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The Tyranny of the Gym August 11, 2009

Posted by Jae in Uncategorized.
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As part of my quest to take better care of myself,  I joined a gym.

That is so stereotypical, it isn’t even funny.  Most of the time, when we hear about someone joining a gym to take better care of themselves, at least a part of that care (usually a big part, if not the whole thing) revolves around losing weight.  For me though, this was a choice I made to help me break out of a really destructive pattern.  This winter, while applying to graduate school, I let exercise slide.  If you’ve never applied to graduate school, let me tell you, it’s very stressful.  I waited a year to apply to this program and my whole life revolved around getting in; I had no solid plan for what I would do if I was rejected.  And once the applications were sent in, all I could think about was getting rejected.  Suddenly it seemed a lot easier and a lot more appealing to lay down on the couch and watch TV, so I did.   The problem is that I kept on doing that, even when it wasn’t appealing anymore.  I was bored, tired no matter how much I slept, and I was unmotivated to do most anything, and I wanted to change that.

So I decided, I would try to put movement back into my life.  I bought some new exercise DVDs, tried walking more, and found myself still very bored.  After trying out the gym at a resort I visited last month and loving how I felt after going there, I sought out one to join one at home.  Thankfully, my gym is not one that is overtly pushing weight loss.  They have a scale, but only one, shoved off to the side of the room, and it is just an old dial type scale.  None of the classes are called anything like “Annihilate your fat ass bootcamp.”  They don’t sell any diet pills or supplements.  They didn’t even try to sell me any personal training.   It seems that it is just a place where people come to exercise, for whatever reason, and that is how it should be.

For years, I wondered if I were the kind of person who might enjoy working out in a gym, but I was too afraid to join.  During my dieting/eating disorder days, I told myself that once I was thin, I would be allowed to join a gym, because only then would it be acceptable for me to be seen exercising in public.  The funny thing is, I exercised in public all the time.  One of my top forms of exercise was walking and, unless you are on a treadmill or doing one of those walking DVDs, chances are good that you will be walking outside in full view of people.  But while I was walking, I would never do any of those standard walking moves, like pumping my arms or even carrying handweights, because, oh my god, what if someone saw me?  What if they saw me and knew I was…exercising!!!11111!!! The horror!  The agony!  The shame!

I may chuckle about it now, but at the time, I was dead serious.  The one time I did try to use a gym, I was called out for being fat, so it stood to reason that the only way to avoid the shame I felt then was to avoid letting anyone know I had the gall to think I could exercise.

Even now, I see myself visiting those old thought patterns from time to time.  Just yesterday, as I walked on the treadmill, I found myself glancing out of the corner of my eye at all the people next to me, running on their treadmills, and I wondered if I too should break into a sprint.  Nevermind that I don’t like to run, or that I shouldn’t run even if I did like it as I have knee issues, but being the only walker in the room made me wonder if maybe I shouldn’t just stick to the exercise bike and leave the treadmills to the “real exercisers.”

Of course, I mentally smacked myself afterwards.  I am a real exerciser.  Anyone exercising at any given moment is an exerciser*.  In spite of the constant stream of encouragement we get to always be pushing ourselves harder, faster, longer, what have you, the truth is that movement is not a gift reserved only for those who looks like they belong on the cover of Shape magazine or can effortlessly run six miles.

I am not foolish enough to believe I will be able bodied forever.  Someday, barring any accidents or illness in the meanwhile, as my body ages the amount and kind of exercise I am capable of will most likely change; that is the truth for every able-bodied person.  So waiting around to be sure I’m not offending anybody else by insisting on walking on the treadmill while they run, making sure that no one sees me swimming lest they think I think I’m the next Michael Phelps, that wastes my time and my life.

And I don’t want to do that anymore.

*I think exerciser is also the weirdest word I’ve used today.

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