Why working out is my most precious self-care practice

I have been working out since childhood. Despite my father’s wishes to make me a champion in any sport I would like, I didn’t seem to have what it takes. First of all, I lacked being passionate or energized by it. I remember dreading being in the pool or running or doing push ups or whatever I had to do. Why I haven’t rebelled against it is still a mystery to me (and one of my many blessings). I guess I was always a people person and I just loved the team spirit and peer interactions. Anyway, I remember how shocked I was when my father talked to me about what an opportunity it is to be a champion in sports. I mean, I felt completely shocked that someone, an adult, my father, would think that performing in sports is socially valuable. That far from the importance sports have in society I was.

It might have been because I sucked at it. I believed to be great at swimming and then the instructor told my parents that I keep my head too deep under water. I am still working to correct this. Fencing was a complete disaster. Before starting to actually fence, I couldn’t run as fast as I needed, I could barely do ten crunches and staying in the poses for the required time are still among the moments when I perceived the passing of time as being very, very slow. I was kicked out of handball team because I kept talking to the other girls. I thought the instructor will take me back, but she didn’t. I mustn’t have been very good at it either. I tried playing some basketball, but it was more of a peer pressure because I am 1.58 m so what kind of basketball player could I have been? In high-school however, I stated to go to the gym and to run. And there was only me. No competition, no team players. And I loved it. Sure, not doing it and the pain it implied, but I loved to be a person who works out. And I kept on going.

More or less, my entire life so far implied working out. I quit a few times and I started back again multiple times, for reasons I don’t really remember. With the exception of the last time I quit, which brings us to what I wanted to write about.

I was in my first year of PhD, working and having tons of reading and writing to do. Thinking about it was so stressful that I avoided it until the last moment. However, there still seemed to be time to finish, but I needed to work on my thesis regularly. My gym subscription was paid from work and there was a change in providers. This overlap helped me decide it would be better to use the time for reading and writing and to stop going to the gym. I convinced myself that the hours I spent on the way to and from the gym, how tired I felt after working out and the disruptions it brought to my days are reasons enough to stop. I still can’t believe how naive I was.

It took about three months to gain more weight than ever before. I felt tired, unhappy and completely stressed out. I switched jobs and got even busier than before. Even though I liked what I was doing professionally, I felt paralyzed and I have never ever in my life been more unhappier than I was at that time. Not even when some someone’s decisions (mine) broke my heart. It was a full year when I kept pushing and pushing for the better, but the things seemed to get worse with every push. Quitting was not an option, so I kept trying to do things better and ended up in worse situations than before. So I decided I will go back to the gym in order to boost my energy levels. Sure, wanting to loose the weight was a motivator too. But it wasn’t what kept me going this time.

It took about two years and about zero weight loss to realize that sports is what makes my life beautiful. It is my constant, it is why I have energy for doing all the work I am doing. I am reading and writing and doing research and working in my job because I am working out. Sure, I “waste” about two and half hours every day I practice. I have to carry a large backpack around town each week day. I need to plan my meals, spend money on water and equipment. I am away from home for more than ten hours almost every day.

But in the end, all effort is worth it because it is why I keep moving in the first place. It’s how I make sure I am smiling. It’s how I prove to myself every day that I can do it. Whatever I want, I can put in the work, the effort and make it happen. It’s how I take care of myself.

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