14 weeks. That’s how long since I took the plunge and committed to a class once a week. One that undoubtedly continues to challenge me. It’s a place and time where I check my inhibitions at the door, and occasionally, swear like a sailor and almost always sweat like a prostitute in a confessional.

I was hesitant about going. While I exercise regularly via walking and running, this class was out of my comfort zone. And admittedly, I was fearful of failing and not being able to keep up. I was worried that my “I’m in better shape than I’ve been in a long time body” would remind me that there was much room for improvement.

I had no idea what I was about to embark upon and experience.

So, I changed my clothes, left work a few minutes early and went about my merry way. What is the irony of a gym located across the street from a fast food chain where I would be taunted by the smells of burgers and fries both coming and going? Thank goodness for self-restraint.

I was met by the trainer who greeted me enthusiastically and welcomed me to her space. I felt a bit out of sorts. But, I made a promise to myself and damn it, I plan to keep it. Besides, the only expenses I incur are my time and effort. The sessions are paid for — a nice perk courtesy of my employer.

A few minutes after arriving, class commenced. Thankfully, Kim, my friend, colleague, and partner in crime was there to help ease the pain and give just the right dose of encouragement.

And then it began. Before I even had a chance to think about it I was full speed ahead.

Here I was in the midst of a Bootcamp exercise class, named appropriately I might add, that was going to test multiple facets of me: physical and mental agility, strength, coordination, patience, and overall general movement to name a few.

In the middle of that first class, I remember thinking “what did I get myself into?,” as I could feel my body screaming. All joking aside, it was both entertaining and challenging, and my instinct reassured me that this would be worth all the effort and the sweat that I found myself drenched in.

I let a few expletives drop during the first class. It was my way of helping to ease the pain. And did I mention the mirrors? Holy hell, really? Big mirrors. Right there front and center and to the side. With me and my happy fat staring back.

I quickly learned that while initially wall sits are not my friend they would be, and I would thank them later for helping to sculpt and mold. Of course, I thought all this as my thighs trembled — as my Golden Retriever does during a thunderstorm. I tried desperately to think happy thoughts to distract from the fact that walking would be painful following this.

I survived that first class and all things considered I did well.

One of the benefits is that in this space for 45 minutes, it is a judgment-free zone. I work hard, I modify when needed, and I’m not afraid to ask Jamie, our trainer, for help (she’s great by the way). The class is challenging and changes from week to week. One day I did so many burpees I almost cried, another day I learned that I enjoy bench pressing, and sometimes I lose my balance and end up making an unintended ninja warrior move. Not gracefully, I might add. In fact, it happened to me last night.

In a split second, I had done a twist around the pole (no, not that kind of pole my fellow readers). With hands still attached to the bands suspended from the bars, ever so swiftly I landed square on my bum facing the reverse direction. I saw my friend, Kim, staring back at me and we both just laughed. A good, boisterous laugh. Jamie assured me I wasn’t the first. I’m guessing I won’t be the last. Nice to know I’m in good company.

The point is that it’s okay. It happens. No one said you have to be perfect. All that matters is you try.

As I reflect on these past 14 weeks, it’s clear to me that this change in routine is right for me and something that I needed. Indeed it is my mid-week elixir. The remedy that I crave after a long day, and the challenge I desire to help spice things up and aid me in my quest to become a stronger, healthier me.

As I write this, I continue to ponder my experience, and I honestly feel and see the difference it is making. Sure, my muscles are sore for a couple of days following, and I occasionally wince as I move. But, I see and feel the value in time and effort spent.

What is that they say…you get out of it what you put into it?

There are long-term benefits to staying on a healthy course — mentally, physically, and emotionally. I started my quest a few years back. It’s been slow and steady with noticeable progression. It isn’t always easy, and there are days when I am tired and need that extra nudge to get it done; which is why I am thankful for a good support system and a mind that stays motivated.

I don’t mean to sound dramatic when I tell you this, but exercise brought me back from a dark place and breathed life back into me. I had sunk into an emotional abyss. I was unhappy in many ways — and I internalized it probably more than anyone knows. And that includes those closest to me.

My daily meet up with exercise has taught me coping mechanisms, made me mentally and physically stronger, aided in my weight loss, and helped with my hypertension and reducing my stress levels. It’s been my constant companion and therapist and continues to lead me to places of contentment and happiness, and reminds me often that I am a work in progress.

It wasn’t easy for me to see what once used to be a size two body transform into a size 14 at my heaviest. To know that I used to weigh 101 lbs soaking wet for years, to eventually weigh in at 175 lbs was devastating. It didn’t happen overnight, and trust me when I say that 30+ pounds didn’t come off overnight either. It takes work, dedication, and commitment.

I struggled with not being the skinny girl anymore. I disliked seeing pictures of myself, I felt blah more often than not, and many times I would cry at the person looking back at me in the mirror. I was uncomfortable in many ways. I questioned how it happened and then became complacent.

But do you want to know the funny part? When I was thin, I was never really that comfortable either. I never thought my clothes looked good and I was always comparing myself to others. I didn’t see myself as attractive or pretty. I felt awkward. Maybe not all the time, but more often than not.

The truth is that it was never really about size because let’s be honest there’s no consistency. And what is a size anyway? A number that dictates how thin or not thin you are, and places you into categories. But that’s a whole other story. And while part of it was about the weight gain and my health, it ran much deeper than that.

It was about me.

My lack of confidence, self-esteem, and being able to love the person looking back at me in the mirror. There were issues, fears, anxieties and worries that played into my mindset and the image I created for myself. I enabled those demons for a long time, and for a while, I didn’t care, and eventually, I accepted status quo. But, then one day I had enough, and I chose to make changes.

It also occurred to me last night, that it’s not about being the best or the fittest or the skinny girl anymore. It’s about trying, taking steps, and making healthy choices. It’s about examining who you are and finding the strength within to acknowledge and make changes.

It’s about putting yourself out there and not feeling ashamed. It’s modifying when you need to and accepting that it is okay to ask for help. It’s trying each day to be the best you that you can be. In everything, mind you. Not just physical exercise.

It’s also the realization that many of us are trying to do the same, each with their internal motivators. Maybe some are there to try and banish their demons too. Each of us trying to balance the chaos and manage the challenges of life. Or perhaps seeking some peace or an escape from the day.

For this and so much more, I’ll keep trying and champion others who are doing the same because I’ve been there too. And it feels damn good to come out on the other side.

Originally published at medium.com