The music swept over me, and for the first time in weeks I persuaded my brain to concentrate on one thing instead of one hundred things. Apparently trying to hold your leg in the air without crashing to the floor is really good for focus.
As I jabbed and kicked in time, I steadily became consumed by the moves and the music. Lungs are heaving. Heart is bursting. You can almost feel the bad energy being expelled from your being through the sweat. You’ve surrended all caution. You’re in for the duration.
The instructor shouted, and we moved (mostly) in time, with varying vigour.
Gym classes are a funny thing, aren’t they? A lot of trainers seem to sniff at them; discarding them for the prancers, the faux-fit, those who are partial to a gentle grapevine from the 80s. They’re not for serious gym-goers, is the impression I get from the mammoth-muscled elite.
But I like them, a lot. Week-to-week I can mix up the classes depending on what I fancy, and most importantly I don’t have to think too much about what I’m doing. I don’t have to motivate myself beyond walking through the door, or figure out which machine I need next. I simply have to show up and do as I’m told. 45 minutes later the work is done.
So here I was, doing as I was told. It had been weeks since my last visit, and I knew I needed an outlet to shake the unmistakable mild gloom that had been following me around like a shadow. Except that when it creeps in, it’s never behind as a shadow would be – it descends, eerily, like fog; a foreboding that no one but me can see. That’s the cue – time to get back in the gym, darling. Not for your body, but for your mind.
Over and over we punched and jumped, just as we had countless times before in that same sweat box of a room. Harder and harder, again and again.
It came from nowhere. Like a tidal wave it crashed over me, so completely overpowering that I barely had time to register it. Everything that I’d been forced to feel – the heartache and the pain and the frustration and the uncertainty and instability and the cruelty and the mourning of a path you’ve had to turn off from because someone closed the road – it was all there in front of me. The injustice of giving so much of love to get so completely scorched by it, by the person you had given it all to. And still you’re both trying to salvage embers which are unrecognisable from what was there, so lovingly crafted, before the flames engulfed everything you thought you knew.
The pool in my eyes spilled over and hot, sweaty, salty tears fell down my face, furious and unapologetic, like I’d unlocked a dam.
As I pounded the air, more certain than I’d been in months that I was living and breathing, I was suddenly choking back a gulf of tears. This wasn’t vicious; I pictured no one as my leg launched through the air, almost as if I was trying to displace it from its socket. But as the adrenaline coursed through every cell of my being, and the emotion swelled up from the depths of my core, right there in that very ordinary body combat class of a very routine Monday… I gave in. The pool in my eyes spilled over and hot, sweaty, salty tears fell down my face, furious and unapologetic, like I’d unlocked a dam. The resulting torrent was slightly inappropriate for the setting, sure, but thankfully there were enough red faces in the room to just about disguise what was happening. As I punched with even more fervour, I felt every single ‘I’m fine,’ or ‘I’m doing ok thank you,’ drown out in the roar that was swelling through my ears until I was completely swept under with them. The instructor had become a hazy shape among countless other blurry limbs, and I tried to gulp in air that now felt void of oxygen.
I couldn’t escape. Nor did I want to. After months of preservation mode, of keeping busy, of distraction, of soul-searching I was, in that ridiculous mirrored room in the company of 12 other Lycra-clad sweaty strangers, completely and arrestingly confronted by myself.
Less than a week later I stirred awake, becoming aware of the bed I was in that wasn’t mine and the scent of air that was unfamiliar. I was surrounded by half empty boxes, the previous day’s clothes strewn across furniture I didn’t own. I was also completely covered in glitter.
A very gentle knocking on the door had woken me. I turned my head slowly towards it.
‘Mmm?’ I croaked.
‘Are you ok? Do you want tea, dear?’ came the tentative voice from the other side.
My guardian angel.
I brought myself back to consciousness. The sun was pouring in through a crack in the curtains; the open window behind allowing for a cool breeze to hit my skin. The previous day, less than an hour after dragging the last box of my possessions into this new room I wasn’t yet ready to call home, I’d turned my back on it, heading into town to watch the London Pride floats pass through the closed roads in a blaze of vivid colour to unstoppable roars and cheers. A life-affirming celebration of things that matter so much. Love. Unity. Freedom.
A small tear fell as I gratefully accepted the tea offer. I gently sat up and made my eyes focus, inhaling deeply as I took it all in. It was disconcerting, and overwhelming, but at the same time I felt safe within these four new walls. Comforted by where I now found myself, on this different path. As I pulled back the curtain and the light hit my face, a lightness in my body washed over me. One that I had been without for so many months, having being shrouded in the fog, the uncertainty, the sadness for so long.
In that unfamiliar room, half awake with my prosecco headache and my aching sides and my life in boxes and my tea on its way from my darling friend, I felt it. I felt the colour starting to seep back in after months of static, of white noise, of dead air, of existing outside of myself. The glimmer I needed, that reassured me that this new, unplanned place was exactly where I needed to be.