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Why I think Strong is the New Pretty - Part 2

Like I said, I can be very convincing.

When I was a kid and my parents told me I couldn’t go somewhere – I wouldn’t accept ‘no.’ My ‘yes’ campaigns could go on for days, even weeks. For example, Mum and Dad didn’t want me to go on the Year 11 ski trip, likely because neither I, nor they, had ever skied before. But I really wanted to go. I even went to all the ski camp meetings and had several cool circles believing I owned professional stocks and royal family style ski outfits. I would beg, cry and make all kinds of promises I couldn’t possibly keep, like getting up on time in the morning - still an issue. I had a fifty percent success rate. I always knew defeat was looming when Dad removed his right slipper and sent it flying in my direction. Game over.

Game changer - my Dad, champion slipper thrower

So yes, it appeared my husband, who isn’t one to worry medically, was worried.

I spent that Monday morning playing with Jack, eyes fixated on my old Nokia phone. Since going on maternity leave I had repelled all technology – but not today.

The phone rang as Jack was lying under a jungle gym. I was in the middle of applauding his swiping abilities and hoping for some tummy time. It was my husband. Was he serious? I was waiting for a life and death phone call.

Remember that ring?

‘I have your results,’ he said.

I didn’t need to ask how. This man is an emergency room professional. Even the most experienced triage nurse will not be able to resist finding him a bed and likely his own private suite. It usually goes something like this:

Nurse “Rate your pain from 1 to 10 Sir?”

Husband “10”

Nurse “Any difficulty breathing?”

Husband “Yes. Can I sit down?”

Nurse “Head ache? Dizziness?”

Husband “Yes and yes.”

Nurse “Seems excessive for a splinter, but I guess we’d better admit you.”

Rate your pain from 1 to 10

Getting his hands on a confidential report certainly wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Then he said, "I don’t understand it all but - it says normal for age."

I’m not dying.

I’m not dying.

I’m not dying.

I picked Jack up and danced with relief.

When my doctor called later that morning I pretended I didn’t know the results because God knows what went down to acquire them. She confirmed I wasn’t dying. The likely cause of my vision issues was stress and exhaustion.

It was all over.

For about a week.

This awful story filled the news.

A young woman was dying.

She had terminal skin cancer. Melanoma.

Her name is Clare Oliver and she would go on to be one of the main reasons why solariums are banned in Australia. It was a powerful story. I was obsessed.

Clare Oliver

I had used a solarium.

I have fair skin.

I called my doctor.

Every freckle, every mole needed to be reviewed, measured and examined.

All was checked.

All was okay.

I wanted a referral to a specialist. I had two moles removed by my own accord.

I was on high alert for changes.

I returned to my doctor for Jack’s four months injections. As we discussed the side effects of the Rotavirus jab I subtly/not so subtly pointed to a suspicious lesion.

My doctor examined what had been the intense focus of my attention for the past 24 hours.

“Looks fine Suzie. But why don’t we have a little chat.”

We talked about a lot of things. We talked about my pregnancy.

Throughout those nine months I had been surrounded by medical problems. I’d seen things go catastrophically wrong for some of the people in my life. The worry and stress of these experiences had become ingrained in my psyche. I had become hyper alert to the possibility that something could go wrong.

My doctor gently suggested I was experiencing a period of heightened anxiety that seemed to manifest itself in perceived medical problems. She wanted me to try a few non-interventionist strategies to manage this.

Firstly, I was not to google anything medical. This was great advice and to this day, 11 years later, Dr Google and I are not on speaking terms.

Secondly, she suggested I try regular cardio exercise. She explained that cardio exercise has been scientifically proven to help regulate the chemicals in our brain and reduce feelings of anxiety.

There was a catch though. I was to exercise on my own for 40 minutes, every day.

How could I possibly manage that?

But somehow, with the support of my family, we made it happen.

I joined a gym. I wasn’t a gym person.

I went for solo walks. I was not a solo walking person.

I went back to dance class. Now that, I loved.

After a few weeks my anxiety started to dissipate. There isn’t a particular moment I recall as becoming worry free, but my worries had become less of a focus.

And as time went on I became stronger - physically and mentally. Back then, with such a young child I couldn’t keep up daily, solo exercise, but I did lock it in as a regular habit. Sometimes it was as simple as a brisk walk with the pram and headphones. Some days it was all too hard. Interestingly, on the days I didn’t get my exercise fix, I noticed by the end of the day I didn’t feel as calm.

Worrying would return for a period. As anyone who has had three children under five will tell you - stuff happens - it is an intense and demanding time. Cardio exercise has remained a constant companion and even if it is just for the immediate period after exercise – I always feel better.

I don’t want to simplify an issue as serious and complex as mental health. Or claim for even a moment that exercise is the ‘cure all.’ I know I was lucky. I know my experience isn’t the case for everyone. That said, it really worked for me and continues to work for me.

It’s for this reason I believe strong is the new pretty. It’s so much more than the strong female physique being ‘en vogue.’ Becoming physically strong, through regular cardio exercise and later, through weight bearing exercises, has given me mental strength. It has given me power over powerful emotions. And that, is pretty. That is pretty strong.

l like a strong body but I love a strong mind

Author’s note

A few people close to me have commented this is a very personal piece. I agree it is personal - but the truth is it happened - whether I write about it or not. It’s happening to people all the time – our little worries growing to become big worries and stealing precious time from life. So, if this is you, know you are not alone and there are things you can do to make life better.

Do you do anything to keep mentally strong? What is it?

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