In a world where work, health and family seem at odds with each other, Susan Fitzgerald's answers include a healthy dose of counselling and exercise, writes Melanie Swan
Although one traditionally associates shame, fear, obsession and worry over the human body with women, these are issues that can impact anyone - no matter what their age, gender or nationality.
Susan Fitzgerald knows a thing or two about overcoming such challenges. The 41-year-old former athlete and trainer, not to mention survivor of a rare form of cancer, uses her passion and experiences to help women and men through personal counselling and her I Love My Body workshops. It's an issue close to the Irish expatriate's own heart.
"I have my own body issues," says Fitzgerald, who has lived in Dubai before and returned nine months ago. "I admit that because people have to be able to relate, to love their bodies."
Although Fatima Al Naffer, 27, was aware of many of Fitzgerald's tenets - such as believe in and make time for yourself - as a busy wife, mother of a 20-month-old and government employee, she got some much-needed reminders at a recent workshop Zabeel Saray hotel on The Palm Jumeirah.
"It's always good to have these insights for your life, especially as women," she says. "It's not only taking time for yourself but giving yourself permission to relax, be happy and pamper yourself. It's like recharging."
One of Fitzgerald's clients is Mike Deedign, who is also from Ireland.
"He is the voice of many men," says Fitzgerald. "Women are becoming much more open about these issues but where do the men go? Men don't talk like women do."
Deedign, who has been in the UAE for 19 months, is a former semi-professional footballer turned estate agent.
After an injury stopped him from playing, he became increasingly sedentary. At 31, he is well aware that "as you get older, your metabolism slows down". He became conscious of his weight about two to three years ago, when he went from about 62kg to 73kg.
"It was horrible," he says. "Going shopping and trying on clothes in a large or extra large instead of a medium or large, seeing yourself in the reflections of shop windows, in mirrors - it isn't a nice feeling."
Deedign has been working with Fitzgerald for two months to change his mindset to a more positive one through both life coaching and physical training. The pair are even training to climb Carrauntoohil mountain in Ireland in August to raise money for cancer charities in Ireland and the UAE.
"It's about not being so hard on yourself and eating the right stuff when you're not at work, too," he says. "When you're in a high pressure job you're always striving for the next level and life is no different. Susan is teaching me to be calmer and more open to things I might not have considered before, like meditation, breathing exercises and being a bit more spiritual."
Fitzgerald has been helping him overcome his negative feelings and improve the way he approaches all aspects of his life. And Deedign says it has made a big impact.
"I already feel like a completely different person and my friends can see it, too," he says. "Men are too embarrassed to talk about body shape, but nobody likes putting on clothes that don't fit them any more."
Having overcome burnout last year after moving back to Dubai, Fitzgerald has some new tools to help others.
"I just kept pushing through all the challenges and forgetting that cancer and divorce, along with moving country, had begun to take its toll on my body - emotionally and physically," she says. "When I had no energy to move my body the way I always knew how to, then panic set in as I felt 'oh my God, what can I do if I cannot work out?' Then the cycle of anxiety came about as exercise, and in particular running, was my main way of alleviating stress, as well as doing classes and training people on how to get fit was my actual job.
"So here I was, 21 years in a career and lifestyle that I loved, yet no longer having the energy to do it and at the same time consumed with fear of what was to become of me."
It was an "exhausting" time, she says.
"It seemed like I was alone with this bully living inside my own head."
It was then that Fitzgerald began to study ways to manage stress and quieten her mind through meditation among other methods.
"My energy began to return," she says. "I then began to realise that so many people, especially women, are in this place as they have so many responsibilities and never put their needs on top."
In addition to weekend workshops, Fitzgerald runs classes and workshops in Dubai during the week as well as one-to-one sessions. For more information, contact email@example.com or call 055 697 4129
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