Reading

When I was growing up, I used to love reading Goosebumps. They were really popular at the time, and each story was a little grotesque and scary enough for children. Whenever we went on holiday, I would make sure to buy a few to read while sat around the pool. When I became a little older, I started to read a series called Point Horror, which were also a little creepy. I don’t have any particular strong memories of when I was very young, but I do remember that I thought reading was really difficult. We would be given books from school to read like The Magic Key with Biff and Chip. I loved reading them but I found it pretty difficult at the time. I got into the habit of reading everything and anything I could to practice. I would read advertisements and menus and magazines. I would badger my parents with questions about how to read something or what that word meant. I guess I haven’t changed much now. Living in Japan, I’m always trying to improve my reading ability, so attempt to read everything I see.

Even now, I have such an active imagination and loved reading fantasy fiction about magic and faraway lands. The first book to ever make a true impression on me was Room 13 by Robert Swindells.┬áMy interests have slightly changed over time, and these days I enjoy reading non-fiction and autobiographies. In particular I enjoy reading inspiring books and self-development books. Sometimes they end up being only temporarily inspiring, but I always feel I have learned something from everything I’ve read.

I was working in a bookstore in England when one of the Harry Potter books was released. I didn’t realise how popular it was until the day of the first sales. I started reading the series, and instantly fell in love. I think I’d always lived in a fantasy world in my head, so it was strange how it all seemed to be down on paper. I’ve re-read the series and watched the films over and over, and each time I find new ways to enjoy it. Another book I couldn’t put down was Memoirs of a Geisha. I didn’t really know anything about Japan at the time, and despite it being fictional, it sparked my interest in the Far East.

Unfortunately, due to the Internet and smart phones etc. I find I don’t read as much as I’d like. I made it a habit to read every morning and evening on my commute to work. I tried using a Kindle and using my phone to read, but it’s not the same as a paper book. I feel like I don’t absorb anything when reading on an electronic device. Thanks to this new habit, I can get through quite a few books that I’ve wanted to read. When I look around the train in the morning and see everyone glued to their phone, I’m always pleasantly surprised to see someone reading a book. Reading broadens the mind and gets you thinking about all sorts of ideas and ways of thinking.

Some of my recommendations:

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling – No explanation needed.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – I couldn’t stop reading this!

Stop Saying You’re Fine by Mel Robbins – Okay, the title sounds like a typical self-help book, but trust me. I watched this lady’s TED talk, and immediately bought her book. It’s about how to stop making excuses, and how to stop putting up with mediocrity.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell – My friend sent me this book, and I loved it. It’s about a Londoner who relocates to Denmark for her husband’s work. She attempts to understand why Danish people are so happy.

Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb – I loved this book! The author discusses turning life into a kind of video game where you level up and have goals to reach. It’s really well written and really inspiring.

Screw It, Let’s Do It by Richard Branson – I really admire Richard Branson and the things he’s achieved. He’s never afraid of taking risks and challenging himself. I really respect his attitude towards life.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki – I wasn’t sure where this story was going to go. Even though I was living in Japan, I saw a different side to the country and people.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – A popular choice on reading lists. It’s filled with lessons and wisdom, and a little adventure.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – It sounds like a silly choice, but it made me realise that I didn’t need many material items, and I should surround myself only with the things I love. It helped me to free up space in my tiny apartment. I try to follow the steps twice a year.

Exercise

I think one of the most surprising things I learned about myself was that I actually enjoyed exercise. When I was growing up, I definitely wasn’t the athletic type. I could run pretty fast, I learned how to swim when I was quite young, but I hated playing football or rugby. I wasn’t a big fan of contact sports, preferring to go swimming or a long-distance sprint by myself. Even to this day, I don’t think I ever developed the competitive gene, and I prefer exercising alone.

Because I didn’t enjoy playing team sports, especially ones that boys were ‘meant’ to play, I think my parents thought I was a little odd. I’m sure they wanted me to play for the school or local football team, or show some interest in attending a game. I did actually enjoy playing basketball and tennis, but these sports were always only played short-term at school.

Once I had left school, I barely showed any interest in exercising. I never really gained weight even if I only ate junk food, so I never thought there was any reason to exercise. I joined the university gym, but barely went so in the end it was a waste of money. After coming out to my parents and friends, and being more accepting of myself that I was gay, I started to realise that gay people for the most part take care of themselves. Unfortunately, looks are very important in the gay community, and being muscular and good-looking are very significant.

I have never thought of myself as particularly good-looking nor ugly. I’ve always thought of myself as mediocre; someone you probably wouldn’t give a second glance at, but not somebody who repulses you. For the longest time, I thought there wasn’t really anything I could do about the way I looked. I didn’t enjoy exercise so that was out. I wanted to dress fashionably, but looking back on some photos I can’t say I ever achieved that.

When I was about 25 years old, working as an English teacher, I would sit down for pretty much most of the day. The only mobile time would be to walk to the station and back. I lie on my bed at home, sit down on the train, sit down at work, and just move to get lunch or go to the toilet. I wasn’t fat so I thought I was okay. One day something suddenly pulled in my back sharply, and I started having this dull ache. I didn’t know where it had come from and I figured I must have just sat or lay in a funny position, but the pain continued. After researching about lower back pain, and realising how common it is (despite believing I had a tumour on my spine), I read about the causes. I knew I had terrible posture, and that I would always round over and hunch my back.

I joined a gym and I started swimming. There was a compulsory orientation session of the machine gym, but I knew I would only use the pool, so I just nodded along. I would go there, on and off, after work. It was close to my home so it was convenient, but it was kind of run down and there was an old man who used to go around shouting all the time. After a while, it closed down and I just kind of forgot about exercising at all. My lower back pain was still troubling with me, and one of my colleagues talked about her Zumba and yoga classes at her gym, so I decided to join. Again, I thought I would only use the pool area and attended my compulsory orientation of the machine gym area.

The monthly price of the gym wasn’t cheap, and I figured it was a waste of money to just use the pool, so I challenged myself to try the weight machines. Like a fish out of water, I had no idea what I was doing. I wandered around aimlessly and tried pushing a few weights and doing a bit of stretching. Too shy and intimidated to ask anyone for help, I wasted my time on machines thinking they were helping me. After a while, I finally asked one of the instructors for help, and she taught me how to use some of the machines. She also recommended taking her power yoga class. Everything was new and a bit of challenge, but I plucked up the courage to follow the routine they had given me and joined her class. I’m embarrassed for myself now just thinking about it. I couldn’t understand what she was saying or doing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone as terrible. But I kept going back for more.

I’m far from a fitness freak. I still get a little tired from walking up the stairs at the station .. However I can now do a lot of things that I never thought I could do. I know how to stretch properly, how to lift weights and do a push/pull-up. I can use the machines properly, and can work out with a barbell or dumbbells. I often think I haven’t changed much since joining the gym. But when I look back on that first class, I can see a huge change. I’m much healthier and taking more care of myself. I love the feeling after a good work-out, and I love sweating because of exercise and not just because it’s hot!

I still have a long way to go. There are many things I want to achieve in fitness and health. I would also like to pay more attention to my nutrition. The only reason why I started exercising was because of my lower back pain. Now I exercise because I enjoy it. I want to go on adventures and travel the world and challenge myself to do many things, and I can only do that if I’m in good health and taking care of myself.

Alcohol

I’m always surprised by how people get excited about drinking. Growing up, if you can drink a lot, it’s seen as cool and strength of character. When you’re a teenager, I can understand it. Especially if you drink earlier than the legal age. It’s like forbidden fruit; something that you shouldn’t really be doing and there is that fear of getting caught. Of course there is the added factor of peer pressure and trying to fit in. So for teenagers, I kind of get it. But what about adults? What is it that drives people to drink? Is it a way to deal with stress or an unhappy lifestyle? Is it a way to escape from the work week or even from family life?

When I was a teenager, I loved drinking. I thought it was so cool, and I would often sneak into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of wine when my mum wasn’t looking. When I was in high school, I would go out drinking with my friends of a weekend. We’d sit on a park drinking cheap sweet alcopops (all we could afford) and wake up the next day with not only a hangover but a sugar hangover too. It was much easier to get into clubs back then even if you were 16. Our strategy was just wear black. It makes you look older. When I finally turned 18 and went to university, I wasn’t really that interested in drinking that much anymore.

I’ve noticed that people use alcohol a lot to deal with their problems. I always remember hearing someone say that if you do that, the problem doesn’t go away, and then you end up with a hangover plus the remaining problem the next day. It’s a shame that alcohol can cause so many problems for families, ruin relationships, damage friendships, plus the poisonous effects it has on the body. I’ve heard so many people that they can’t have fun because they’re not drunk enough, or they can’t relax without a drink. I feel like that is a much deeper problem than just having a drinking problem.

Personally, I don’t mind enjoying a glass of wine or a bottle of beer with a meal. I actually like going to clubs and having cocktails. I’m quite introverted so the alcohol helps me to loosen up and dance! I think social drinking can be really good to blow off steam after work, or for helping to relax after a busy day. The problem lies in when it becomes a necessity and you can’t enjoy something without having a glass, or the only thing you’re looking forward to in your week is Friday night.