Strive by Matthew Douglas Personal Training

Matthew Unmuted EP1 – How Lockdown Changed Me

As a PT, it may be hard to believe that another passion of mine is writing. Evidently, I don’t get much opportunity to write much apart from social media posts, but writing has always been in the background in my life. So, I figured it was finally time I created a blog to not only help improve my writing abilities, but also help, and engage with, people who read it. Who knows, maybe my book deal will be right around the corner!

Having started my podcast, ‘Matthew Unmuted’, back in May, I thought I could provide additional comments alongside each podcast with this blog. I only get 30 minutes to record a podcast and I often find myself wishing I had added a bit of extra information or background. It’s easy to forget things when your mind is as full of information as mine! That was partly a joke but mostly true. Anyway, jokes aside, I hope that you will find what I write in these blogs interesting and if there is anything you would like me to discuss in future blogs and podcasts, my DMs are always open.

The first episode of my podcast was quite a personal one. While I am always happy to share my fitness knowledge, sharing my deeper thoughts has always been a struggle – even with those closest to me. This meant that I had to step outside my comfort zone for my first ever podcast! But I’ve always enjoyed a challenge.

LOCKDOWN. We all went through it. Everyone has come out of it with a story to tell and I am no different. I wanted to explore the ways in which lockdown allowed me to take a step back and look at my life and where I wanted to go. I realised a few hard truths but making changes didn’t necessarily come easy.

Let me start with life before lockdown. As a qualified Personal Trainer, it was always my passion to help others achieve their goals. Initially, I experienced a lot of self-doubt. I often felt lost in an industry that seemed to be all about image and perfectionism. I never saw it that way. Exercise helped me build confidence, as well as strength, and I saw it as an opportunity to help people who wanted to make positive changes in their life. Not long after I qualified, I got a job working at a fantastic local tennis and squash club with one other PT, Alan Goodwin. Alan has since become a great friend to me and I will be talking about him a lot in future episodes.

Although not apparent to me at the time, my biggest barrier was a constant need to please every client, coupled with an overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t doing enough. If someone didn’t get results it would slowly consume me and leave me deflated. Over time, this eventually led to overwhelming anxiety which sometimes left me dizzy and breathless.

Now that I can step back and reflect, I can see that I have had problems with anxiety and confidence my whole life. However, this time there was something different. The anxiety didn’t come or go depending on the situation. It continued to build alongside stressing about being the best for my clients and a pretty brutal work schedule. The hours I was working were never more than average, however the unsociable hours and long shifts without room to breathe and rest between clients slowly brought me to my knees.

I would start at 6am and continue until 8pm sometimes. This was in long shifts of up to 6 sessions followed by long breaks of nothing. My breaks were spent on social media (playing catch up and trying to gain followers). I wasn’t utilising my free time well as I would be exhausted mentally. You can see where I am going here, this isn’t healthy for anyone.

I always wanted to best the best trainer I could be for my clients and so this meant that I was never silent – many of my clients will attest to this! I felt the constant need to fill silence and it crippled me at times. I loved my job, but I eventually started to dread and resent sessions. This eventually took hold of me. Even now, I can remember exactly how I felt then.

I remember I was in a morning session with a client. My head had been bothering me for almost a month now. I would get sharp pains in the left side of my head that would come and go. On this particular day I had been getting bad episodes of this and I felt quite weak at the knees. We were in the hallway and I suddenly felt overwhelming dizziness. This had me falling against the wall and nearly on the ground. Luckily (or so I thought then) my client was doing walking lunges down the hallway and they never saw me.

I decided to ignore how I felt and what had just happened. While I continued trying to ignore it, it was becoming even more clear to those close to me that I was not myself. I was irritable at home, I was tired, I would snap at the smallest thing. Around week 3 of this happening, my partner and flatmate both urged me to go to the doctors and get checked. By this point it was impossible to hide the problem, even to myself, and I was even getting dizzy in the shower.

I booked the appointment and took a long weekend off work. I swear what happened next is not made up. The doctor did some tests and told me I was overworked and stressed. He could just tell from my body language that I seemed on edge. Despite weeks of crippling headaches and dizziness, I walked out of the doctors and everything just disappeared.

It was clear to me that I just needed to be told this. My brain on overdrive had convinced me that I had cancer and that I was dying. It might sound stupid to some that this had such a dramatic impact on me. But I had let everything build up in my head over so long without so much as a word to others. After all that, I just needed to finally let out my stress and acknowledge it. I never wanted to say anything for fear of being thought of as weak. I can see now how stupid that sounds. Everyone has weaknesses. Embracing what can make you feel weak can often make you feel so much stronger.

So, positive part now: fast forward a few months and we all get hit by the lockdown in March 2020. I know I said positive part so bear with me. It was a time that forced everyone to slow down. The majority of us had to stay at home and change our routines completely. As horrendous as it was to be in the midst of a pandemic which was taking the lives of so many, it presented many people with an opportunity to reflect. Including me.

Skip to late April of lockdown, I had just lost my job at the squash club and I was feeling quite lost. Despite my stress levels being down and feeling well, I was concerned about what I was going to do with my clients and my business without a gym. I was living with my partner Ceilidh who helped me massively with the beginning of my journey. She has always seen my potential and encouraged me to believe in myself. She advised I started getting my face on camera and helped people more online. We started trying to film videos and it started as a disaster. I was terrible in front of the camera! I realised that in order to connect with people I needed to talk about what I was passionate about and so I decided to film a series of videos about running – everyone’s favourite lockdown hobby!

I had to throw Ceilidh out of the house to film this because I couldn’t do videos with someone in the same room. I just felt so aware that I was on camera. This has since gotten better, thankfully, and people can stay in the house with me.

I slowly began to enjoy making videos and really found my confidence. To add to this, I turned what could have been a negative situation into a positive and started working outside with my clients. Now, a year and a half on, I am still training clients outside. My stress levels are lower, I am happier, I get better results with clients and my work schedule is more organised. I am so proud of myself for seeing an opportunity to adapt and diversify and this has led to nothing but positive changes for my business.

The point I want to get across is that often the darkest times we face will teach us to find the light. The last few years have definitely been a journey for me. I’ve learned so much about myself and what I want. Each thing that has happened since lockdown has been a steppingstone to feeling happier and less overwhelmed in my job and personal life. Not to be cliché but it really does feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Since lockdown I have also launched a website, online platform and podcast. I now plan to share my stories with these blogs. No time for self-doubt anymore!

I have always trusted my journey, and through each challenge I have come out stronger. Losing everything allowed me to recharge and come back stronger. In a way I need to thank lockdown… I was tested, and from that, I found myself.

If you have a story about how lockdown changed you, please reach out – I’d love to hear it!

Heal yourself, find yourself, know yourself, correct yourself, see yourself, love yourself, be yourself, respect yourself

Thanks for reading,
Matthew.