will this blog become all about weight loss strategies and gym workouts and things. Because UGH, so not my thing.

Enough about what this ISN’T. What IS it?

Well, as I was merrily striding?jogging?tromping? (what *is* the appropriate verb to describe the action on a cross-trainer/elliptical?) away on the cross-trainer last night, I started to think about all the barriers I had been putting in my own way to stop myself getting to the gym before this point. I now have three months under my belt and honestly? I am enjoying it. I couldn’t go last Friday and actually found myself missing it and was antsy to get the make-up session in on Monday.

I know. Who am I and what I have I done with Cas? A real X-Files situation, as a colleague said.

But I do. I like that I am moving with my body for once, not fighting it. It does what I ask it to and is responding when I push it. I like that I go at the end of the work day and can vent frustration and clear my mind. I like that I am doing something and working towards a goal. I like that little smug feeling I get when I say “I am going to the gym/when I went to the gym…” For someone who has as many issues surrounding her body and her perception of it, to actually feel connected with my body whilst I exercise? Phenomenal and terrifying and wonderful, all at the same time.

So how have I got here? Well, it’s not been quick to happen. I have been talking about going to this particular gym for at least a year, but I never followed through. I’ve been acknowledging the need for more exercise for quite a bit longer than that.

It all started to click in the summer last year when I started seeing a counselor regularly because my depression was winning and I needed help. I also started to embrace my “little steps” philosophy, something – funnily enough – influenced in part by an interview with Terry Crews where he recommended treating the gym like a spa. Rather than trying to make big, sweeping life changes and then failing and feeling awful, I break things down into little achievable chunks then build on them gradually. The first achievable step on the way to the gym for me, was walking to/from work and taking the stairs more. I also started doing habit tracking in my bullet journal around the same time because it turns out? I am motivated to tick boxes off and get gold stars.

On the one hand, walking to/from work every day seems a long way from hitting the gym regularly, but it really is the first step. When your activity level has been basically zero, ANY improvement is a good improvement. And it started to have a positive effect in that I was enjoying the walk and, by last Christmas, I voluntarily went on long walks because I was getting antsy when I didn’t get some exercise! Total 180 on my behaviour for the last few decades, I must stress.

Come January 2017, I set out my resolutions, the over-arching theme of which was “do SOMETHING”. I see these resolutions as my “mission statements” for the years ahead, and I then did some brainstorming to think about what the little steps making them up might be.

So I decided that I would start by going to the gym once a week. I am fortunate because there is a good local council-run gym just a five minute walk from my office and it isn’t too expensive whilst still having all the equipment you’d expect a modern gym to have and be in good repair. I dug out my sports bra from the last ill-fated attempt at an exercise regime, bought a really cheap pair of jogging bottoms, found a baggy black t-shirt, took a deep breath and… went.

Reader, I went. And it wasn’t awful. The staff on the front desk were welcoming and helpful – my first session was even free to see if I liked it. The changing rooms weren’t crowded and had a private cubicle so there was no need for the dreaded public changing situation. I remembered how to use the machines – just recumbent bike and treadmill to start – and no one stared at me judgingly. I was startled by how familiar it felt. Even though I hadn’t been in a gym setting in over a decade, my body remembered these exercises. I even tried the rowing machine but my back quickly put a stop to that, which is sad but we can’t have everything and I need to work with what my body does NOW, now what it used to do. I put in a respectable 45 minute workout and at the end? Felt good about it. Sure I could do it again.

And I did, the next week. And the week after that. Each week I would do a little more – one level harder, or an extra 30 seconds. Or on a hard week, just staying on what I knew I could do because there is value in achieving even that. Little steps, but pushing gently to see where the edges are. I’ve added the cross-trainer into the programme now and – I’ll be honest, the first time I tried it, I thought I would die, but even after three weeks I am leveling up. I can feel the difference. I’ve got a FitBit which measures heart rate and already I am seeing that improving. I am having to work harder to raise it, it is returning to resting much quicker, and the resting rate is getting a little lower.

Yes sports bras still suck. I still go the colour of a ripe tomato after 30 seconds and stay that way for hours after. Sweaty men clustering round the weight machines are still intimidating. But fuck that. I am enjoying it and that is all that matters.

I’m still not quite ready to go twice a week yet, but baby steps. I just managed 15 minutes on the cross-trainer without wanting to die at the end of it last week. I’m taking the win and putting a gold star in the bullet journal.

Happy day!

The Nephew was born yesterday, so I am kinda like this right now:

Because my brother accidentally named him after a comic book character, The Nephew will henceforth be referred to as Code-name Marvel.

Despite being twice the size of Little Star when she was born, he’s the spitting image of his big sister. I’m not sure the world is going to be able to cope with this much cuteness…

Social Media works – or how Tumblr made me buy a book

Let me set the scene. It’s a Monday, about 4:45 on a sweltering summer afternoon. It’s that time of day when you’re still working but the heat is starting to get to you, and your other colleague is leaving early, so you give yourself permission to take a five minute break and look on twitter and… The next thing you know it’s an hour later and you’ve only just managed to pull yourself out the Tumblr hole you fell into. Plus you’re £11 the poorer and payday is still a week away.

I blame Alana Whitman.

See, Alana retweeted this which lead to this, and the art was just so good (in particular this caught my eye), and I figured any author that inspires this much love and creativity in her fans might be worth a second glance.

So I followed the link-brick-road to Rainbow Rowell’s tumblr.

I don't know if hearts are coming out of my eyes, but they should be.

Along the way I got sidetracked by Tamora Pierce’s tumblr. Yes, Tamora Pierce has a Tumblr. The real Tamora Pierce. *Nods* Go, I’ll wait here whilst you go roll around in that glory like kittens in catnip.

Back to Rainbow Rowell and her rather awesome Tumblr.

It is the Tumblr of someone who is actively engaged with, and clearly passionate about, her readers and fans. I found her voice delightful, the things she reblogged made me smile, or think, or both. Her fans were witty, talented, and informed – it takes a solid talent to come up with this Hobbit/BBC News mashup. And (without struggling too hard, I will admit), I found myself in love with her world. Before I knew it, I’d followed yet another link and was buying a copy of her book, Fangirl. Not just any copy either, oh no. I was buying the fancy hardcover special edition. In all it’s pink glory (oh my gods, it’s so bloody PINK!)

Had I read a single word of the book before I purchased, like a sample chapter? No (beyond snippets in the fan-art). Has anyone I know read the book and recommended it to me? No.

I’ve gone on record about how I feel about book recommendations. Plus I really don’t like spending hard earned cash on a book I hadn’t even heard of an hour ago, let alone the fancy-pants hardcover when I could get more than 50% cheaper as an ebook without having to wait 2-3 days for delivery.

So what made me this time?

It all comes down to a masterful use of social media, in particular Tumblr. Without hammering me over the head with BUY ME!!!! messages, I was sold. There are no links at the bottom of each post asking me to buy the book. Yet I bought it.

As I said, a masterful use of social media, because I don’t think it was ever planned to be a masterful use of social media. It is genuine.

The cynic in me cries out that this could be a masterful use of social media by a very savvy PR team at the publishers. If this is the case, which I sincerely doubt BTW, my hats off to you. I don’t begrudge the sale.

Because people say social media is easy. People are wrong.

I have done the research!

Yes, the entry (and cost) points are low, but the only easy thing about it is how easy it is to do badly. It’s damn hard to maintain a group of followers, keep them entertained, engage in conversation, build a profile, all the while retaining a coherent voice and identity, let alone keeping a rabid fan-base happy. People have the online attention span of a brain injured goldfish these days.

It’s not just one blog post, or some tweets, or a facebook broadcasting updates. It’s building all of these, and other, tools into a constantly evolving web of conversation, across a multitude of channels. It’s grabbing my attention before I’m seduced away by the next Benedict Cumberbatch gif.

It’s luck. If I’d looked at tweetdeck 30 seconds later, I’d have missed the retweet that started everything.

To be good at social media (where good = building and maintaing an audience) you need to embrace both the permanence and impermanence inherent in the internet. What I tweet now is broadcast then forgotten, but people read on a time delay, they link to archived content, a conversation you thought closed suddenly spawns a new hydra-head. And you have to keep up with it all. It requires time, and energy, and is intangible because no one can possibly track what influenced a particular sale.

Unless it’s the sale to a slightly bonkers publishing blogger in Oxford, but that’s by the by.

It’s stupidly tricky to do an ROI (return on investment, yes I do know what I am talking about 😉 ) on a full social media campaign. You can try, with trackable urls and cookies and google analytics and other fancy thingamajigs, but there still comes a moment in a sales meeting when you have to justify sending 100 proofs to book bloggers on the off chance they might generate a sale or three.

Social Media is word of mouth. It’s the newsboy on the street corner shouting the headlines. It’s the Regency ladies in their drawing rooms a-twitter about the latest three volume novel. And it isn’t a campaign that you can give a month to and then focus on something else. Fangirl isn’t Rainbow’s current book, but if I like it I’m sure to buy her other stuff (power to the backlist!!!). Part of what makes her Tumblr, and Twitter, so engaging is that they have history. They’ve been active for a while. It’s safe to fall a little bit in love because you know they will be there in the morning.

You can’t quantify it. Ten tweets doesn’t equal one book sale. But sometimes one Tumblr post can.

(I didn’t start this post intending to rant about social media and marketing and communities, but that’s where I seem to have ended up. It’s clearly where my head is right now. )

I have a magic ring

the One Ring...

So mine is silver, has no inscription (that I can see), doesn’t make me invisible, and isn’t evil (I don’t think), but it is magic.

It’s a simple silver band that I got several years ago on a bit of a whim, but once I put it on my finger, I never took it off. There it sat, on the middle finger of my left hand, slowly gaining teeny scratches and dings from daily wear, developing in character. I became so used to it that I barely registered it. It was just there.

Then one day, back in May, I took the ring off to put on some handcream. I watched in slow motion as the ring slipped off the bedside table, bounced twice, and disappeared between a crack in the floorboards. There one instant, gone the next. Despite swearing, cursing, flashlights, bent hangers, special springy-clippy-grabby tools, and a lot of patience, the ring was stuck. Nestled lovingly in the dusty embrace of the floor joists, visible, but forever out of reach.

It is bizarre, but I felt bereft. This ring was nothing special, it wasn’t a gift. There was no sentimental meaning behind it, but I felt naked without it. So naked that I bought a replacement – when it came, the new ring was very very similar to the old, as you’d expect from the same brand, but it was a shade slimmer than the last. Plus it looked all new. Still, I started wearing it, and it is now starting to acquire the same marks of life of its predecessor.

Up till this morning I would have said I had gotten over the loss of the old ring. I still thought of it, now and then, sitting under the floorboard, waiting for me to move house (I decided to wait till then before I asked the landlord to rip up floorboards), but I had moved on.

Yesterday another favourite ring, one I have worn every day for the past decade since my great aunt died and left it to me, broke. As it can’t be mended till the new year, I rummaged through my jewellery box this morning looking for a suitable temporary replacement.

And there, sitting on the top, was the missing ring. Exactly as shiny and silver and slightly battered as it was the day it slipped out of reach.

I want to stress this – it is the exact ring that went down between the floorboards in May. Not a very similar ring. Not the replacement ring. The same. bloody. ring.

And no, I haven’t forgotten to tell you about how I spent last weekend using a crowbar on my floor.

I genuinely, honestly, seriously, have no bloody idea how this fracking ring got to be in my jewellery box. As far as I am concerned the ring that is now gracing my right ring-finger IS STILL UNDER THE FLOORBOARDS. I have wracked my brain, trying to think if I ever brought a spare. I have gone through receipts, and I never brought a spare, certainly not a spare I then wore long enough to develop marks, then took off and forgot about. And it wasn’t exactly hiding in the depths of the jewellery box – it was sitting right on the top. Smiling at me. Saying “hello there old friend, I’m back. Wear me?”

There’s only one conclusion. I have Borrowers. Or the ring is magic.

Not sure which I’d prefer.


I’m a little broken at the moment. My neurotransmitters have gone on safari without me and that old friend depression is kicking my butt, ably abetted by another old chum, Chronic Fatigue. Joy. I’m getting help, but I’m a little further down the rabbit hole than I like to be right now. I’m doing everything I need to be doing and I know that this too shall pass. Having been on this particular merry-go-round a few times before, I know this, which is bizarrely rather reassuring.

So I don’t write this to solicit sympathy.

Rather, I feel the need to explain why I am being a crap friend and human being right now. I’m ducking out of engagements, avoiding people, hermitting, making shit excuses for not doing things, not to mention ignoring people I actually care a lot about. There have been a fair few instances where I’ve made plans and then cancelled at the last minute. Not to mention the emails I have still to return. I am sorry. Some days are better than others and I just never know how a particular day will go. I honestly, sincerely, plan to follow through on the things I commit to. I’m just failing.

I hate failing.

Grrr. Silly body.

Bear with me, please, lovely people. Pretty please. I am working on restoring normal service, but part of that process is giving myself permission to be a bit pants at this whole “having a social life” stuff. I know it’s rather dull to ask “what did you do at the weekend?” and for me to respond every time with “slept, didn’t leave the house”. It is also mildly distressing that my most meaningful relationship right now is with my duvet and a giant penguin called Archibald. Then there’s my attention span. Brain injured goldfish have nothing on me. I’d like to be able to concentrate on something more complex than the plot of the latest Nora Roberts novel, but… Nope. Endless Gilmore Girls reruns is about all I can handle right now.

Here’s hoping things will return to an even keel soon, because if nothing else I don’t think my book group will agree to my literature choices much longer…

What can you do? Just be yourselves. After all, that’s why you’re in my life in the first place 😀

Just keep bringing the tea, keep asking me to do things, and please don’t be upset if I say no.

Oh, and make sure you step between me and any hairdressers or tattoo artists. If you let me get a buzz cut or more ink, I will not be amused.