8: “No Joy, No Gain”           

I am pretty sure you all heard the song that says “No pain, no gain” as part of the lyric. I am pretty sure all gyms love this song. At least, my instructors at the gym love it: “get down on your squats, push it, push it and keep going, remember, no pain no gain!”. I can’t remember the name of the song, I don’t think is ‘no pain, no gain’ (I googled it, and I couldn’t find it) but it was a popular song not long ago. If you have been to the gym in the last past 6 months, I am sure you heard it! Sorry if I can’t be more specific, but as you probably already spotted, English is not my first language and for some reasons I struggle to remember English names of songs and singers and sometimes lyrics too!

But let’s head towards the more meaningful part of this post which it is not about the song, and it is not about how bad I am with remembering English names. It is about “No pain, No gain”.

If one part of me agrees with this quote, the other part, doesn’t.

I am a hard worker. If I want to achieve something, I do anything I can to pursue. One of my favourite quotes is “if you can dream it, you can achieve it” and, in the bigger picture, I believe it to be true. I dreamed to become an art therapist and I am almost getting there.

But here a more extended part of my story:

When I was 13, I had to decide which secondary school to attend. My heart picked Art, reality picked science and languages. I had to study twelve subjects which were compulsory – and that’s how it works in Italy, you pick the school and the school pick the subjects.

At the time of my choice, my family was not too sure about me attending an art course. One of my aunts attended that school and she never got a job out of it, you know ‘there is no money in art’. Also, in Italy there is this say: ‘Studia arte e mettila da parte’ – which means ‘study art and put it aside’

Neither my friends thought it was a good idea for me to pick art.

You know, I was free to pick whichever secondary school to attend but when you are a teenager your family and, especially your friends, influence your choices: ‘ it is better to have an higher education first, you can always do art when you finish school or during your spare time’ they said.

I suffered for 5 years. I did a course that I did not like, and I struggled a lot. Not because I am not smart enough – even is some people tried to make me believe that – but because my heart was not in it. Although, I must admit, my brain is not particularly predisposed to science. I am a creative person!

Anyway, when I finished high-school, I finally had the opportunity to do what I really want to do: Art. Both my family and friends were not very convinced: “You never done art before so, perhaps, it is pretty late for you to start now, you should have started earlier”

I know, right? I spent 5 years living with the hope of doing art someday and now they were telling me it was too late! But this time, I was not listening, this time I was not letting anyone stopping me from doing art. I am glad I didn’t. Art is my element. And I am glad that, despite an initial resistance, my family supported me in my choice.

So, I moved to Glasgow and, after one year of studying English (I moved to Scotland with no English) I started an NC course in art and design.

Now, I will be honest with you, if you see my first drawings, you will probably could not believe that I have a degree in art! But you know, I never drawn before. And I worked extremely hard to improve my art skills. Also, I had a dream, I wanted to become an art therapist. And the more I was dreaming it, the more I was drawing and improving.

Then, I attended HNC & HND in visual communication, I managed to jump in 3rd year university and finished my art degree with a BA in graphic design. Then I attended a Postgraduate Diploma in Community Learning and Development as I wanted to come a community artist to help transform communities through arts.

So, if we are talking about working hard, yes, I know exactly what it means to work hard. I know what it means to be patience even when things are not going the way you want. I know what it means to not give up. Eventually I will achieve my dream.

During my journey I needed to be creative and flexible, I had to consider different paths to take to eventually achieve my goal. And there was pain too.

One of my teachers told me that my drawings were not good enough and she doubted I could have improved. But I did. That html- programming subject in 3rd year was probably the most difficult part of my studies. I almost gave up, but I didn’t.

I know what it means to work hard. For example, now I am in my final year of an e-learning course in Art therapy. At the same time, I have two jobs – and yes, I know, I probably should study just now.

And I am glad I did not give up and I am not giving up.

And yes, during the journey there was pain, but there was also Joy. Actually, there was more Joy than pain. And then, there was a gain, many gains. Professionally I achieved a lot.

So yeah, I believe I am a very strong and hard worker person, but when it comes to food everything changes.

In fact, at times it feels like I don’t have the same strength when it comes to food.

The joy is replaced by pure pain: “I need to lose weights. Are you sure you want to eat that? That’s not going to make you slimmer eh!” All the positive thoughts and kind words I tell myself to motivate me when I am at work, they are all gone.

As probably most over-weighted people experience, when I was younger, I had some nasty comments about me and my weight. Also, lots of people – even strangers – were telling me to lose weights. And the more they were telling me that, the more I was putting weight on.

And this is exactly what happened to me this year, the more I was telling myself to lose weights, the more I put them on. And it is when I am more obsessed about food and weight that my mental health declines.

At times, all those amazing achievements feel like they are not big enough, or at least I don’t fully celebrate or appreciate myself enough because I am not slim enough. That’s the sad truth.

And I do blame society for it. Society enforces in our heads that being slim is also a synonymous of success. You can achieve whatever you want, but if you are not slim enough, your achievements are not fully worthy. That’s the way it feels sometimes.

And I start to push myself even more, because, when I will be slim, I will be happy. And then suddenly my happiness becomes the number in the scale that I want to see. And I become so obsess about weight-loss that I forget to enjoy other things in my life.

And it is unfair how society is making us believe that happiness is external. ‘When I am going to be slim, I will be happy. When I am going to finish college, I will be happy. When I will get a good job, I will be happy. When I will be able to buy a house, I will be happy.’ And we move from one ‘when’ to another ‘when’ forgetting to be happy just now, in the present.

Of course, If I am going to become slimmer, I am going to be happier. But it is not because I will enter in the category of “successful slim people”. It is because I will have more energy and strengths to do things I want to do, like hillwalking. But it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be happy now.

The journey of transformation is not an easy journey, but it should be a joyful journey, not a painful one.

That was my view during my first journey of weight-loss when I was 22. I was happy for who I was, and I was accepting that becoming healthier was not to prove the world that I am good enough, it was an opportunity for me to be able to do things that I was not able to do before, like cycling. And the more I let go of the pressure, the more I focused on doing things that I really liked, the more I was losing weights.

So, in whichever part of journey you are just now, I would recommend you write down what makes you truly happy and be honest with yourself. Pick those activities that you truly want to do and not those activities that you think you should do. For example, I forced myself to go almost every day to the gym for a year; but now I decided to exercise less and fully enjoying what I am doing, and that’s why I joined a kickboxing class.

And I am not talking only about sport. More generally, what makes you happy?

Is it writing poems? Is it Art? Is it music? Is it nature?  Is it sport? Is it knitting? Is it Drama?

Is there an activity you always wanted to do but never had the courage to try? Well, perhaps, now is the right time to do so.

My invitation is to shift our attention on those activities that make us feel good about ourselves now. Because we can only become the best version of ourselves if we start to focus on things that we really want to do.

Listen to your heart, don’t post-pone your happiness.

“No Joy, No Gain”


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