Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we become more personally empowered. The problem with the term ‘personal empowerment’ is that it is overused and smacks of glitzy self-help hype. So, let’s try putting it another way… such as ‘better equipped’, or ‘stronger from within’. It is resilience that we need, as expressed by the dictionary definitions: 1) the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; 2) toughness and the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape.
But why is it so important right now that we take time to consider how we are in this world? About how are we viewing life as it currently stands and what our approach needs to be? We have to ask ourselves, are we simply breathing in and out, keeping our fingers crossed, and hoping for the best? Are we telling ourselves that the huge humanitarian challenge of the recent past was just a glitch that is unlikely to ever be repeated? Are we carrying on (or trying to) exactly as we were before the unbelievable occurred? And if so, how is that working out for us?
Going back to the need for resilience and the ability of a substance (or, in this case, a human being) to spring back into shape – that shape either has to be a better, stronger version of the previous one, or it has to be a shape that was consciously and deliberately formed prior to a challenging event. Does that make sense? One thing is for sure, the pandemic has proved to us that we need to be awake, aware, prepared for the worst, and as equipped as we can be within our own personal capacity. Regardless of our circumstances or state of health, there is probably still something we could work on and strengthen.
One of the many things that we learned was that we cannot afford to take our health and fitness for granted. We cannot afford to allow ourselves to be unnecessarily vulnerable. And I place a strong emphasis on the word unnecessarily. I understand, as a 65-year-old woman who had severe arthritis in one hip, and also in the opposite knee and shoulder, how stiff and painful the body can be. And I say that I had arthritis in my hip because, finally, after walking with a serious limp for around five years, I received a new, ceramic joint in April 2022. I still have arthritis in my knee and shoulder, plus the middle finger of my right hand. However, I somehow managed to attend kickboxing and fitness classes regularly throughout the limping years (as I call them), and, eight months after receiving my new hip, I will be attending my grading for blackbelt (have since achieved it, last December!). Looking back, I’m not sure how I actually did it; seeing the other, much younger students leaping around like gazelles caused me to feel envious and frustrated at times. But I think it was the fear of being ‘owned’ by this horrible inflammation that kept me going. My pride and ego couldn’t bear the thought of being relegated to the sidelines, and my mind wouldn’t let me off the hook. I decided to do everything that I possibly could to try and improve my situation. I lost the weight (just under 3 stone/42 pounds) I had gained because I could no longer walk very far and was comfort eating. I took anti-inflammatories and supplements and I focused on fitness. I pushed myself, sometimes too far. Of course, adjustments were made for me at the kickboxing school. And when I voiced how much I feared going for blackbelt, believing that it was probably beyond my capacity and that I would let the side down, our Kyoshi reminded me that a blackbelt is as much a state of mind as anything else and that he believed in me – as did my Sensei. I couldn’t kick above hip level but I could do a lot of damage to a knee or shin (not that I want to or would be allowed to!). So, I worked on my punches and on my stamina, and gradually my shoulder improved (though I do accept that it will never be perfect). And I am explaining all of this not to blow my own trumpet but to reassure others that we don’t need to end up on the scrap heap! There are absolutely no ivory towers here, I promise you.
The other thing is, and I have only just remembered this, when I first started, overweight and unfit, I experienced dizzy spells – especially when lying down to engage in an exercise. It could have been due to a number of causes, including poor breathing, dehydration, or inner ear issues – I have no idea. But I do know that I haven’t experienced dizziness for quite some time now. Sadly, I have seen many people come and go, giving up when the going gets tough, focusing on the aches and pains and telling themselves that they can’t do it. And I will admit that, although I genuinely do try to encourage others to persevere and not give up because the eventual reward will be worth it, I have little patience for the serial moaners who consistently want to bend your ear about their sore this or that, and why they didn’t show up for class again and why they need to take weeks or months off. As harsh as it sounds, I don’t have the time or energy to spare. If fitness classes or martial arts are not for you, then don’t put yourself through them. If you don’t want it badly enough, then don’t do it. But do something else instead and stop letting yourself off the hook! And that’s the point. The pandemic highlighted how absolutely imperative staying as fit and healthy as possible is for all of us. Healthy people are still, sadly, going to become ill and die sometimes. But we can’t use that fact to validate our unwise choices. Throughout the pandemic, I heard too many people state that poor health had nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not a person died of covid-19… because ‘fit and healthy people are dying, too.” So, that meant that they didn’t need to take steps to improve their own physical health. What a crazy conclusion! But it isn’t just about whether or not another virus sweeps the world, taking people down like ninepins. Improving our health levels and fitness has a hugely beneficial effect on our mental and emotional health. And if, God forbid, we are diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, surely being as physically fit and strong as we are able to be is going to be a plus point? Now, some people might not take kindly to what I am going to say next, but there’s not much I can do about that because I feel that this is important enough to share. The consultant who replaced my knackered hip told me, on the day of the op, that the theatre staff was thrilled to have a patient of normal weight – that it made their job, and the healing process, so much easier. And a nurse on the ward explained to me how devastating it had been, working with covid patients – and that although, heartbreakingly, some young and apparently healthy people passed as a result of the virus, the biggest percentage who died were notably overweight. There was no judgement or criticism on her part – she was just stating sad, unpalatable facts.
But the whole experience really brought home to me just how much we need to take good care of ourselves, in order to give ourselves the best possible life we can. I really feel for people who are genuinely restricted because of certain, extreme physical problems. And it makes sense that people who are experiencing ongoing mental health issues will probably struggle to feel motivated to improve their health and fitness. However, I have been amazed by certain individuals who have been more or less written off as being beyond help or healing – but who have, through sheer will and determination, achieved miraculous results. The human spirit is amazing – and we should never, ever forget that!
However, the main reason I was motivated to write this blog post is to say “look, let’s never, ever, ever again, in our own lifetime, allow ourselves to be crushed and weakened and repressed!” And, apart from taking good physical care of ourselves, let us keep ourselves fully informed and educated about that which we most certainly need to know. What we do know now, without a shadow of a doubt, is that we were manipulated and lied to, and that vital information that we had every right to have full access to was deliberately withheld from us. And we know this because the truth has recently been pouring out in torrents, from a variety of highly reliable sources. So, let’s be open to all available information before making our minds up, not just that which is slickly served up to us by a select and persuasive bunch of ‘experts’. Instead of saying “there’s nothing I can do about any of it so what’s the point in worrying?” ask “what can I do?” It might be the smallest thing, but it will be a darned sight better than nothing at all. This is our world too, and we can’t afford, for the sake of our children and our grandchildren, to be complacent, passive, or blindly accepting. Those of us who can and do choose to be a force that will not be toyed with have to be strong – so that we can all continue to stand strong.