John Birmingham: In Sickness and in Health

Fitness // John Birmingham // 8 June 2014

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Our guest blogger, Aussie author John Birmingham, thought he was in control of his health until a severe illness made him see sense. Here he recalls how he was forced to face the facts.

A cold in summer. We’ve all had one. We all hate them. I had a cold that became something more. A brush with pneumonia. It started with a tickle at the back of the throat, the way these things do, and then it caught fire. I spent a week in high summer stretched out on a daybed, alternately sweating and shivering, cramping and moaning. I sipped water when I could swallow it and ate peeled apples, softened in the microwave. Perhaps I should have thought to patent the process. I dropped about three kilos.

I needed to.

I’d gone into those holidays overweight. Massively overweight. Not as bloated and gross and dangerously unfit as I had been at other times in my life. Not morbidly obese, but well on my way. And of course, as it was summer in Australia, I’d just come out of a Christmas and New Year binge. I was fat, weak, soft and looking at the back end of adult life as a shuffle towards diabetes, chronic back pain and heart disease.

But I’d lost three kilos.

That was a start, even if it came as a left-handed gift. Previously I’d have banked that weight loss as an investment against a couple of weeks indulgence when I felt better. But I had a book tour looming, two weeks in the US, and I was looking forward to it. Really looking forward to it. I’m a working parent. Book tours are what I have instead of holidays now.

Neither my doctor nor my wife were enthusiastic about me going, not in the terrible shape I was in and heading off for a fortnight of hard travel and partying. I was this close to missing my tour.

It was my face-the-facts moment.

I believe most of us have one of these at some time in our life. A moment of clarity when all of the reasons, excuses and justifications for giving up on ourselves are suddenly revealed for the bullshit we always quietly knew them to be. I’m on deadline. I have to look after the kids. I’m too tired. It’s raining today I’ll start tomorrow. It’s just one sweet treat.

Bullshit, all of them.

And when that moment finds us, we can admit that we’ve been bullshitting ourselves and everyone around us. Or not. Our lives lead off down two very different paths, to reach two very different places from that point on.

I lost the weight. I got my strength and my speed back. I returned to the dojo to relearn the judo and jujitsu I’d done in my youth, partly for myself, partly for my daughter who I wanted to train properly.

It wasn’t easy, of course. I broke my arm sparring in a jujitsu class. But it was another one of those moments. It could have been an excuse. I turned it into something else. The only exercise I could manage for three months was running on a treadmill, my arm in its protective sheath.

So I ran.

I could give you all sorts of advice about nutrition and exercise and the benefits of drinking lots of water and balancing strength training with high-intensity cardio intervals … but what the hell. You can google that stuff any day.

So I want to tell you about the one thing you can’t google. The one thing I had learn for myself.

I got fat and lazy because I lost control, and when I was losing it, it felt like I was doing exactly the opposite. Like I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing.

When things didn’t turn out well for for me, relationships, work, life, whatever, I would eat. I’d reach for the nearest bakery treat, uncork a handy bottle of wine, go back for that second helping of dinner. And in the short space of time when I was eating that lovely custard tart, or necking that chilled bottle of vino, it felt like I was getting just what I wanted. Like I was in control.

But I wasn’t. The eating, the drinking, the indulgence, the comforts and consolations, they were in control. They were consuming me.

It was only when I understood that about myself, that I could move past it.

Or try to.

You can never leave yourself behind. Not completely. I know that a hard day will find me longing for comfort and consolation. I know that even now, after all the work I’ve done to escape that part of me, I can’t.

But I can know it about myself, and knowing it, I can deal with it.

This is not to say your challenge will be the same as mine. But before you start planning nutrition or exercise or deep changes in your personal and professional life, take some time to get know yourself and why you are the way you are right now.

John Birmingham is an author and blogger with a terrible weakness for bakery treats. You can find his blog at cheeseburgergothic.com and follow him on Twitter, @JohnBirmingham.

This post is the first in a series for Men’s Health Week. This year, Men’s Health Week is about celebrating the great things our boys and blokes bring to our lives! Or… celebrating their achieveMENts! (BOOM TISH!)

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One Comment

1 Comment

  1. Men's Health Information & Res Reply

    Thank you for this and John, thank you for sharing your story. Your style is honest and refreshing and many of us blokes can relate to that.

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