What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
As I imagine most people wouldn’t want their minds read on a first date, or on the subway, or in a grocery store, or anywhere else for that matter, I would never want anyone next to me to know what I’m thinking at the gym. What’s happening in my head sounds strange, and a little animalistic.
COLLARBONE, my head screams. I’m on a treadmill, the tiny little TV in front of me on the machine is off, and my eyes are fixated on the reflection of my neck as I sprint. [Swearword! Swearword, swearword]! COLLARBONES! PAIN!
I hop off, go to the free weights, my legs are shaking, and so are my hands.
More cardio? Yes. I get on the Stairmaster. Oh, god, maybe I should stop. I shove my middle and index fingers into my temple. Thump-thump-thump-thump. I can’t breathe. Maybe I should get off? One more minute. Maybe two. I need to get off.
Let’s wait this out with more free weights (ha). I do some ab exercises. I hear a ringing in my ear. I start to lose my vision. Should I try cardio again? Yes, the elliptical will be fine. After a few minutes, I know I need to stop. STOP, my mind says. Well, just another mile maybe? No, there’s tomorrow. There are the subway stairs. STOP.
The next morning, I wake up and realize I overdid it. “My whole body hurts!” I moan to my boyfriend. “Why did I do this?”
He laughs and hands me some Advil. “Do you seriously not know yourself?”
That’s right: I’m an over-exerciser. I’ve had this issue for a while now. Before this year, it was one of my “healthier” problems, relative to a few of my other not-so-good-for-me habits.
Saturday was my first time working out since I had surgery about a month and a half ago. I got the go-ahead from my doctor on Wednesday. And instead of taking it easy -- maybe going on the elliptical, riding my bike, or doing some yoga -- I tried to do my normal routine.
Most people who tag along during my “normal routine” usually end up sitting down halfway through. A couple people have asked if I was crazy. Today, I’m still limping.
The second day in treatment, I was in the stabilization center, which was SO boring. It’s where everyone goes to get assessed and to detox before being moved to the men or women’s house to start treatment-treatment. There’s nothing to do really, except sleep or do puzzles. I hate puzzles.
I read a book the first day, and then did my hair and cried. (My roommate says she walked in the room, and I was sobbing and curling my hair and I whimpered, “I. Feel like shit. And I don’t know what else to do?!”)
The second day, my roommate got transferred, and I didn’t, so I sat at a table and stared at a wall in the main room and got angry. I felt the rage bubble up underneath my skin.
FUCK this place, FUCK my family, FUCK my friends, FUCK my boyfriend, I’m going to flip this fucking table straight over or punch the next person who talks to me straight in their goddamn face, or maybe I’ll do both, or maybe I’ll break my hand so I can get some painkillers, I thought. I ran to an empty group therapy room, grabbed a mat, and started doing jumping jacks. I did crunches, tricep dips, and ran in place.
45 minutes later, I was spent. And I no longer wanted to hurt anybody, or myself.
“I saw you doing a DBT skill,” this dude leading the group (entitled “What is DBT?”) said later that day. He looked at me all hopeful and happy and smiled. “Intense exercise is considered a DBT skill.” I pursed my lips and nodded, feeling a bit embarrassed. (Everyone else had been outside smoking.)
“I can’t take off running every time I’m about to freak out!” I told my therapist back in NYC.
“Well, what can you do?” she asked. We’re playing that game again.
“Breathe?” I asked, even though I knew the answer. She loves when I breathe. Everyone’s always texting me: BREATHE.
“OK, what else?”
“Take a Klonopin?”
“Um, OK,” she nodded. She’s the least judgmental person ever, and she looks like Jessica Chastain. I love her.
“But I do like to exercise.”
“What would happen if you were to go to the gym and do 30 minutes on the elliptical and then be done?” she asked.
“I mean, I can do that,” I said.
I can do that when I think of it. (It’s hard to remember to think of it.)
Although I got over a lot of my excessive and senseless anger a few months ago, that doesn’t necessarily mean all of my habits surrounding it have disappeared.
For me, binge-exercising isn’t about weight loss or negating consumed calories, as it is about feeling control over my physical body and killing “angry” thoughts by replacing them, perhaps, with those painful, primal ones.
This is the same with binge-eating and purging for me: It’s like cutting. I’m sure body issues are in there, somewhere. Or they’re inextricably linked. But that’s not the core issue, I think.
Since my fears with binge exercising include getting injured (which, sadly, scares me the most since I’ll be unable to work out), fainting, or dehydration, I have to go into the gym with a plan. I have to envision a glowing red STOP sign. I need to remind myself that there's always tomorrow. And then I need to stop.
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