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  • Kami Nuttall

Self-care for trauma? Exercise? Really?

Once I got to grips with my trauma, I realised that I needed to do things that helped me with feeling better. My self-care routine was sporadic at best and would get neglected for months or even years.

One of my uncovered beliefs about 'self-care' had been that it is indulgent, expensive and for some things possibly a waste of money... In fact diving deeper I realised that the underlying belief was that I didn't deserve to feel good.

I also know that, as a women in her late 40s, approaching her 50th, I didn't want to be unfit, in poor shape and health ... Having witnessed how my mother's health has deteriorated I know what that looks like for me.

I took this issue, challenge to my coach, and he asked me to define what self-care means to me and what it entails. I did that, and exercise is one of my essential self care routines. Note Essential not optional.

It has been a bit of a battle for me to do exercise - I have tried different things throughout my life - kick boxing, gym, running, Rock climbing, rugby, badminton, yoga... it all sounds like I am really active and sporty, but the truth is I have poor staying power/ commitment, whatever you want to call it. It either becomes 'expensive' and ,' I can't afford it' or something gets in the way like injury or a new job that involved lots of travel.

I seemed to have an excuse not to continue with the exercise.

As a child, exercise was not a feature in our household, in our family. It was easier to stay in than go out and while I battled with my mother for independence and freedom, she wanted me to stay at home and be safe. My mother was an anxious mother.

These conditions didn't curb my desire to be better, in shape, so I tried things out... But I did not stick to them... it was easier to stop than to continue. In kickboxing, rock climbing, and rugby I sustained injuries, some more serious than others, but when I recovered I didn't go back. The gym, yoga, badminton... Became expensive ... I believed I couldn't afford it and something needed to give (my upbringing also had financial challenges), so I stopped.

The conditions of our childhood environment provide the ingredients for how we view the world and our place within... Those childhood experiences shape our beliefs.

When I experienced my trauma, the resulting feelings that have stayed with me have been guilt, shame, unworthiness, neediness, poor self-respect, poor self-image ... And the thing with trauma is that we shut down the feelings, not wanting to be overwhelmed by them, we disassociate from them. The thing is, that just makes us even more vulnerable to those feelings coming up in other ways, interfering in our lives, feeling broken somehow, not whole.

The trauma feelings are experienced through the lens of 'stay at home it's safer' and exercise / self-care is expensive. And while I have done what many do - tried my best not to experience these feelings, it nonetheless becomes even harder to stick with routines, and interruptions are readily accepted - "I don't deserve to feel better", "I deserve this life I have", "better stay in where I am not at risk of being looked at, judged, found wanting or something else".

The only person who is harmed by the interruption is me. No one else. It is my health that suffers when I don't go to the gym. It is my physical and mental health that suffers.

So, back to the now.

I have had an interruption and been neglecting going to the gym, it has been about a month or more perhaps. I haven't been going because I fell into a funk, told myself that I am tired, I am prioritising sleep, I told myself that my husband and dog have unsettled my routine since they moved in a few months earlier, that my work has exploded.

I gave myself a stern talking to... this wasn't the first time, but there seemed to be a shift inside of me, the shift came from asking myself 'what are you doing?' 'no one cares if you haven't been for a while' 'the only person harmed by not going is me'. In fact I knew that I would get a warm welcome back to the gym. I knew I needed to go because I knew that going to the gym helped me feel better.

For some reason I have been connecting with the reasons and causes for not going to the gym instead of the reasons for going. I think we all do this. Trained all our lives to focus on what goes wrong, not what goes right.

I did go to the gym that evening, we did our routine around the studio, lots of cardio, some weights, it was hard but I got through the 40mins sequence. "I can do this, I will do this, I am doing this." Everything helps.

And as I sat on the floor at the end, doing our stretches this sense of joy came up in me, a feeling of being satisfied, a feeling of achievement. I felt connected with my body, I could feel this joy in my being and my body... And that was important... An important arsenal in my self care toolkit for healing my trauma wounds.

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