I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t writing this post in the hopes that my high school gym teacher might see it someday.
For the first 20 years of my life, I identified as a physically weak person. I got sick constantly, I had (have) asthma, I was (am) allergic to basically every plant and animal, and I was so devoid of musculature that I quite literally did not know how to flex my bicep. Middle and high school PE classes were a disaster and a nightmare; my mile times clocked in well above 12 minutes, dodgeball made me want to hide and throw up, and I had a panic attack on my first day of weight room. I came to associate exercise with pain and social humiliation, avoided it wherever possible (did you know you can get an independent PE credit for taking a “walking class” at community college?) and, as a consequence, got weaker.
When I got to college mandatory PE was a thing of the past, but frailty was not. I kept getting sick, and started experiencing nausea and pain after eating. I could barely eat. I lost weight. Concerned friends asked me if I had an eating disorder. But then the diagnosis: Celiac Disease. My intestines were eating themselves every time they detected gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
So I went gluten free, and began to heal. But when a celiac patient cuts out gluten from their diet, GI recovery doesn’t happen overnight—in fact, it’s often said that it can take six months or more. So I waited patiently, feeling totally shitty and totally bummed out about how I was even worse off than I thought, and had an even weaker and less competent body than I had previously believed.
But then I got better.
It turns out that when your immune system is busy murdering your own innards every day, it doesn’t leave you a lot of energy for other things. It can leave you feeling fatigued. Weak. Tired. And it also turns out that when you stop fueling that fire and let your insides recover and your immune system do its actual job, you start feeling fucking great. It’s like being fully awake for the first time.
I was diagnosed in early 2012. By the time the summer of 2013 rolled around, I was feeling the best I had ever felt. I also had a crush on a super cute guy, and I wanted to impress him. Those two factors combined to make me do the most uncharacteristic thing I could have possibly done at the time: work out like a maniac all summer long, by alternating a beginner’s weight lifting routine and a beginner’s couch-to-5k program. I bought dumbbells. I bought running shoes. I bought more dumbbells. I bought protein powder. I bought into the claims that the high after a run is fucking amazing. And I did not skip a single day all summer.
And at times, it absolutely sucked. In fact, not just “at times.” I hurt all the time. I was hungry all the time. I had to shower all the time. There were days when I could barely walk, and runs when I wanted to die, and I’m pretty sure that I got so dehydrated that I hallucinated one time, but my perseverance paid off—and I discovered that being strong is addictive. You can open jars! You can carry more groceries! You can win arm wrestling contests against dudes in bars and make the random guys watching over their shoulders go “OHHHHHH!” You can go for bigger, more badass hikes in epic places! And when your hiking partner spots a rattlesnake on the trail and says “RUN!” you don’t stumble over yourself like a dog on rollerskates. You fly, like a fucking awesome gazelle.
So here’s me now:
Up to this point, I’ve been reluctant to make a big deal out of “progress photos.” I’ve felt that it would mark some sort of symbolic end to the journey, as if to say “here’s how I was, and here’s how I am. That was the journey. The end.” But I figure this post would be kinda lame without any, so here you go—I’m coming out of the exercise closet and all, so it’s a worthy occasion. But I still feel strongly (oh, was that a pun?) that my level of fitness now is just one of many points along the way, and I have no intention of slowing down.
Especially now that I have access to a free weight room within one minute of my front door.
Speaking of which, let’s get around to the title of this blog post: “Today I went to the gym and it didn’t suck.” By “gym” I refer to the weight room in my apartment building, one floor below mine. It’s just one room, and it’s not huge, but it has seven machines and a ton of weights—it’s a gym. It counts. By my standards, it counts.
The whole time I’ve been working out ‘til now, I’ve avoided doing so at the gym. I went a few times during my senior year, but only ever to use the bikes. Because that anxiety—about not being good enough, about being laughed at—had never quite dissipated since it took its first insidious hold so long ago. But today, I was feeling restless after a long work day absent of much physical activity, and the allure of the treadmill was strong—so I put on some pants (ah, living alone) and I did it—I worked out in a room full of people.
A couple of folks stared at me, but… I’m trying really hard not to sound conceited here, but I will no matter what and this whole post is basically one big brag anyway, so here goes: I think they were impressed. Either that, or they were transfixed by my totally epic “last two reps” face, which is actually really disturbing and I think is giving me premature face-wrinkles. Either way, I was thrilled to find that I didn’t give a shit—I knew what I was doing. I had a routine. My lifts weren’t shabby. And, having never worked out in front of a mirror before, I was elated to find that I looked like I belonged.
So take that, PE.