Posts In: Pilates

 

Lucas was born on the 6th October 2013, on a beautifully sunny Autumn day. The name Lucas means ‘bringer of light’ and I remember looking up at the sky through the window from my hospital bed that afternoon, with Lucas in my arms, thinking how appropriate the name was, as the sky shone bright blue.

Keith had once said (quite seriously) to my sister, who already had two children, that we wouldn’t let having children change how we live our lives. She *may* have laughed in his face at the time, but still we thought, how much of change can it really mean?

Oh…..how we now laugh at our blissful, unaware, innocent selves when we think back to that time!

It is safe to say that in the five and a half years since our little boy arrived, we have experienced more love, more fear, more joy, more uncertainty and more meaning than the entire rest of our lives put together. I don’t think it is uncommon for the emotional floodgates to be irreversibly opened after the birth of a child. Add to that over a thousand consecutive sleep disturbed nights, while trying to build a new business and put on a presentable face to the world and it becomes quite a potent and confusing mix.

I have always worn my heart on my sleeve; I cry easily, and care deeply. Alongside this I have always prided myself on my ability to fix problems, to organise, and to get things done. When it comes to my own life I have a tendency to worry first, and have fun later – to consider the negatives before I get to the positives. But for most of my years I have managed to get by ok and work with my strengths.

Becoming a Mum to Lucas completely pulled the rug from under me.

On the one hand, here was this cheeky, cheerful little boy, lighting up our days with his laughter and infectious zest for life. On the other, there was the night after night of little to no sleep as we grappled with becoming parents and then the severe head to toe eczema and the relentless itchiness that meant we couldn’t leave him alone for even a minute in case he scratched his skin raw. He was diagnosed with a severe allergy to eggs, milk and nuts, and reacted to almost everything that came into contact with his skin.

As the months passed, and the sleep deprivation and the toll of caring for Lucas’ eczema and allergies set in, I started to feel less connected to the world around me. All I could see through the years ahead were more sleepless nights, and a feeling of utter despair and helplessness that I couldn’t fix Lucas’ health problems, despite so much effort. I spent most of my waking hours searching for natural remedies and obsessing over finding an answer to the relentless and heartbreaking itch. It was a lonely time, where I shut out all but my closest family and friends, as the effort to keep up appearances became ever harder.

I didn’t realise the extent of it at the time, but as I pushed back against the nagging feeling that I wasn’t coping, anxiety was starting to take a hold. The more I tried to swallow my fears, and ignore my feelings, the worse it got. I started to occasionally suffer panic attacks where my heart raced, I felt dizzy and breathless, and an intense fear that I just couldn’t cope and couldn’t escape would set in. But with Lucas to look after and the business to run I still didn’t make time to face it, and carried on, hoping things would eventually work out sometime in the future when Lucas slept more and wasn’t so poorly.

Looking back I am not at all sure how I found my first clients and set up my very first Pilates classes in our home studio, that we had designed and built in our back garden during Lucas’ first year. Lucas had just turned one, and the three of us had arrived back in Chelmsford having spent three months in America, where Keith worked at a summer camp in Maine, and baby Lucas and I had carried on with the task of getting through each day and night, many miles from home.

When we got back from that summer, somehow I managed to use starting the business as a handhold onto my ‘other’ world, in which I was still just Angela, rather than Lucas’ mum, a Pilates teacher, a person who liked to help other people feel better and stand taller. Through word of mouth and local advertising I found some lovely clients – clients who even waited patiently for me to teach again even after I broke my foot falling down the stairs after a night at A&E with Lucas, just a short while after I had started my classes.

I loved carrying on my Pilates learning by going back into London every few months to Body Control Pilates HQ. With Keith’s help I was able to keep using our vision of a different life, where we set our own working hours and chose our own life priorities, as motivation to get my Pilates classes off the ground. And little by little the business grew, I found my feet, and became more confident that I was doing something that really helped people.

What didn’t get better however, was the intensity of my anxiety. For a time the attacks became less frequent as I started to understand what triggered them. But in the quiet moments, in the calm spells between the storms, fear would set in again. I couldn’t predict when we would face the next A&E visit with Lucas, or the next night where we would wake up to him struggling to take a breath, or the next allergic reaction, and my already depleted reserves would be tested by another attack of breathlessness and a thumping heart.

Anxiety, quite frankly, sucks. It literally sucks the breath from your lungs. It sucks the potential joy out of every situation. And like an invisible rip tide, it threatens to suck you away from all the things that are good in life.

It was at this point, some years down the line of being Mum and running the business, that I realised I needed to finally tackle how I was feeling head on, to make my own mental and physical health a priority, so that I could be the best Mum I could be to Lucas, and start to live life again, rather than just survive.

I started to sit and face my anxious feelings, rather than fighting or ignoring them, and worked out exactly what I needed to get by. This involved prioritising sleep whenever I could, spending time on my own to rest, eating well, moving more – all things I would absolutely recommend to my clients, but that I had been unable to sort out for myself.

I started trusting my intuition, saying yes to invitations that felt good, and saying no to ones that didn’t (for a recovering people pleaser this was hard to put into practice). I turned off negative news and the noise of social media more often, and switched to engaging podcasts and inspiring books.

Spending more time with the close circle of people whose company lifts me up, and who take me as I am, and more time in my happy places (our garden, anywhere with trees, the Suffolk coast) have played a huge part in reminding me that joy can still be found in the simplest of places, and in helping me build a life around what matters most – even in the midst of still managing Lucas’ ailments.

I also took the time to seek out someone who is trained to help with anxiety and understands the demands of being a Mum and running a business, which has been life altering. I will be forever grateful to Steph, who is an incredible local business coach and therapist, for unblocking my path by helping me to realise anxiety is just one part of me at this moment in time, that I am in control of the story I tell myself each day, and that being vulnerable and working through our fears is the key to living a life filled with purpose, and passion, and resilience.

For anyone who is struggling, I can’t recommend enough finding that person who will hold space for you while you work things through.

To this day, I don’t have all the answers by any means and I am still a work in progress – but that’s ok. Life will continue to throw curveballs and challenges my way. After all, that is surely what life is about. But by allowing myself to feel my way through life, without judging how I am doing at any given moment, I can more easily recognise the good when it is there, and try to make a point every day of noticing the many things to be grateful for.

I have learnt that it is really important to not worry about what other people *might* think. Although this is still difficult! That it is ok to be honest and let others know that you are struggling, and that having feelings and acknowledging them is a strength and not a weakness.

I know when to take a break, to say no, and to go easy on myself, and I am learning how to have fun and live without so much fear again. Lucas is living up to his name, and brings light into our world each and every day. And I have him to thank for helping teach me that I can in fact face the toughest of challenges, and come out the other side a little bit stronger.

My goals right now are very simple – continue to help people feel better through teaching Pilates, spend more time with people I love, and more time in the places that bring me joy.

I hope my two posts are of some use. Putting all this down in writing was quite a challenge, and slightly nerve wracking to say the least, but I am hopeful that my story can reassure any of you who are going through challenges of your own, that you are not alone. Reach out, trust your gut, step out of your comfort zone if it takes you closer to where you want to be, and see what happens.

As with my last piece, I will leave you with the words of another person – this time the wonderful Beau Taplin – who just says it better than I could….

In this quiet moment I give myself permission to acknowledge my progress; to focus less on the distance I’ve still left to go, and more on the mighty distance I’ve come.

‘You stupid girl, what on Earth are you doing? You won’t find another job in this climate, you are making a huge mistake’.

I will never forget these words. It was April 2010, and I was handing in my notice after working myself to the point of a nervous breakdown over eight long years. On the face of it, it seemed I had a successful career and was set to go places. I had worked my way up the organisation to a point where I was a trusted manager and advisor. Fourteen staff depended on me. Many more used me as their go to problem solver every day. My opinion occasionally mattered to the powers that be. But on the inside, I was struggling. I had terrible IBS, frequent sinus infections, and I felt like an empty shell every day, sitting in yet another meeting discussing the same things over and over, like a poorly hamster on a relentless wheel. The middle management position I found myself in meant I was mostly dealing with a huge amount of crap – from below, from above, from the sides – with little to no real support, and no end in sight. And I was only 29.

It had taken me three long years to finally work up the courage to leave. Most people thought I was just a little bit mad to be leaving a secure, safe and well paid position in a climate where jobs were being cut and people were scared about what would happen next. No-one really left this place, and if they did, they came back within a few months.

But leave I did, with no job to go to, and literally no idea what I wanted to do next. I had saved enough to keep me going for six months, I had a roof over my head, and knew I was willing to take any job if needed once those six months were up. I just needed to force a change in my life, and so I took the plunge.

As it turns out, I had a glorious first two months. I had escaped! We went on a road trip and went camping, and I spent so much time in the garden – just me and the sunshine and the great outdoors.

After a few months I secured a job working a maternity cover position for a stockbrokers in London. The pay was good, it was a completely different working environment to the one I had left, I felt confident I could do the job. Out of the frying pan; into the fire. This job had a long commute, long hours, and the kind of money hungry, out of my way, dog eat dog environment that you think only exists in films – I am amazed I lasted almost two years. The fact that I did was down to a wonderful boss, a few lovely work colleagues….and the arrival of Pilates into my life.

I started to attend a Pilates class every Monday evening at the office in London, as a way to de-stress and help my chronic back ache. Then, when I was made redundant very suddenly and out of the blue (yes, I have been one of those people who gets unceremoniously marched out of the office just three minutes after they have walked in one morning), I finally took the time to realise that I could do something with my life that might not just help me, but help others too.

Being made redundant hurt – it was a huge kick in the guts for someone who for a long time measured their self worth on how successful they appeared to be in the eyes of other people. I have always been a high achiever and I was terrified of letting others down. But what happened next, after this seemingly epic run of ‘failures’ – quitting a job, being made redundant from another – is that I realised that when you come face to face with your fears, you are presented with the greatest opportunity to change your story.

This time round, I gave myself time to create a vision of how I wanted to spend my life. To work out what it is that makes me get out of bed each day. While on honeymoon, two months after the redundancy, Keith and I were reading the likes of Tim Ferris, Chris Guillebeau, Eckhart Tolle and Victor Frankl – all authors who inspire a different kind of life, where living fearlessly, simply, and meaningfully, is the aim. We spent our days hiking the mountains, chewing over what we were reading and slowly coming up with a plan.

And so the vision for our small business was created, a vision that would allow us to create a more simple existence, to shun the traditional 9-5, and to help people along the way, and slowly but surely we took a small step each day towards making it happen.

I spent the next year training to be a Pilates teacher, building up my supervised teaching hours by driving to Saffron Walden a few times each week, and working a part time job for an education provider in the City along the way. Keith completed his Personal Training qualification, alongside working full time in internal communications.

When I finally completed my final sign off exam, becoming a fully fledged Level 3 Pilates Instructor, I was 20 weeks pregnant with Lucas. I left the part time job I had been working, took statutory maternity pay and jumped into the world of parenting and setting up my own Pilates studio at exactly the same time!

For those of you who know me well, you will know that I was yet to face my biggest challenge – being Mum to our incredible little boy while building a small business and trying to make enough money to keep us afloat. The last five and a half years have seen us slowly build our Pilates and Personal Training business from scratch – all against the backdrop of caring for our wonderful, sunshine of a boy who faces the challenge of severe eczema, asthma and allergies day in day out, night after night. Being a Mum and a small business owner is a whole other story – one that for me is filled with endless sleepless nights, facing my fears every day and dealing with the lurking shadow that is anxiety just round every corner. It is also filled with hope, and love and an appreciation of what really matters in life. More on that another time.

I recently had an old friend get in touch to ask some advice about how I changed the direction of my life, almost ten years ago. It was her message that prompted me to reflect on my story, and it felt like sharing the details of those early years again would give some helpful insight into how I ended up where I am today.

I hope reading this might give courage to those of you feeling stuck, or lost, or unsure of where life is headed. The greatest lessons I am still learning every day are that failure is good, facing fears moves you forward, and being true to yourself matters more than anyone else’s opinion.

I will leave you with the wonderful Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, who sums it up better than I ever could.

‘Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armour. And choose the great adventure of being brave and afraid at the exact same time.’