I have come a long way since the dark days of my late 20s and 30s.
Now at 45 years I am a wife, mother of three, personal trainer and British Indoor Rowing Age Category Champion twice over. Sometimes my past feels like a bad dream but then I look down at my arms and the physical reminders are staring back at me. Someone very dear to me once said “stopping self harm is a huge success you don’t even acknowledge sometimes” and she was right. I hide my scars away, embarrassed about what people will think and feel about me, as the stigma of self harm is so strong. It’s not until now, around fifteen years since the worst of the depression, that I am finally beginning to feel proud of all the work I put in and how physical exercise has played such a huge part in my recovery.
I had competed in front of hundreds of people showing my scars and no-one said anything
Obviously, whilst I was in the grasp of depression and using really unhealthy coping strategies, physical exercise was not even on the horizon. I became pregnant with my first child in 2008 and since then I have worked hard to try and focus on all the positives that family life can throw at you. I started running after my 3rd child as I was beginning to feel down about my size and stressed with a busy family life.
I desperately needed a release and the treadmill in the garage was the answer.
Unfortunately after a year of running my knee starting hurting and a trip to the doctors was met with “do you want to be running at 60?” followed by a trip to the physio. My thoughts were to explore what other form of exercise could give me the same feeling and release as running, but was more low impact. I thought about indoor rowing and my husband got me a cheap rower for my birthday. I loved it and it helped focus me so much more than running.
Once I got into that rhythm, I rowed all my cares away.
After using this rower for around 6 months I decided to splash out on the indoor rower’s ‘holy grail’ – the Concept 2 Rower. It was funny as my 10km times on the cheap rower were fantastic, but the Concept 2 is an unforgiving machine and knocks the wind out of you! I found my times were pretty average by all accounts but something inside me was ignited and whilst I was rowing, all the negative feelings I had about myself were quietened for that period of time. When I felt suffocated by my busy family life, just thirty mins on the rower helped me refocus and I felt like I could take on anything. I worked so hard on my technique, reading everything I could find on the internet, videoing myself and seeking advice from the experienced indoor rowers I met online. I lived and breathed it.
By 2015 my times were getting better and I decided to aim for the British Championships.
I got down to my lightweight weight of 61.5kg and trained hard, I entered the Masters 40-49 women’s lightweight category and I was confident I would get a podium finish! I was extremely nervous on the day, but my only thought before the race was my scars. How was I going to hide them, what were people going to think of me? All these negative thoughts were swimming in my head before the race. The race itself didn’t go great either. My PB was 7:48 but my time was much slower, nerves got the better of me and I set off far too fast and died at the end, coming 6th out of 8 competitors! I can remember walking towards my greatest supporter (my husband), throwing myself into his arms and shedding tears of disappointment and frustration. The most important thing to come out of that situation was the fact that I had competed in front of hundreds of people in a sports bra, showing my scars and no-one said anything. It proved to me that I could do it.
The next year I really pushed myself in training and started lifting weights.
I became more dedicated to indoor rowing and found it such a positive mood enforcer, Don’t get me wrong, there were and still are days when I feel down, but self harm is now just a memory. . When I feel down I know that I will feel better after my session. If I am ill or injured, yes that is a problem as my outlet isn’t there for a few days, but I always have the comforting thought that it won’t be long and there is other training I can do to release those endorphins.
I rowed my heart out and stood proud with gold medals around my neck.
I trained hard for the next two years, rowing for six days a week and lifting weights for three.
All the time my mind was focused on the British Championships in December 2017 and I broke some age category world records along the way. This stoked that fire of competitiveness in my belly. My 2km times got quicker and I was beginning to realise that maybe I had a serious chance of reaching the podium this time. I did too! I became the British indoor rowing age category 40-49 lightweight women’s champion in 2017 in the 2km and 500m. I rowed my heart out and I stood proud with my gold medals around my neck.
My scars were fully on show during the race on the big screens but it didn’t bother me at all. I even put the photos on my Instagram page, I felt so proud.
During 2018, I started my new personal trainer/indoor rowing instructor business and trained even harder again focusing on the December British Championships. I loved the structure and the discipline I needed to stay on track for the championships, I find this helps my mental state a lot. Structure is important in my life. If I know what I am doing training wise, I know what my targets are and the goals I am working towards, then I am halfway there. Yes, it may appear to be quite an obsession to an outsider looking in, but I will take my training and discipline over unhealthy strategies to cope with everyday stresses EVERY TIME! And yes I did win again in 2018 and yes, I was over the moon again!
If you’re going through a tough time there is a way out of it. I am a prime example of this.
Fifteen years ago I had no hope and my mental state was very fragile. I had psychiatrists and psychologists trying to help me and there were regular trips to the hospital to stitch me up after self harming. There was talk of being sectioned and if I had carried on this way, I may not have been here in 2019. But after my marriage, my children and then my first year of rowing, I realised how much I wanted to do well. I found a way to release all that stress and focus my mind so that the negative thoughts were quietened and my self esteem was boosted every time I rowed. I think progressing in this sport has given me confidence and helped me to not feel ashamed of my past. I may still hide the scars in my day to day life, but at competitions where focus is needed I completely forget about them.
I think indoor rowing saved my life.