Musings on health and fitness – doing The Thing and maintaining the filter


Today it is pi … uh, pouring down rain.

This is slightly annoying because it always impacts on my joints, and my general health. I get migraines and fevers during storms (so yesterday’s thunder was a whole heap of fun) and my joints swell up, and I become stiff and sore.

I managed an hour’s walk with Darling Dog yesterday morning when it was dry, but that won’t be happening today. Although I quite fancy a walk in the rain, Miss Princess Darling Dog will have none of it. Not content with barking furiously at thunder, she refuses to put a dainty paw outside if there is any form of precipitation.

This is, I might add, in spite of the fact that her breed was literally designed for inclement weather. But no matter how often we explain to her that she should be outside herding sheep in snow and frost and rain, she doesn’t want to know. ‘I might get wet,’ she protests.

Actually, we have a suspicion that there is more to it than that. She has a lovely long fluffy coat that puffs up impressively in the wet. She also has a ‘lion’s mane’ * that goes all crimped and frizzy, in the manner of an eighties pop star. We are pretty sure she doesn’t like rain because it gives her Bad Hair. **


Nope. Not going out. Can’t make me.

Anyway, today I am bereft of my daily stroll.

This morning I was planning out my day’s activities, when the Captain reminded me that rainy days are challenging days for me, and also that I have a few very full days coming up later in the week.

‘Don’t do too much,’ he counselled, wisely. ‘Remember you have limited spoons.’

I went yup-yup-yup and the moment he was out the door I leapt into my workin’ hard wardrobe and cleaned the bathroom from top to toe. The whole time, thinking ‘You’re not fit enough. Must get fit enough! Sweat more!’

Then I frenziedly looked around for other things to do, and decided to mop all the floors.

After that I decided to get stuck into some more tidying – must get fitter! Unifit! Too fat to exist! Am bad, immoral person! – and then I realised I was doing The Thing, and decided to make myself a tea and blog a bit instead.

The Thing is when I allow all of those messages – from the radio, the telly, all of the advertising, all the medical practitioners, strangers, friends, family – to wrestle through the filter I have painstakingly managed, over several years of hard work, to set up in my brain.

The filter says:

You are good enough as you are. You are not a bad person because you don’t look the way people think you should look. You are not a bad person because you are not completely healthy. You are not stupid because you are fat. You are not lazy because you are not an athlete. You are not ugly. You are not a glutton. You are not gross. ***  You are entitled to exist in your body.

You are allowed to respect yourself, and you are entitled to respect from others.

Honestly, you can’t imagine how hard it has been to get that filter in place. It is like an invisible force field, that takes an enormous battering. Many, many times a day.

The forcefield gets hammered every time anybody (but especially a non-fat person) witters on about ‘must lose weight’. It gets a pounding every time I hear the phrase ‘obesity epidemic’ ****. It gets severely tested every time somebody hyphenates the word ‘fat’ (fat-n-lazy, fat-n-ugly, fat-n-gross). When a medical person gently breaks the news to me that I’m fat (OH MY GOD! I AM? Perhaps that explains why ‘normal’ clothes shops refuse to sell my size!!!) and then implies that I’m doomed to die a miserable early death from diabetes or heart failure or cancer, even though all my bloods are good aside from that inflammatory factor. And when they refuse to believe that I eat well and exercise. Because if I wasn’t lying about it, why am I still fat?

I won’t even start on how badly the filter gets hammered when people go on about how terrified they are of putting on weight (if they have no direct health-related reason to do so about from a vague idea that ‘it’s healthier’),  then say ‘Oh, I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about me. You’re fine as you are.’ This reads to my inner-brain as ‘I like you and therefore I choose not to associate you with all those terrible, unhealthy, immoral things I associate with fatness, even though you clearly are, but I don’t want you to know that.’

Sometimes all of that pounding gets too much for the filter, and then the tiniest little innocent thing can be enough to smash it into a million pieces. And I start to do The Thing.

The Thing is also referred to by my counsellor as Counting My Beads. Like a twisted sort of rosary, every tiny little thing that attacks the filter, forms itself into a sinister, hard little memory. I hoard those memories, and combine them like a sickly necklace, and when I do The Thing, I pull each bead out of its hiding-place in my mind and obsessively count each one.

I have a superb memory for my beads! I can recall with perfect clarity passing comments that were made in my presence several decades ago. *****

The latest thing that seeped through the filter was, of course, the innocent comment by one of my medics that I am unfit. Looking back, I can see what they meant. The stronger and more flexible I am, the better equipped I will be to deal with this back pain. Fair enough.

But of course a nasty little part of my brain interpreted that as a dig at my appearance (they actually said ‘fitter and lighter’, but I was too humiliated to admit that to you until now), and my lifestyle. In my defence, quite a lot of the time, those sort of comments are absolutely intended as a dig. If you are not fat yourself, or if you have a magnificent mental strength, you probably won’t be aware of the perpetual negativity that is directed against fat people these days, especially now we are publicly identified as a plague.

However, I have learned something very important about myself, largely as a result of my pain counselling.

Some people are very, very good at constructing and maintaining their personal filter. And nearly everybody has the need for a filter. Many people need it a hell of a lot more than I do. I have fought against quite significant odds to build and maintain my filter, but I have natural personality traits that make mine more fragile than some.

I have learned these things about myself: I am a stress monkey. I am a high-achiever: I have a strong drive to succeed in the challenges I set myself. I am a bead-counter. I have a tendency towards depression, and a bit of anxiety. I am not emotionally resilient. I have a huge, well-developed, carefully-nurtured fear of letting myself and others down.

This is not me being unkind to myself: this is simply acknowledging aspects of my personality. There are good aspects to this and also difficult ones. I think I’m an empathic person and a creative one. I have a very strong sense of social justice. But I am predisposed to turn negative emotion directly into personal pain.

This is not to say that I am deliberately in pain, nor that my physical pain is entirely imaginary. It sure as heck is not. But emotion plays a powerful role in my pain, and I now know that when my filter is strong I am in less pain, and when I do The Thing it can lead directly to a Painstorm.

Now there isn’t a lot I can do about all the filter-battering stuff. I can’t change the world, and I can’t change what anybody else thinks. I can contribute to a world that is a little kinder and more accepting of physical diversity, by doing small things (insisting on using the word ‘fat’ as an emotionless description, not an insult, and doing my best to use non-discriminatory language and accept all other people’s bodies and preferences without prejudice.)

But really, the only thing I have any real control over is my own reactions to things.

Like not overdoing it and working myself into a flare-up just because somebody suggested that I am unfit.

The fact is, I may never be able to get as fit and light as this person would like me to be. By which I mean, it would take a lot of work and time, hard-core calorie restriction and obsession ******: and more to the point, it would take a lot of high-impact exercise. I know the best I can manage without setting off my entire immune system is regular moderate-level activity, and sometimes I have to downgrade it to low-level exercise.

I think the more important thing is to keep it regular, and not become sedentary. And even now, I am anything but sedentary!

So, sorry dear medic, but this little black duck is not going to be hitting the mountain-bike trails or doing a trialthlon any time soon.

I completely accept that being fitter is likely to improve my chronic back pain. I agree with you that this is a good goal to aim for. I also acknowledge to myself that I enjoy exercising and it enhances my day.

When my filter is intact I look forward to my exercise and manage not to mentally link it with lots of terrible memories and horrible thoughts. I will work on not turning your comment into a bead for my pain rosary, but at the same time I must mentally file it under the category Medical Advice: Not Ideal.

I think there must be, for me, a balance that exists between being fit enough to reduce back pain, and not setting off autoimmune problems. If that means I still get a bit of back pain (but hopefully not as much as now), that will have to do.

I hope this balance will also allow me to maintain my filter and catch myself whenever I start doing The Thing. Like I hope I have now. Writing this has helped.

Now I’m going back to doing some moderate housework, balanced with sufficient rest, so that I perhaps can end the day without a spoon deficit!




* The little kids next door genuinely think she is a lion. A barking lion.

** This in no way prevents her, you understand, from attacking and running through the water from the garden hose whenever we use it.

*** Well, sometimes I am, but you don’t really need to know about my personal how-far-can-I-ping-that-toenail-clipping contests. Anyway, I always clean them up.

**** One of my favourite writers prefers the term ‘Fat Rampage’. That helps.

***** In all fairness, we are actively encouraged to let these messages sink in. It is considered bad to not absorb these messages, even as people are urging us to be more resilient.

****** I know from unfortunate experience that to lose serious weight, even quite slowly, it requires eating sufficiently little that I feel very hungry all of the time. Even directly after finishing a meal. And, the crucial part, doing it for the rest of my life. Not sure this is particularly healthy behaviour in the long term. Whatever. I’m not doing that again.


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