Goodbye to the past; Hello to the future!

20 Jul

Following my return to the UK in 2011, I found myself in desperate need of a change that could radically improve my life and help me to be the person that I felt I was failing to be: I wanted to get fitter, healthier, stronger, and to be able to stick a proverbial finger up at Ulcerative Colitis (A chronic medical condition that I was diagnosed with in my first week of my first year at University). I wanted to “man up”, to not let myself be defined by my illness, and to fight against all odds to be the best individual I could be and so joining the Sheffield Officer Training Corps seemed to be the much needed impetus for change that I was searching for.

During the Remembrance Day Parade

During the Remembrance Day Parade

While it was exceedingly hard, I loved every single moment of being a trainee officer: from learning how to run long distance (despite the initial anxiety problems I had with running to begin with); to Wednesday night training sessions; to the weekends away consisting of late nights and 6 am wake up calls; to the banter and nights out with the other trainee officers; to the brutal circuit training on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Now, for those of you who know me, I (funnily enough) actually have a distinct aversion to war and fighting on the whole (I’m more of a diplomat/peacekeeping kind of person); however I did appreciate having the opportunity to learn more about the army as well as to learn how to push myself physically in a way and in an environment that ordinarily I would not have had access to.

As time passed I started to build up a new found sense of confidence and felt happier with my life; met and made friends with some of the most amazing, intense and persevering people I have ever known (you know who you are!); both my social life and grades improved significantly; and I truly started to believe that limits only exist if you let them… And then December came and I was subject to a long overdue medical examination…

As it turns out, (although not to my surprise) Ulcerative Colitis is one of the few medical conditions that makes accession into the army (or any army institution for that matter including the OTC) impossible due to its unpredictable nature. Considered as a liability, I had no other choice but to leave.

Although it did not bother me that I could not join the army (for the afore mentioned reason of having an aversion to war as a means to solving conflict) it genuinely killed me inside to think that, no matter how hard I tried, no matter what walls I climbed over, I was always going to be defined by my condition. I was always going to be hindered by it, it was always going to be a problem and I would never be able to be the person I wanted to be.

Now, I am very reluctant to use the “D” word (depression): clinical depression is a chemical problem that remains consistent in the face of good times, as well as bad. The train of thought that I developed shortly after this event did effect some of my decision making over the following years and I openly admit that I did dip in and out of periods of negativity when the chips were really down. However, although I considered the possibilities and discussed matters with my GP, in light of evidence to suggest otherwise, a conclusion was eventually reached that I am not clinically depressed; just going through natural processes of adapting to the changes associated with being diagnosed with my illness, and learning how to balance health with work and studies. Thus, the following is an account of my mindset during those negative periods in particular and it is not reflective of the situation as a whole – generally speaking I’m quite a happy, positive sort of person!

Following my dismissal from the OTC, I threw myself into other projects, societies and work, and although keeping busy did help to get me through some bad times, there were still times when I struggled to maintain a positive outlook and I was unable to meet my true potential.

Unfortunately I reached a particular point of negativity when health problems became significant enough in the final semester of final year to prompt a re-evaluation of my situation, to take a step back, and to repeat the year as a first attempt (by that point I hadn’t yet submitted any work for evaluation or sat any exams which meant I could still stand a chance at getting a 2:1). Although in hindsight this was possibly one of the best decisions I have ever made, at the time all I could think was that, not only was I diseased and “damaged goods” incapable of physically doing great things; I was also completely and utterly useless in terms of cognitive ability.

Then the new year rolled in and, once again, I pushed myself harder than ever before and was doing really well until, once again, following a combination of a further bout of illness, family issues, a breakup, and a nasty set of unfortunate circumstances involving university work (i.e. loosing half my dissertation the day before it was due as a result of a file corruption), I struggled towards the end of the year. During the worse of it I spent my days lying in bed hunched over my dissertation notes, desperately trying to overcome the feelings of inadequacy and the constant niggling thoughts in the back of my head telling me that I was stupid and too dumb to achieve academic success. My appetite all but disappeared, I was downing energy drinks by the litre, no longer did even basic exercise, resisted sleep for as long as my body would allow, and felt constantly sluggish, dizzy and weak. All in all, I was a bit of a mess.

A desperate desire to compensate for everything I felt I was lacking as a result of my illness and my background caused me to overlook how important it was to sometimes take some time to breathe: no matter what bad things happened, I was determined to maintain a stiff upper lip, to “man up”, and to just move straight on given that I felt that I just didn’t have the time to do what I felt was “sitting on my backside, moping about pitifully at home”. This resulted in the complete opposite of what I wanted and I was being far too harsh on myself.

Of course (as I said earlier) not everything was all doom and gloom and I had some of the greatest times of my life during this period of time: I studied in China for a month; worked on two executive committees at University; visited European Parliament in Brussels; stood up and delivered speeches in front of over 1000 people; and tentatively balanced my studies with teaching kids in foster care, waitressing, and working as an events assistant for a short period of time.
EP

 

chinaworld week ISC

However, despite how things looked on the outside, there were still considerable issues that I had yet to solve internally. What’s more: physically speaking I was horrifically unfit.

Nonetheless and despite all the problems there is a happy ending to this tale:

Not only did I keep trucking and made it through to the other side; I found out on the 11th of July that I will be graduating with a 2:1 on the 25th of July 2014. As small as this achievement might seem in the grand scheme of things, for me this has been a significant enough achievement to once again instill within me the belief that limits only exist if you allow them to.

Challenges are there to be overcome; walls are meant to be climbed, and struggle is the key to long term success – much like when we train the muscles in our body to get stronger through pushing through physical struggle, emotional and mental resistance training causes us to grow stronger and to become more resilient.

Keeping this in mind I have now started to feel proud of my achievements and am confident in my ability to be more than what limitations may try to define me as: I know I can succeed and am no longer afraid of what the future may hold. All that remains  is to get fit and healthy again!

Now, people tend to look at me with one eyebrow raised quizzically when I say I have the fitness level of a wet sloth, and often respond with something along the lines of “Give over! You are too slim to be unhealthy!”. A common problem that people tend to have nowadays is that they mistakenly equate fitness with slimness: Just because someone is slim does NOT mean they are healthy; and just because someone is fat does NOT mean that they are UNhealthy.

On the outside I look slim and healthy but send me out on a light jog (or brisk walk for that matter) and I guarantee that I won’t be able to go more than a couple of minutes (if that) without getting out of breath and breaking out in a considerable sweat. Moreover, I have known people nearly twice my size be able to undertake physically grueling tasks without batting an eyelid while I’m left floundering on my back like a tortoise in the middle of the Sahara.

Something has to change…

Over the next few months, my life is going to go through a series of major changes as I transition from “student bum”, to working in the “real world”.  Especially as I get older, I know I need to take better care of myself and so I have recently joined a local gym to get fit, and (as of today) started the NHS Couch to 5K course to get me back into running.

To chart my experiences and progress over the next few weeks I will be dedicating a series of blog posts to this topic in order to increase my chances of transitioning successfully from wet sloth to “rocking it”, to show what changes can occur when you make a more conscious effort to exercise, and to prove that (whatever your size, shape and weight) what matters most is that you are healthy and happy. I will, of course, also be blogging my other experiences in general in an attempt to inspire not only myself to keep moving forward, to maintain a healthy balance in life, and to not be so hard on myself; but to also inspire anyone else out there who has faced similar struggles.

So, for those of you who are reading this right now (congratulations by the way for getting to this point in the story – I have a tendency to waffle), I invite you to join me on this journey as I blog my experiences in all honesty to show exactly the kind of changes that CAN be made and the kind of challenges that CAN be overcome in order to live a happy, healthy, full, and downright awesome life no matter what. 🙂

Looking forward to a brighter future!

Looking forward to a brighter future!

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