I only took three days off of working out for the entire year between 2008 and 2009. Those days were two that I had the stomach flu and Christmas. I didn’t work out with the flu because I could barely stand, and on Christmas I couldn’t get to a gym without lying or disappointing someone. Those three days were fraught with anxiety and irritability and I would have done literally anything to run full speed to anywhere and not feel the impending doom that I was sure that taking time off would bring. Every bite I ate was miserable as I imagined how I might possibly avoid gaining weight without moving my body for that day.
During this period of my life, the unenlightened (and I call them this not to say they were bad people, but just to note that they simply didn’t understand my situation) would often tell me that they wished that they had my discipline. People constantly complimented my “motivation” and lamented that they wish that they, too, could be compulsive over-exercisers. In a culture where people are far too sedentary for their own good, my situation was extremely glamorized and seen as a good problem to have. People that were close to me could see that I was completely miserable and said as much but I still felt trapped – both by the routine of my exercise and by other people’s positive perception of it. I was so wracked with fear of change that it seemed literally impossible to stop the compulsion. It took years for me to entertain the notion of even trying.
Here, not so many years later, shit comes up- and when it does, I take days off of exercise. Sometimes I work two jobs in one day, sometimes I don’t sleep well and feel too “off” to really want to break a sweat, sometimes I want to enjoy vacations, friends, or family instead of focusing on exercising. If I can do both, I often do- but I do not consider lying, calling in sick to work, or breaking plans to put exercise first anymore.
Every time I think of this fact I feel so deliriously happy that I want to cry. In addition to finding a way of exercising that I love (SURPRISE! I LOVE CROSSFIT!), I have found a way of living that is more- OH, I don’t know- reasonable? Less governed by obsession? About a million times more graceful?
Today it rained in Oakland, torrentially. I had planned a bike ride for my daily exercise but I knew it was going to be terrible to try to attempt that (I lived in Portland for five years and constantly biked in the rain. I have seriously no idea what happened!) so I decided to heed my 5:00 AM wake up (it just happened, seriously! I would never choose such a thing) and just go to my gym’s six AM class. It was a shorter workout then I would have done otherwise, and due to the intensity of my class the day before, I really didn’t do as well as I’d liked. But I had a fun time doing it (really- every time I go to a Crossfit class I have fun, even when I end up crying – which definitely does happen) and I got to see one of my two trainers to wish him a happy birthday, which I really wanted to do. I felt motivated to exercise in a way that was not governed by fear or doom and I felt willing and flexible to just go with the flow of what comes up in my life without micromanaging. Success.
Once I got to work, a few hours later, I looked in the mirror. I was dressed in a way that was not in any way chic- knee socks, leggings, a sort of baggy elastic waisted skirt, legwarmers, a hoodie, a sweatband, and a raincoat. My hair was wildly curly (as it naturally is, which I fight tooth and nail). I was ridiculously comfortable (with none of my clothes too tight and not being too cold-two things I often contend with) and also just really happy. I felt GOOD, and not because I looked good or because I felt like I’d owned a workout or lost some weight or ate perfectly. I felt good because I was having a nice day and I was warm and happy. That’s it.
In the days of the elliptical this would have never happened. I would have lost my shit over doing “only” a 20 minute workout and it would have ruined my day to not have totally slayed the thing. My body would have been the sole factor in determining my mood and I never would have felt good enough. No weight would have ever been low enough, no meal ever appropriate enough in my mind.
I spent a great many years going to eating disorder support groups and occasionally people would talk about what it felt like to start to care about their bodies less and their lives more. When I heard them talk about it, I always thought it was giving up, that they stopped caring because they couldn’t handle the upkeep that OCD food and exercise behaviors demanded and that that was great but simply not for me. I honestly had no interest in doing anything that meant I would gain weight.
News flash: I *have* gained weight. Probably a lot of it, although I don’t weigh myself- another awesome success I thought I’d never see. My lowest weight had me skeletal and hollow eyed, doing whatever it was I had to do to get to a gym no matter what the cost. These days, I have a body. My butt is big, albeit from squats and not so much what I eat. My legs are strong and sturdy and I don’t think anyone would refer to me as “small.” I have settled in to a medium size and people constantly tell me that I look healthy. Although I think health has many looks I smile and genuinely feel the compliment because it’s true. I *am* healthy. and I am grateful that I can see this as a good thing because I distinctly remember that I used to think that people saying I looked healthy simply meant I looked too big.
Things are really different, in their imperfect and amusing way. I never thought I’d accept my body at any size, let alone the size its at- but here I am. It’s good. Not at all like giving up.
It’s great to still be able to surprise myself.