When tough times get tougher

Bear with me here.

This is a blog post which took me a year and a day to write.

You see, a year ago yesterday was the day that life (as I knew it) fell apart suddenly around my ears. I’m not going to go into details (there’s no need – and those in real life who need to know certainly do know) but it’s no secret that I have recently gone through a divorce, house sale, relocation.

The reason for this blog post? Very simple – although it seems very silly to me now, with hindsight.

I feel the need to blog a response to the question “can I prep for a bodybuilding comp whilst I’m getting divorced?”

I know… it sounds so silly, but I can’t tell you how many times last year I googled that exact same question, or variations on a theme, hoping to find some disembodied answer which would placate me, direct me or fast-forward me somehow through what was a truly awful time.

It wasn’t that I wanted someone to tell me for sure either way. I just wanted to know. Was it worth it? Prep is hard. Divorce is harder. Put the two together and, well, I can’t actually remember much of last year.

So what was I looking for when I googled over and over about the topics of divorce, separation, upheaval, trauma and bodybuilding competition prep? I was searching for someone, anyone, who’d been through this and would share their experiences. I didn’t want someone to tell me “yes you definitely can and you will place second and your posing music CD will play just fine and you will remember to pack your bikini top and bottom.” Nor did I want someone to say “no, don’t do it, it’s too much and you will implode.” I just wanted to read some shared experiences because, frankly, I felt so lost.

I didn’t find a single thing. Not a blog post, not a forum thread, not an article.

To illustrate just how bad I was feeling, here’s an excerpt from an email conversation with Kat Millar, my 2011 prep coach who valiantly stepped back into the role when I was also suddenly left without coaching support.


Up and down, up and down… keep thinking “I’ve got this” then something knocks me for 6 and I react badly even though I so desperately dont’ want to. Can I really do this? Should I be sensible and accept that this year might not be my year? Put it off for a year and compete in 2013? Do you really think I can do this Kat?


…yes I absolutely, totally without a shadow of a doubt know (not just think, know) that you can do this. I don’t doubt you at all, whatsoever! You are the same person who stood on stage last year… that same winning spirit is still in you, whether you feel connected to it right now or not, it’s there – it’s always there to draw upon, and no one can take that away from you.

My only question to you would be – do you want to? Do you really really want this? Because if you don’t, you won’t fight for it and nothing me or anyone else says will help.

Whatever you decide, your worth doesn’t come from what you do or whether you compete – and if you do, where you place.

As your coach and friend, I want what’s best for you… But from a physiological perspective, you do have enough time and if you believe you can do this and want to, you can.

Could you take a day or two just to forget about it and see what your subconscious decides? Would writing all the reasons for and against be helpful? What would you regret/not regret?

The bit in bold was such a relief to read. Sounds crazy now, I know! But that right there was what I was so desperate to hear. That is was physiologically possible to prep during a time of crisis. I did not know.

So, here’s my blog post, written in the genuine hope that one person, one day, at some point, will find it when they are feeling as desperate as I was.

Can you prep for a bodybuilding comp when your world has collapsed around you? I’m sure you can. I did, and I’m nothing special.

Am I glad I did?

Yes. But it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and there were days when I thought about jacking it all in. After my atrocious performance at the UKDFBA, I thought very hard about carrying on for one more show, and asked a lot of people’s advice. Some of them kindly and constructively said no, stop now, start off-season and move on. I do wonder if that might have been a good idea. But, I didn’t, and no harm done. However, I can remember the moment that my place (… last place!) was called at the NPA Finals (my final show of last year). The thought process immediately went “OK, right, fine, next up is moving home.” I was ready to move on, get my bodybuilding season over and done with because I finally felt a furious need to physically move away and get on with my new life.

I can’t tell you if you should compete or carry on with your prep, only you know that. But can you? Yes. You can, and maybe it will give you something to hang on to, something for you when everything else seems to be shitting on you from great heights and draining your emotions and energy.

I remember coming to the conclusion that, yes, prep and competing was a stress, but it was a stress that I wanted. It was all the other stresses that I didn’t want. So, by deciding not to compete, I’d have got rid of something I actually wanted to do, but I’d still be left with all the other crap.

Things which might help

If you do decide to carry on, these things may help. They certainly helped me:

– good friends. Goes without saying but honestly you are about to find out the power of true friendship. You are also about to discover who your true friends are. It may surprise you, in good and bad ways. The people you turn to first may end up screwing you over (happened to me) and the people you thought had forgotten about you completely may end up a year later being back in your life in big ways (also happened to me).

– an inner circle. It’s always a good idea to only listen to one or two trusted advisor-types during prep but when you’re also trying to deal with the exhausting noise of divorce and house sale etc, you’ll probably only have energy (and trust!) left to listen to one or two

– training partners. Again, often helpful but a wonderful support at this point in time. You need to find the right person but, if you do, they will play the part of mentor, coach, accountability partner, sounding board and much more

– getting in to a routine. If you suddenly find yourself alone, prep can go very screwy. Meal times? What are those? Bed time? Oh I suppose that was a few hours ago. Get up? I suppose I should, I mean it is 10:45am. You get the picture. Do try to carry on as normal, even if inside you feel far from normal.

– a dog (if you like dogs, that is). If you’ve got one, fight to keep it. If you haven’t got one, get one to celebrate your new life. Your pup will get you outside on days when you don’t want to go anywhere, will make you smile and will remind you daily about trust, love and the power of living in the moment.

Pros and cons…
…of competing and prepping last year at the same time as going to Relate sessions, getting divorced, trying (endlessly) to sell a house, planning a relocation and dozens of other frustrating and upsetting things

– Sense of pride at a time when my confidence was on the floor
– A positive, healthy distraction/set of habits at a time when I honestly could happily have ended (or started) some days with gin
– Maintaining contact with a very tight-knit and supportive community online and offline
– Routine, habits, structure
– A goal which was nothing to do with anyone else, just me
– A high point or “good thing” in an otherwise shit year

– Often very stressful
– Physically and emotionally exhausting
– Pressure (on myself) that I often didn’t need
– Kept me in one place long after I wanted to move away
– Change in lifestyle (single person with dog to walk/house to run) meant sudden change in energy output
– Change in lifestyle meant sudden change in routine, meaning I could (and did) very easily eat/sleep badly

Lessons learned

– let yourself feel whatever you need to feel. There’s nothing wrong with being sad, angry, mildly hysterical or anything else you care to feel. I can tell you right now that over the past year I have cried in Tesco supermarket, in the Post Office, and walking down the High Street on a Saturday afternoon. Oh well. You have to let the feelings out, and then sort of past. They won’t stick around forever I promise. Just because you spent all of yesterday crying it doesn’t mean you’ll spend all of tomorrow crying (although if you do that’s OK too)

– spend time on you. This one really helped me. I don’t mean having bubble baths and going on a silent retreat. I mean really digging about and getting to grips – for the first time ever – with who I am, what makes me tick and why I really am quite awesome thank you very much. I went to some therapy/counselling (not sure what you’d call it). I read a lot of self-help/emotional intelligence books. I watched my Google reader’s contents subtly shift from food and fitness blogs to sports psychology and emotional wellness blogs. One of the most valuable things I did was sit and write down my own personal values. This might not work for you, perhaps you’re not as driven by words as I am. But I found it interesting, enlightening and very strengthening to know what’s important to me, so I then had a kind of values blueprint against which to align my life.

– go with your gut. This kind of links to the values thing. If last year taught me anything, it was to trust my gut instincts. I no longer care very much what people think of me (not in a callous way, more in a “look I know I’m a good person, if you disagree or come to some odd conclusion about my life then that’s your issue not mine” way) I am much happier to trust gut instinct and do things (or not do things) that I know are right for me and for the people I care about, probably because I have a much better idea now of who is worth caring about. Do listen to what your gut is telling you. Good and bad. If it’s telling you that person is slightly odd and probably a bad influence in your life, get rid now. It’ll happen one way or another anyway. If it’s telling you that person was amazing all along and you really should get back in touch with them, give them a call. They’ll be back at some point anyway!

– nothing’s set in stone. If you do decide to compete, remember that you can stop any time. That might help ease the pressure. Obviously it doesn’t quite work the other way around – if you decide not to, you’ll probably find it hard to jump back into it if you change your mind. But if you do take the tough decision to carry on, don’t be proud enough to stop if you no longer feel prep/competing is doing anything positive for you. I promise you that nobody will think any the worse of you (in fact they may be relieved, or may not notice at all!)

Oh, and one last thing? You will be OK, and whatever happens/wherever you find yourself, things will be better. Maybe not in the ways you expected or predicted (or even wanted) but they will be.


In signing off today I’d like to say the hugest and most heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped me through the past year. You know who you are. And to the people (because there were a few) who didn’t help me, well, thank you too. You played a part in getting me here, but I’m afraid you won’t be the ones who get to play a part in celebrating it.

Peace out 😉

When tough times get tougher is a post from The Fit Writer blog.

Nicola Joyce – the Fit Writer – is a freelance copywriter and journalist who writes for the sport and fitness industry. Her main website is here.


11 Responses to When tough times get tougher

  1. Sam says:

    Fantastic heartfelt writing Nicola, I’ve been through 2 divorces and had highs and lows. sport along with friends is ultimately what has got me where I am now and that is a good place where I smile everyday and realise how lucky I am!
    Trust your gut is such good advice.


  2. Tara says:

    Beautiful post, Nic. I’m sure you will help many people with this post. You are doing great and you should be so proud of what you have achieved in the past year as a strong, independent woman. Big hugs x


  3. Helen Milton says:

    Nicola I can honestly say that you are the strongest, most positive, driven person I know. As you know I’ve been through it to, it’s hard and it still is but with people like you in my life I know that I too can do it. I am so proud of you. You may be you but you are an amazing you. During your prep I could see how hard you had to push to get through and you made it. I love you loads and know you will achieve everything that YOU want to achieve. From your FBBBFF xxx


    • Nicola Joyce says:

      Ah my lovely friend, thank you for the comment and thank you for being there! We had some fun times last year 😉 After I wrote this blog post I remembered us both sitting on the sofas at the gym and crying?! Why! Haha, fun & games… 😉 FBBBFF XX


  4. You are one hell of a writer, Nic, outstanding, emotional, inspirational,moving…look forward too seeing you at the shows this year.


  5. That was a great post! It’s really inspiring to see how you can be so motivated to do the bodybuilding contest in the midst of so much life struggles! Perhaps one reason why you’re doing it is also because it gives you something to focus your energies on. All the best in your prep, and I look forward to hearing more about it!


    • Nicola Joyce says:

      Thank you Cheryl

      I think that is one reason why I chose to carry on last year, certainly

      This year is all different 🙂 Much happier – and I’m doing it for competitive reasons again 😀


  6. […] another story for another day, preferably over a gin & tonic please… although you could read this if you can bear […]


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