I want to be your friend by Jacob Bayliss
Jacob Bayliss, trans athlete, running enthusiast, coach and TEDxNHS speaker shares his story of self-acceptance.
I was gasping for breath
My lungs were on fire
Everything hurt & I was most certainly, definitely, categorically not enjoying myself.
I glanced at my watch.
I had been running for 45 seconds, & I still had 15 to go.
They stretched out ahead of me like a gaping chasm. I needed to stop, I had to stop, in fact I had stopped altogether & was now panting like a seriously unfit Labrador, hands on knees & determination seriously dented.
I watched my running buddy disappear down the street & felt utterly defeated. Exercise wasn’t for me.
Never had been, never would be. That’s the story I had told myself ever since I can remember.
My primary school had a swimming pool. It was unheated, decidedly murky, & everyone had to change together. My first memories of curriculum-based exercise were of being painfully cold & having my prized Tasmanian Devil towel whipped away from me in an act of cruelty of the kind only self-styled Victorian era teachers are capable of. She demanded I get in the pool.
Things didn’t get much better, secondary school brought more bullies (mostly my own age, & the changing room was their domain) & bare feet in a dusty old hall. The changing room, & PE had become something to dread. This was not for me.
In my final class before I started truanting from PE permanently I had managed to make a friend. I chatted away merrily, unaware of the cricket ball sailing though the air toward me, my overly-competitive team mates watching in dismay as it delivered itself straight into my unsuspecting face with a sickening thud & a generous helping of humiliation.
This was certainly, definitely, categorically not for me.
College & university was a welcome escape from sports. With the exception of Beer Pong I didn’t engage with it, watch it, or even remotely think about it for 3 blissful years. I agreed to a walk in the Lake District on an optimistic whim & came very close to demanding an air ambulance. That’s about as much exercise as I did in that decade.
When I reached the top of the hill, I felt a sense of achievement, wellbeing, (and sweat) wash over me. I had done it!
I now realise this had lots to do with endorphins. I also now realise that during the time of my Lake District adventure, I was depressed. I was struggling terribly with dysphoria & with coming to terms with my trans identity. This was the beginning of a tough few years, as the age-old war between my body and I raged on.
I graduated, I kept struggling, I went travelling to try & sort my head out. This was where I was panting like a labrador, in a park in Melbourne, hands on knees, defeated by Couch to 5k - week 1 run 1 & struggling with the early throes of my transition.
In Melbourne you can’t walk down the street without tripping over yoga studios. In what must have been my 100th attempt at trying to change my body & how I looked I thought I would try that (with an underlying certainty I would fail). I went along to a class, & in a shaky, wobbly, self-conscious kind of way I got through it. I went back the next week to try again.
The teacher explained that the aim of yoga wasn’t to be good at it but to make space to be in your body & to talk to it. That was a relief as my toes were so far away from my fingers they were essentially on another planet. My mind & my body were definitely on different planets. That’s the way it had been since forever.
Each week I got a little bit closer to my toes, but I also got a little bit closer to accepting my limits & forgiving myself for not meeting my own, unreasonable expectations. My mind & body spoke for the first time in a long, long time.
“And I said to my body. Softly. ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath & replied ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this’.” - Nayyirah Waheed
I would still leave the studio & put my binder back on. It would still feel tight & uncomfortable. I would still hurt.
But slowly I was able to accept where I was, & who I was, & to have my own back in a world that often felt lonely.
Yoga taught me to meet myself where I am at. To accept my limits even when pushing them. To practice gratitude for the things I can do. I couldn’t run for 60 second but damnit I could run for 45, & that was 45 more than the day before. The next day it was 50, the next 55.
On my runs I would often swear, if nobody was around I would shout, sometimes I would shed a tear. Movement released a kind of tension I didn’t know I had. Somehow, the hard bits had become the best bits. After years of using unhealthy coping mechanisms I had found one that could keep me well both mentally & physically. I kept going, I kept talking to my body, & life got better.
Since my first couch to 5k run I had lost nearly 2 stone, I had begun & ‘ended’ my medical transition (with the exception of ongoing hormones), I had gotten married & gotten a job I loved. I had run dozens of races & smashed dozens of personal bests. I had also gotten, somewhere along the line, happy.
Through meeting myself where I was, & being kinder to myself , I had given myself the freedom to enjoy running in a way that felt impossible before. Running has long stopped being about how I look, but about how I feel & how I can achieve things I never thought possible. Running has given me a confidence & sense of self that I carry with me always. It has opened doors at work, at home, & internally too, making it much easier to get on with my body.
2 years after downloading couch to 5k I was thundering down a muddy hill in Eastbourne, remembering the 45 seconds I had fought so hard to finish. I was fighting again, every thing told me to stop, but this time something was different. I knew that I could do it. I knew that I was capable of more & I believed in myself.
I had my own back.
I kept going until I crossed the finish line of the Beachy Head Marathon - my first 26.2 miles, but certainly, definitely, categorically not my last.
Contact Jacob on twitter Jacobb_91