Reflecting on a Rollercoaster Year

I can’t really think of any other way of describing 2017?

Starting the year with a massive unexpected tax bill (sound familiar?) was an uphill battle – a chain lift, dragging the rollercoaster car to the top of steep hill – following by rocketing at speed towards lows like the loss of yet more pets and the suicide of another brother, struggles with excessive drinking and my mental health issues chipping away at my sanity. Each low interspersed with heart-pounding highs: achievements in the gym and with my fitness, including reaching green belt at Taekwon-do and smashing massive squat goals (90kg and 100kg over Christmas!); accepting my bisexuality and how this affects my identity; and completing some of my best work yet both for myself and for local design agencies.

I didn’t manage to learn Dutch, or run a marathon (not that I am surprised by the latter) and I didn’t manage to blog more, but I did survive. I survived and, despite some crazy lows, not only did I survive but I kicked arse: I worked hard and I played hard.

Gaz has gifted me a year at the gym for my upcoming birthday. I’m so excited at the prospect that I can continue to build and shape myself in 2018 without having to worry about scraping change for a gym session. It should give me the chance to firm up a proper lifting plan, to work in the deadlifts and bench press both of which I typically avoid, and to make and break some crazy goals.

On top of time under iron, 2018 has to be the year that I finish with enough money to sort my taxes in January 2019: to be able to pay my dues and have enough for the payments on account, which screw me over year after year. This is not only important to reduce my stress levels but because I want to move house soon: to have a bigger kitchen, for my babies to have their own space and to finally move on from certain parts of my past which are tied up in shit memories here.

Beyond that I think I need to just carry on being my awesome self. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Featured image photo by Priscilla Du Preez

Personal Bests and Personal Worsts

I started this week on a fantastic high. After having cracked squatting my bodyweight earlier this year (roughly 72kg give or take) I had been struggling with improving my squats further. Marred by dodgy knees, skipped gym sessions thanks to a chaotic schedule and over-indulgence on food & drink, it’s my own fault. Still, this didn’t stop me on Monday when I smashed out squats at both 80kg and 85kg with a set of 2 for each. Strong strong legs.

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Not content on just PBing there, I went on to pull 50kg doing close-grip front lat pulldowns having been stuck at 45kg forEVER. To say I was buzzing after that was an understatement.

(I am currently using Myprotein Impact Whey Protein to support my workouts but I’m looking to potentially improve on this in the new year. If you supplement protein, I’d be interested to know what you take. Drop me a comment/email.)

This strength-related high was short lived as I got home to yet another round of work related emails (boo) and the ever present threat of the taxman knocking at my door.

Every single year I forget about HMRC’s payments on account, leaving me ill-prepared to meet their demands for large sums of cash at a time of year where things are tight as it is. My kids want Christmas presents and I’m sat watching the balance of my overdraft grow hoping my clients pull their fingers out before December 25th; this doesn’t leave me much leeway to pay the taxman money for a tax year that isn’t even over yet (don’t even get me started).

Why is balancing the ebbs and flows of freelance, and planning sufficiently ahead, such a personal weakness? It’s been over 5 years since I started working for myself and barring a break in the middle where I briefly returned to my old agency, I have had to put money away all this time. And I fail, time and time again.

2018 has to be the year where I nail this shit.

Rabbits, half marathons, fitness & weddings

Holy crap, it feels like I basically haven’t stopped doing stuff lately. I’d blame that for my inconsistent blogging but we all know that’s been an issue for many years, so I’ll cut to the chase and get you up to speed on the funky biz that’s happening in my life at the moment…

The wabbit

I brought Peanut home and within 3 days I’d got him eating better food (science selective nuggets – best commercial rabbit food you can buy), more hay, and as I type this he’s on the lawn grazing on grass and clover. He is still nervous about being approached, and isn’t too keen on the resident guinea pigs, but I did manage to get a couple of strokes yesterday before he binky-ed off.

peanut-rabbit

Half marathon

On Wednesday, I completed the “May the 4th Be With You” trail half marathon: 13.1 miles up and down the beautiful hills of Church Stretton in Shropshire. Ascending more than 2000ft, this was perhaps both the most challenging and yet most enjoyable race I’ve ever taken part in. It was a fabulous day (the weather was really on our side) and the company of some fellow Broseley Joggers made it a fantastic experience all in. We finished in 3 hours 21 minutes officially, although had stopped to take pictures and enjoy the snacks at the water station, so actual moving time was more like 3 hours 10.

half-marathon-medal

Fitness bits

I’ve been LOVING going to the gym, having fit in an upper body session this morning (resting my legs after Wednesday / got a 10k on Sunday!) I’ve been visiting twice a week most weeks since the beginning of April now. I’ve not had any issues with dudebros, people are always happy to answer questions and will let you step in without a second thought. Nobody has made me feel unwelcome or inferior because I’m a relative n00b (and female; although this causes the odd double take).

As well as the gym, Gaz and I have recently signed up to ongoing taekwon-do sessions having participated in a cheap trial month. We’re both approaching our first assessment thingymabob to go up a belt, which is strangely intimidating and yet should be fairly easy.

Wedding bells

In less than two weeks time Gaz and I will be married. I’ve finally found a simple wedding ring I like (two, actually.. don’t ask) and everything else is sorted. Not that there was much to sort for the wedding, because it’s literally going to be a case of turn up, say I do, go eat pizza. WINNING.

The wedding party was slightly more complex to organise but even then: food, booze, people, music. Bob’s your uncle, etc. I’ll tell you more about that after the event, of course.

Of course, I genuinely can’t believe that this is actually happening. I thought Gaz would have got bored / fed up with me long before this point. He’s clearly mad.

But then… aren’t we all?

In which my cat makes me go to the gym

I did something yesterday that I’ve been working up to since August last year. I called a local free weights gym to see if they could give me advice, check my form, and generally just introduce me to the gym environment so that I can progress with my lifting (which has unfortunately plateaued again).

My oldest cat Hex — my first ‘baby’, long before I knew I decided I wanted actual babies — passed away in the early hours of Saturday morning, leaving me feeling bereft. I’ve been up and down a lot lately struggling with work and life throwing lemons at me, but this was the final nail in the coffin that pushed me to rock bottom. I did nothing but cry and watch Harry Potter (my favourite ‘self pity’ TV) for about 3 days, before finally giving myself a massive kick up the butt.

This has to be a catalyst for change. I can’t go on full of woe, achieving nothing. I realised (not for the first time) that I have to start making the changes I promised myself last year when I went back to working for myself. I KNOW I need to get out of the house and do something that doesn’t include staring at a screen all day. If I don’t, I’m only letting myself down.

And so… like I said, I rang the gym. And the guy invited me down for an intro session, which I went to this morning. We went over my standard lifts: the squats, deadlifts and overhead press which I do at home. Then he introduced me to lat pulldowns, and other back/shoulder exercises to help me reach my goal of doing a pull-up. I was thrilled to discover that my squat was immediately stronger when not having to overhead press the bar first! I was complimented on my depth, too. ;)

It wasn’t a sausage-fest den of huge dudes groaning over their dumbbell curls, although apparently it’s generally quiet first thing. And, even better, I didn’t feel hugely out of place or self-concious like I thought I would.

It’s not that working out at home isn’t doing the job any more; I still use youtube for perfecting lift form, NerdFitness and the Stronglifts 5×5 for workout inspiration, Maxinutrition has some great advice on how to build muscle (their pro-fat approach is right up my street, I eat everything spread with butter or mayonnaise). Working out in my undies with my barbell (don’t do that at the gym) still kicks my ass, helps me maintain my weight and makes me feel like a badass superhero, but I’m limited by my lack of equipment and — especially recently — lack of space.

I don’t know if adding the gym to my already busy timetable is The Answer, but it sure as hell is a positive step forwards.