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Fi’s story: How exercise helped me to reduce feelings of anxiety

Fi Hartley Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer for anxiety
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Guest Writer at Quiet Connections
Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool you have. Our shared stories create connection. They tell us it's ok to be vulnerable; to talk about our perceived flaws and ask for help when we need it. So we invite people who have felt socially anxious, shy and not good enough to share their stories so you know you're not alone.
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This is a story from our friend Fi at Inside Out Fitness Cornwall who has transformed her life and is now helping other people to access fitness even though they feel socially anxious.

Since a young age I believed that I was not smart enough. This belief followed me for a long time. I feared I was different from the others as I felt it took me a long time to learn new things. Last year, I discovered the reason for this is that I am dyslexic and I process information a little slower than others. Whilst at school, I tried to see the good in everything and everyone, despite not seeing this in myself and not feeling good enough. I surrounded myself with a small group of friends who stuck with me throughout childhood, making me feel like every other ‘normal’ girl.

In the first few years of school, I tried to make lots of friends, even though I was sometimes bullied for looking different. Some children would call me goofy amongst other things. Part of me hoped that they were just joking, and I tried to brush it off. Later in life I realised that, unconsciously, I had taken it all personally.

Through secondary school, the feeling of not being good enough and not worthy became deeply rooted inside me. I started wearing make-up, as many young women do now days, to give me confidence. I believed that if I looked good then I would be worthy. Part of me knew that I was a confident and intelligent lady, but those positive words were silenced. I let those who wanted to hurt me rule my brain and take my self-worth from me. Over time I forgot who I was inside.

Throughout my childhood, I loved PE. I even joined a football team which gave me so much joy. After a while I started to feel that I wasn’t even good enough for that and I stopped going. The feelings of anxiety won.

Moving on a few years, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Caitlin, now 13. After the pregnancy I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin, I felt so over weight. I tried so hard to keep myself looking good as once again I felt that it was only my appearance that would make me worthy. I was so scared that people would not see me as good enough, if I didn’t try to look my best even with a little girl to look after. I went through years of pain, being told over and over that I was not good enough. This time it was said to my face and not just in my head. Over time it was drilled into me, and each time I believed it more and more. I allowed myself to be physically and mentally abused. The voice in my head that knew I was a strong, independent woman, was silenced by my belief that I was only worthy of an abusive relationship. Because of this I kept going back.

To make myself feel better, I would run and I also started a home work-out DVD. I would continuously clean the house which kept me fit and I soon lost the weight I wanted to lose. I started to feel more confident in my own skin and would constantly be looking in the mirror for even the smallest bit of meat on me, and when I did, I would spiral into a cycle of depression and feelings of anxiety. I lost too much weight and started to look ill. The exercise gave me such a rush but wasn’t the best way to deal with everything.

I started to go to my local gym once a week and began to understand the importance of weight training to go alongside my cardio. I learnt so much and really enjoyed it. I noticed that my strength was increasing, and I was building healthy muscles whilst staying trim. As I got used to going, I started to enjoy the workouts. I was no longer focusing on how I looked but became immersed in how much fun it was and the joy it gave me. And then I would go back to my abuser… at home, the continuous psychological abuse made want to quit the gym. My time at the gym made me feel like a whole new person, and I started believing in myself again. Over time, I remembered who I was. The strong, independent Fi, started to re-emerge. I found new strength and changed my life for the better.

Over the past two years, I have been working on myself and planting the seeds of a self-worth and confidence. I found that exercise has given me a new lease of life, proving me with a way to access the strength I needed to succeed in life. Not only has it helped me mentally, but has had such amazing physical effects too.

I believe each of us has a warrior deep inside, waiting to come out. I would recommend finding a positive outlet that suits you. For me, it was exercise that rebuilt my strength and now, as a personal trainer and fitness instructor, I help other people to rebuild their strength too. Through my new business, Inside Out Fitness Cornwall, I help people who feel anxious and depressed to start using exercise to grow their confidence.

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