I finished my last set and walked into the bathroom to look in the mirror. I was fresh off of one of my last workouts of the year, and it had been a good one. I was tired, but invigorated. I flexed in the mirror, making sure the lighting was just right, and took a second to give myself a pep talk. After all, it had been a great year of workouts, one where I made some breakthroughs and learned a lot, both about exercise and about myself. I felt good. I was enjoying the rush of endorphins, and the feeling of accomplishment. I was excited about the possibilities that 2018 held.
I’d taken the previous week off, which I try to do every 10-12 weeks. It’s a time to let my body heal, to stretch out, and enjoy the extra time I’m given, at least that’s what it’s supposed to be. In theory, I have more time to write, more time to read, more time to grab a drink with friends after work. In practice, I don’t feel like myself for that one week. I have too much energy, like a dog whose owner won’t take him for a walk. My sleep schedule suffers, unwinding from the day is a challenge, and I feel weaker. You don’t lose much in only one week, if you lose anything at all. Even so, I feel like I’ve gotten worse, that I’ve deteriorated. All that hard work is going to waste, even as I tell myself that it’s all in my head.
I try to schedule these breaks for the busiest times of the year. The week leading up to Christmas was particularly chaotic. There was a holiday party, a spin session, and also a therapy session. That first day off, I had a little too much time to think about the long week ahead of me, but once the week got moving, I didn’t notice it as much. Before I knew it, it was Sunday, just when I had started to enjoy the time off. It figures that that’s how it would work out, but it’s a good thing. I never want to get too used to taking time off. I never want to lose the drive and passion that bleeds over into so many other aspects of my life.
I’m a meathead. I have been most of my life, even if I didn’t look the part. I used to love being in the gym, especially the culture that surrounds it. I love the idea of a group of people pushing themselves to be better each and every day. I love the understanding that occurs between people when they recognize that they’ve figured it out, that they’re no longer new to this, and that they’ve both committed themselves to staving off the decline that comes with age. We’re all trying to slow the decline, but we’re also trying to improve upon the bodies we’ve been given. We’re trying to add muscle, to run faster, to become even more flexible than we were the day before.
It’s not all vanity. We’re also letting out the anger and frustration that can accumulate over the course of a day, a week, even a lifetime, and it feels good to let it out. Aside from my therapist’s office, the gym was the most cathartic place I went on a regular basis. It’s a place to work, and at some point it became a place of worship for me, a place I needed to go in order to make sure that at the end of the day, I felt like myself.
Nowadays, my workouts take place in the comfort of my own home with some cheap equipment. I love calisthenics, training with my own bodyweight, and I’m not sure I’ll ever return to weights or a crowded gym. I love working out at my own pace, to my own music, without having to wait to use any of the machines or equipment. I love the freedom that training with your own body offers you, and for the past four years of my life, I haven’t wanted anything else. It’s been the thing I was looking for. It’s been all I’ve ever wanted.
I’m strong as strong as I’ve ever been, and yet I’m still weak. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, but when I finally got the body I wanted, the achievement wasn’t the panacea I was looking for. When I realized that I’d summited the mountain, it dawned on me that there was so much work to do, that I wasn’t nearly as healthy mentally as I was physically.
For years, I’ve known that I need the gym or working out. I’m insecure about my body. If I look at myself in the mirror and don’t look as muscular as I think I should, it throws me off for a time, and knocks me down a peg. My goal is to look good in every mirror, and I’m aware that I may not have the healthiest body image. I know that this is something I need to work on. Again, the work never ends.
I was a weak person when I was younger. Somehow I was thin, but was unable to crank out even one pull-up. The person I used to be drives me today. That person gets me my chin up and over the bar, and he gives me extra motivation when I need it. Even so, I shouldn’t need exercise the way that I do. It’s a drug that I need a constant fix of, and the withdrawals are intense on the weeks when I’m off. I shouldn’t feel so lost without it, as if my identity has been compromised, as if I’m somehow a different person.
I’m weak because of how much I need it. Some years ago, in the middle of training for a marathon, I heard something snap or pop in my ankle, and rather than stopping, I pressed on and finished my 16 mile run. Maybe a part of me knew that this would be my last good run for a while, but there was also a part of me that would have felt defeated if I didn’t finish what I set out to do. I finished that run, but that injury threw me off my game and into one of the worst bouts of anxiety I’ve experienced. I’m hoping to establish a healthier relationship with exercise, and while I’m slowly loosening the grip it has on me, it’s still pretty tight.
I hope to love exercise for the rest of my life, but I hope I don’t need it as much as I currently do. It’s an addiction. It governs my actions, and I find myself scheduling my life around my sessions. I’ve definitely bailed on social events if I haven’t done my workout for the day. I shouldn’t need exercise to feel like myself, but I can’t function properly without it. I look forward to a time when I can just have a good workout and focus on other things when it’s over. I’m hoping I’ll be strong enough not to need it so much. Thanks for reading.