May 29, 2017

As a Libra, I’ve always valued balance above all else. The very thought of conflict leaves me quivering at the knees. I’m happiest when everyone is getting along, when things are predictable and when everything is calm (2016 was rough, I’m looking at you, Brexit). I have, in my almost 30 years on the planet, governed my life, both at work and at home, on the principles of balance. This has, until recently, led me to avoid making difficult decisions, swerve conflict or potential failure and live in mortal fear of change.

The one area of my life, however, which has historically suffered from a chronic imbalance, is in my diet. In the years prior to 2016, when I made a New Year’s resolution to get on top of my health and fitness routine, I became very good at ignoring this lack of equilibrium and pretending to be OK with it. I had a raft of well-rehearsed routines to give the illusion of balance, some of which included: avoiding intimacy for fear of rejection; making jokes about my weight before anyone else could; wearing mostly black to try (and fail) to blend into the background; buying only stretchy clothes to avoid confronting my actual size; running away from all cameras; convincing myself and anyone who would listen that I was physiologically incapable of losing weight (despite having no evidence to support this theory); and leaving exercise to the “experts” (normal people who had realised the benefits of it on their physical and mental health). I’d be lying if I said these tactics worked. In fact, it was the only area of my life in which balance totally eluded me. But denial, my friends, is a powerful thing.

The funny thing about balance is that it’s a delicate thing to achieve, but it’s even harder to maintain; even if just one thing is out of whack, it tends to have a knock-on impact on other areas of your life. In my case, it fed a range of damaging and destructive behaviours, and led to chronically low self-esteem. Through pushing myself physically and mentally to lose five stone last year, I finally reached a sense of equilibrium and learned a routine that helped me to keep losing weight at a steady rate. This was all going swimmingly until a big emotional upset at the end of the year played havoc with my new habits, and my anxiety got the better of me. I let it make me believe that I didn’t have any control over whether or not I kept the weight off, and as a result, I went to The Bad Place ©. I started skipping meals for fear of putting all the weight back on and generally went down an ominous path. When things started to settle down, I was another stone lighter, but I felt totally off balance, because my mind and my body had fallen out of the friendly symbiosis that they had previously reached.

In a misguided attempt to regain the balance, I went hard on the exercise; I was cycling for over an hour a day, running twice a week, swimming, going to toning classes, going to spin classes and going to yoga. You name it, I was doing it. This carried on for a month until, surprise surprise, I injured myself and had to stop. Over the next couple of weeks I felt frustrated by being inhibited, and found it hard to control my diet. I put on a couple of pounds for the first time in 1.5 years and fell into a hole (a metaphorical one, not a physical one, you understand).

I let those two pounds dictate my happiness for at least a week or two, and in the way that only an anxious mind knows how, relished the opportunity to have found a new stick with which to beat myself. The problem is, that focusing this much on my weight, only made me fixate more on food and feel more destructive. After a couple of bumpy weeks and another pound heavier, I could see clearly that, for me at least, bullying was not the best way to encourage co-operation between my body and mind. It made me realise that I desperately needed to regain the harmony that had developed between my physical and emotional self, in order to reach a state of peace again.

With that in mind, I embarked on a self-care week, designed to help me to take a break from life’s stresses and reconnect with myself, with the end goal of getting my mind and body to return to the same frequency. Each day, I did something for my mind (reading, watching a film, cooking, chatting to a friend, rearranging my room) and something for my body (a solo bike ride, a yoga class, a pump class, a run, a swim), and little by little, something inside me changed.

I may not know much about anything, but what I do know is this: life is rough, and we don’t look after ourselves enough. So often, we are told that prioritising ourselves is akin to being selfish, and must, therefore, be avoided. What is actually an essential part of our physical and mental survival as human beings has been mislabelled as something negative. If you want to be a good friend, good boyfriend or girlfriend, good parent, good colleague or good citizen, first you need to be a good self-carer, and make sure that you are putting as much positive energy into yourself as you willingly deal out to others. I’m trying to do this more and more, but it’s hard and takes work.

My small foray into self care taught me that ultimately, balance isn’t about always being perfect, and it’s certainly not a fixed destination at the end of a bumpy road, where you’ll stay forever and never have to worry about turbulence again. It’s something that you have to work on every day and, contrary to logic, big imbalances don’t need to be met with extreme responses. Actually, by slowing everything down and focusing on small gestures here and there, eventually the scales will start to tip back towards the centre, and peace will be restored*, which is music to my Libra ears.

* Unless you’re impatient like me**, in which case, I wish you the best of luck.

** Not a Libra character trait, just a good, old-fashioned personality flaw.

Illustration by the ever-wonderful Suzi Kemp