I’ve spent about two hours working out each day for the past decade. I may have taken a total of 12 days off in 10 years.
Yup, I’m fit as hell. Yup, I can do crazy handstands and backbends and all sorts of arm balances, push-ups, pull-ups, and contortion-esque yoga postures. And yes, of course my desperation for attention is transiently quelled by the “wows” and “that’s amazings” I hear from people who puzzle over how the hell I have so much time, energy and what they think is “willpower” to exert myself day in and day out.
My workout regimen and all its physical after-effects may look like signs of socially validated stoicism, but let’s be honest: The outlandishly taxing daily fitness routine I subject myself to is fueled by neurosis, debilitating self-consciousness and a deeply ingrained body-hatred with roots tracing to middle school.
So no, it certainly doesn’t feel as pretty and put-together as I anxiously try to look.
Seriously, the fact that my exercise schedule controls my entire life is kind of a (huge) problem.
No, I’m not hooked on painkillers, heroin, alcohol, sex, birthday-cake or anything else that seems a lot more threatening to my health and longevity. (Unless coffee and sugarless gum count against me.)
And, yeah, accruing accolades for my diligence helps keep my quick-to-deflate ego afloat. But avoiding off-days from the gym like my ex-boyfriend’s phone calls comes with no short list of seriously un-fun consequences.
Chief among them: a rigid reluctance to go with anyone else’s flow; a failure to hold down full-time jobs; an inability to enjoy extended amounts of time with friends, family and the man who is hands-down the love of my effing life. Not to mention the ever-growing list of bodily injuries that, hell, no, I’ve never taken enough time off to recover from.
Exhibit A: About 80% of the breakups I’ve initiated were related to how this relationship really gets in the way of my exercise schedule. I’ve always hated sleeping in on weekends especially if it involves having late-morning sex since all I can think about during any attempt at pre-workout intimacy is WHEN am I going to get to the gym!? Or this can’t POSSIBLY be burning enough calories. (Maybe it was the sex. But that’s another story.)
Exhibit B: “Hey!! Sorry, [insert friend’s name here]. I’m gonna have to reschedule our dinner/movie/pedicure date tonight. Raincheck? xoxoxo.” Yep, predictably cancelling plans with friends on numerous occasions all in the interest of banging out three more sets, 30 more reps, five more planks, 20 more vinyasas, 15 more minutes on the Stairmaster, oh, f***, I forgot to do lower back, okay supermans on the mat -- yeah, you get the picture.
Exhibit C: A HUGE factor in my decision to accept my first post-college job offer at a magazine was the convenient location of their headquarters: right next door to a New York Sports Club. I’d wake up at 5 a.m., then run, lift, vinyasa and shower before clocking in at 9-ish a.m., already depleted, to address no small number of emails, editorial rounds, articles to write, sources to respond to -- and meetings and meetings and meetings.
Lunch was consumed at my desk (always a bucket of vegetables sprinkled with olive oil, because god FORBID I have bread) and typically came after ANOTHER 55-minute bought of exercise next door. If I managed to leave the office before 7 p.m., you’re damn right I hopped on that elliptical machine just once more, if only to quell the unfounded terror of sitting still on the train home for 40 minutes or more.
Later, when choosing between a non-profit job with a pretty sweet health care deal and a hefty list of employee perks -- free teas, spacious break rooms, tuition assistance -- or a gig at a health and fitness startup that cut my salary in half and didn’t have healthcare BUT let me come in at 10 a.m. and take as many gym breaks a day as I needed, guess which I chose.
(Several months later, I couldn’t make rent. But hell if I was gonna stop shelling out $80/month to keep my gym membership.)
Exhibit D: More than one medical professional advised me to STOP working out in light of a herniated disc I incurred while forcing myself into forward bends and running day after day after day after day. Eventually my right leg started going numb and my toes started tingling. But did I ease off my daily penance at the gym? No way. I just increased my alcohol consumption.
(I entertained the idea of surgery. But since this meant taking several WEEKS off from ANY physical activity whatsoever I adamantly refused.) Two years of excruciating agony later, it healed. (Kind of.)
Exhibit E: I went on a 10-day trip to Israel with my very significant other. Our explorations of foreign soil were more than a tad limited by time spent getting to, going through and cleaning up after workouts. The days I paid $25 or more to log hours on Precor elliptical machines (because only Precors are the answer to my need for constant calorie-burning -- plus I know their specifications so well I could navigate the in-Hebrew-only buttons) were great. But the TWO days I couldn’t get to the gym, I legitimately lost my sh*t. (I know, boo-f***ing hoo, right?)
One of these “non-gym” days included a vertical five-mile hike up the biblically famed Masada in the Judean Desert. (Despite locals’ warnings that the sweltering heat of a Middle Eastern afternoon might not be the smartest time to embark on such a journey). I didn’t consider this valid exercise because it only took 45 minutes, and it didn’t include my ritualistic series of yoga postures and keeping pace with a conveyer belt that took my pulse. (I almost threw up when we reached the top, but hell if I was going to slow down and drink water, lest my heart rate dip below that fat-burning zone.)
The other day off I had a fever from heat exhaustion. (Definitely should’ve listened to those locals.) So I made my boyfriend walk with me over three miles from our Northern Tel Aviv hotel to the southern port of Old Jaffa -- where I proceeded to dizzily pass out on his shoulder, thereby necessitating a cab ride right back to where we began in the first place. No dinner in the old city as planned involved.
And our last full day in Israel? About four hours spent scouring the streets of Ben Yehuda in search of a gym, which we found, but which I deemed COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE BECAUSE IT DOESN’T HAVE THE EXACT TYPE OF FITNESS EQUIPMENT I USE AS A COPING MECHANISM FOR JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING IN MY LIFE THAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG SO IT’S IMPERATIVE THAT I FIND ANOTHER ONE (preferably with a Precor) BECAUSE I’VE TAKEN FAR TOO MANY DAYS OFF ON THIS TRIP AND I’M FREAKING OUT AND I HATE MYSELF.
Needless to say, we fought.
We fought for the first time. Despite having coexisted (and cohabitated) peaceably for almost a year. We fought in the way I’d fought with so many exes, so many friends and so many family members. People who just couldn’t understand why on earth I’m so rigidly insistent on a particular routine -- why I can’t just jog outside or do yoga in the room or take that one day off that’s really not going to kill me. People who caught glimpses of how much pathology lay beneath the laudable sheen of in-shape-ness I hoped might hide my real and imagined issues.
I’d never wanted to fight with this man in this way. I never wanted to push away or willfully alienate him via neurotic attachments to hyper-specific activity patterns. He was someone whose way of relating and making me laugh and injecting my life with a noticeable increase of enjoyment had already inspired me to start liking myself a little bit more without the guilt.
And so, when we returned home, I decided to tackle this not so little problem of mine in far further depth with a trusted therapist I’d been working with.
Here’s the thing -- there’s nothing wrong with benefitting from the upsides of regular physical activity. (Improved mood, confidence, reduced aches and pains, enhanced longevity, better focus and memory — I mean, what’s not to love?)
But there is something wrong with using constant motion and obsessive adhesions to calorie-burning or weight-lifting rituals as excuses to cop out from the rest of your life.
Unhinging my daily existence from the workout schedules I’ve revolved my entire life around for the past decade is NOT easy. But it’s also not as terrifying as I imagined it would be. I’m not planning to give up the gym entirely. I still go on a regular basis. But I’m taking a closer look at what precisely I’ve been running from this entire time.
Slowly but surely, I’m making more time for true friends, having dinners with family, letting myself be a bit more cuddly with the boyfriend, and, yes, indulging in a few more late-morning weekend sex romps with him as well. (He’s such a trooper!)
In short, I’m learning to get a f***ing life.
And I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it’s all turning out to be.