Róisín Ingle: ‘I love you so much,’ I shout unconvincingly to my struggling self

Every few days my trainer sends motivational messages on WhatsApp. I’ve mostly stopped rolling my eyes

Just in case you might get the wrong idea I should point out this is a new year resolutions-free column. I have no wisdom to offer about how to turn yourself into a better version of you. A better version may well be on the way but for now there is only you as you are right now so you better try to love that version. That’s what I’m trying to do, anyway. And the universe loves a trier.

So I am trying. You wouldn’t necessarily know it to look at me but for a while now, I’ve been exercising online with a man called Jason. We exercise on Zoom, which is much better than going to the gym. He is in his custom-built exercise space in Meath, and I am in my bedroom or the kitchen or running around the hall in my home in Dublin. I turn on the radio, not too loud, low enough so I can still hear Jason’s annoying instructions. I listen to Claire Byrne or Desert Island Discs or Taylor Swift while I huff and puff around my house.

There is a lot to be said for exercising over video. I don’t have to go into a gym environment or a changing room or look at other people exercising. I don’t have to rush out the door to join a class. I just arrange a time, turn on the computer and there he is.

“How’s things with you?” he says. “Everything good?” I am about to exercise so in my head the answer is usually no. “All good,” I tell Jason. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been exercising, I can’t seem to get any enjoyment out of swinging a kettlebell. Sometimes, lifting weights over my head, I get a momentary flash where I connect with a strong part of myself but mostly I am just gritting my teeth and getting through it. All good.


We get along well, Jason and I, even though we are very different people. He is fit and self-disciplined and I am not. Jason likes to talk about the weather and he’s very good at this. I don’t like talking about the weather and I am terrible at it. “Cold again now, isn’t it?” he’ll say and I will try to think of something to say back, something germane to add, but usually I will just agree with his meteorological assessment. Sometimes he’ll tilt his laptop so I can see the frost on the grass in his garden.

Huffing and puffing around my house with Jason saying things like “hoo, we’re getting warm now” or “time flies when you are having fun”, I notice things. The crack in a kitchen tile. A cobweb in a corner of the ceiling. The bookshelves that are too full of books. Something must be done about it, I say to myself while doing nothing at all except trying to resist the urge to lie down on the tempting-looking sofa.

The books are piled in double rows, there are books upon books. A while back, while I was lifting a weight in a move Jason likes to call a snatch, a book fell off one of the too-full shelves. It was a small blue hardback Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving For Perfection, by Haemin Sunim. I stopped exercising and flicked open a page.

“It’s okay that you have flaws,” I read. “How could our lives be as clean and white as a blank sheet of paper? Life naturally takes a toll on our bodies, our minds and our relationships. Rather than choosing a life in which you do nothing for fear of making a mistake, choose a life that improves through failure and pain. And shout out loud to your struggling self, ‘I love you so much’.

“I love you so much,” I shouted out unconvincingly to my struggling self. I suppose that could be a resolution. We could resolve to love our struggling selves so much. But that’s not what people want to hear at this time of year. It’s all fix this and change that and give up the other. Easier said than done.

I blame my mother for my exercise aversion. “It’s not off the ground you licked it,” she laughs when I tell her about my struggling self. While Jason is encouraging me to squat on Zoom, a woman called Natalie calls around to my mother once a week to help her exercise.

At 83, the exercises are mostly about mobility. Natalie gets my mother to sit on a chair and stand up again. They use the stairs for step-ups and the walls for press-ups. Once a week her bedroom becomes a gym. Natalie says that when they retire everybody should lie on the floor once a day and get themselves up again. That way, the body will be used to moving well into older age. When she’s feeling brave, my mother sometimes gets down on the floor. She needs the side of the bed to help her get up again, but when she does it she feels a bit like Messi did lifting that shiny trophy in the middle of the desert.

Jason, like Natalie, is patient and kind. He never gives up on me. Every few days he sends motivational messages on WhatsApp. I’ve mostly stopped rolling my eyes and now look forward to them: “Strive for progress, not perfection”. “Trust the next chapter because you are the author.” “Life is 10 per cent what happens to us and 80 per cent how we react to it.”

My mother has reacted to her mobility issues by purchasing something called a rollator, which is a fancy four-wheeled walking aid. She went from resisting such a purchase, because it meant she’d be giving in to infirmity and old age, to enthusiastically picking out the fanciest model available. The shiny contraption has given her a new lease of life. She can walk farther than she’s been able to in years. I think of her when I am snatching and squatting and stretching. I think of progress, not perfection.”What will the new year bring us?” a message pings on my phone: “365 opportunities.” I allow myself an eye roll, a tiny one, and log on for another session.