Getting Free I stand up slowly, joints creaking, gradually unfurling my stiff body (is this really what 29 feels like? What about 39? 49?). My brain is sluggish and stuffy, like I somehow mixed up where I keep the cotton wool and accidentally shoved it in to my own skull. Outside it’s raining on and off, but when I open the window and lean out the air feels fresh and cool on my hot face. I need to get outside and move this body of mine. I’ve been feeling numb, and oddly dislocated from the world, not unhappy just separate and disconnected. I was surprised to conclude that I still have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome- now there’s a sexy mouthful), which shouldn’t have come as a surprise at all, considering it was only diagnosed a few months ago, but always the optimist I generally presume that I will heal in the blink of an eye. It’s taken me a long time to realise I’m not invincible, that I’m not actually Wonder Woman (I do enjoy wearing the odd bit of colourful lycra though).
The past five years have been a rollercoaster, mentally, physically and emotionally, to the point where this time last year I was completely burnt out, feeling ragged, stripped and empty. I was working as a personal trainer and dancer in London, and became entangled in a toxic situation involving another human. I am not giving this description for sympathy, merely for context. Some of the rollercoaster was incredible, and the hoots and screams were of pure exhilaration, but some of it left me more scarred than I had the courage to admit (or too much pride to perhaps). But I don’t want to go in to all the terrible and ill-advised choices I made that brought me to this point, or the unhealthy situations that I found myself in. That’s a story for another time, what I do want to think about are the things that bring me home to myself, that clear my mind and put my heart at ease;
Finding the edges of my body and physicality.
Running until my mind feels free.
Dancing, whether it’s in the kitchen in my pants, or working on a piece.
Stretching my muscles.
Sweating, stepping, grinding, breathing, jumping, grooving, learning, expanding, contracting, extending, playing.
When I am physical the capacity I possess to deal with daily life is increased ten fold (those friendly endorphins done’t hurt either). It’s as if my mind is suddenly wiped clean, or a light has be turned on, illuminating any obstacles, and I am brought in to the present; capable, aware and with increased resilience for the day’s challenges. The amount of research and information you can get your hands on these days about mental health and physical activity is enormous, with the link to mental health and happiness leaping at a staggering rate directly after physical excursion.
But it’s not the science behind movement that I have on my mind, as I pull on muddy trainers and shiver in the porch looking out at the rain that will soon be soaking through my clothes. It’s the feeling of being more alive, of feeling “better in tune with the infinite” (stealing a lyric there for my own use- thanks Jay Electronica). There’s a particular route that I am planning on doing for today’s run, I call it the Oak Way, because of the big old tree that marks the halfway point. There’s a stretch of lane that I particularly enjoy along here, where I swap my jog for something all together more fabulous; I always furtively check over my shoulder first for any cars/walkers/cows, before launching forward, with as much grace as possible (none) to practice stag leaps (a kind of split legged travelling jump), which I have aways been horrendous at, all the way down the lane, looking absolutely smoking batty as a box of frogs, splattered in mud. But it gets it in! I’m not dancing professionally at the moment, so I still like to know that it’s in there somewhere, that it’s in the mix, that I’m stretching my muscles in a way that is not just backwards and forwards, beige and robotic. Joy bubbles up in my belly as I leap along that lane, and I hoot with glee. But it’s more than that, when I dance and move I am reminded that I am free and versatile, I am not in a box and I don’t need to put myself or anyone else in to one either. Life is creative and the moments where you can inject a little more play are invaluable.
It is remarkable to me that the body itself can be a doorway to so much magic and mental resilience, your very own fibre that you experience the world through day in and day out. I am aware how extremely privileged my experience of the human body and the human existence has been, I am able bodied and have always had the capacity to use and push it whenever and however I wished (except for my daydreams of flying or being able to shrink to the size of a mouse so that I could sneak around). This is a huge privilege, and something I never want to squander or forget. Learning to use and accept my physical self has been one of the greatest joys of my life, and I urge anyone and everyone to experiment with and utilise their own; in whatever way feels right and good and possible for them. Loving, enjoying and moving your body is like having a secret weapon, only one pumped full of serotonin, happy endorphins and endless potential to twerk in your pyjamas. The Oak Way run completed I return home, soaking, smelly, alive. I shower, change in to pink dungarees and a yellow jumper looking funky as hell like a children’s cartoon character, put Lizzo on and dance to an entire album. I am free.