#10. Exercising

This will be a short entry. I apologize. I’m not feeling very writer-y. Turns out I used up all my writerness this week on another project and who suffers? You do. And when you suffer, we all suffer. Or something like that. Speaking of suffering, I did it, folks. For once, I did not show up here with a sheepish explanation of why I failed at this week’s experiment or why I did it five days out of seven or some such nonsense. No, I exercised for seven days in a row.

Now. I should probably qualify this, because I suspect what I consider exercise and what other, fitter people consider exercise are two very different things. I am not a physically active person. I’m out of practice. Out of shape. Out of, it turns out, excuses. So I set the bar very low: at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Not necessarily gut-busting exercise, but breaking-a-sweat exercise. The main goal was to do it, not do it hard.

I get very anxious about the whole exercise thing. Figuring out how to be a person who exercises, consistently and properly, has plagued me for years. I did not grow up in a physically active family. We did not throw balls at one another on holidays. We read books. We sat around and ate. As a result, I have next to no physical prowess. It does not come naturally to me. There. Do you feel my struggle?

I am also an all or nothing person and while this may be a good thing for the world’s top athletes, for me it presents a problem. It sets me up, in the world of physical activity, for failure. You’d never know it to look at me now, but there was a time I worked out vigorously, obsessively even. I counted calories like a mad woman, never consuming more than 20 grams of fat per day and quickly increased my cardio workouts from 30 minutes to 45 to an hour. I took kick-boxing classes and step-aerobics classes. I lived on the elliptical cross trainer.

As a result, I lost a ton of weight, pretty quickly. Because of that, it’s tempting for me to think of that period in my life as positive. The truth is, I was just a different kind of unhealthy. I didn’t listen to my body. I learned nothing about eating right. I damaged my right knee because I didn’t have the patience to increase my intensity slowly, to work out properly.

A person simply can’t keep up that kind of pace. I couldn’t, anyway. Something changed, everything stopped. My workouts decreased, my waist line increased again. Since that period more than ten years ago, I’ve had an off-and-on, love-hate relationship with exercise. I do it in bursts. I generally overdo it, hurt my knee again and then the period of rest becomes three months, four. I’m out of the rhythm. I have TV to watch instead. You know how it goes.

I was not naïve enough to think that seven days of working out will change all that. I just felt like I needed what I need with great frequency: impetus to jump start my work out habits again. What I knew it would do – and what, annoyingly enough, it did – was remind me why I work out.

While that may sound obvious and simple, it’s actually a pretty complicated issue for me. I have to work very hard to divorce exercising from my expectations about weight loss and body image – otherwise it becomes an exercise (if you’ll pardon the pun) in self-defeat. I become crazy and obsessed and anxious and really, really hard on myself. It’s not a fun place to be.

Instead, I have to work to try to keep it about health, both mental and physical, and not about a number on the scale that isn’t behaving the way I want it to. That’s far easier said than done. It helps, I suppose, I believe wholeheartedly that I’m supposed to be moving my body, breaking a sweat on a daily basis. I have no philosophical issues with that. It does not help, however, that I hate exercising. I am not and never will be one of those people who enjoys working out. I enjoy having worked out. It’s hard to remain committed to an activity you’re only interested in being done with.

While I was tempted to get in my usual workout rut – elliptical at the Y – I tried for some variety this week. Sure, I played it safe: 30 minutes on the bike at the Y. That went okay. I huffed, I puffed. I sweated. I pushed myself but I also tried to pay attention to my knee. I survived.

Day two, I made my return to yoga for the first time in three months. I once did yoga faithfully, twice a week back in St. Louis with a terrific teacher. I never felt better or stronger or more calm and capable than when I had a regular practice. That was years ago. For the past couple of years, I’ve only dabbled. Going to classes for a few weeks in a row, then losing momentum. Yoga doesn’t work well if you’re inconsistent.

Returning to my yoga class – my beginner’s yoga class – nearly killed me. It’s humbling how difficult yoga is when you’re out of practice. I get so frustrated with myself and have to watch the self-defeating talk: you suck at this, so you should just give up. But with yoga, I don’t spend the entire time wishing it were over; I spend a lot of it just wishing I were better at it. And as crazy as that may sound, for me, it was progress.

The week rolled on, and so did I. Weather allowed me to take Orangey, my beloved Townie bike, out for her first ride of the year. Even sticking to the flattest land around us, it was tough. My muscles were crying out about being forgotten for months. Although it was humbling, I kept at it, riding back and forth, up and down the streets of the Old West Side until I’d met my time quota.

I went back to the Y. I did the elliptical. On a day when the fibromyalgia made my legs feel like they were on fire, I did the opposite of what my instincts said: I took a brisk walk outdoors. Next day, gym again. A week passed and, before I know it, I’d exercised every day. My muscles hurt. I had frozen corn strapped semi-permanently to my knee. But I felt good. Oh, readers, how I felt good!

It’s not new information, but it always feels like it: exercising daily makes me feel really good. For some odd reason, a week’s worth of exercise didn’t make me thin. But I had more energy. My husband will vouch that I was happier, less anxious about things. I slept better. I was more productive. You name it, the benefit was there.

All good news, right? So why do I get so friggin’ annoyed by it? Why do I still resist and hate the fact that exercise is good for me? I can think of nothing that better illustrates what I suspect is my innate aversion to self-care. If it’s positive, I want to do the opposite.

And nothing better illustrates that notion than the fact that as soon as my week of mandatory exercise was up, I skipped yoga class. I skipped the gym. For one day, I did nothing. It filled me with fear, though. That all-or-nothing thinking kicked in again: if I take one day off, then I might as well be done forever.


So this will be the challenge for me in the long run, my friends: balance. Figuring out how to silence the defeatist in me. Or, at least, talk over her loud enough to be heard. Now, if I can just wrestle her into some workout gear, we can get this train back on track. For today.