I’m currently dealing with chronic pain as the result of a back problem brought on by a lung problem that had me with just about enough energy to get up, go to work, and go home and that was it for, oh, 2015. All. Of 2015. Forget going to the gym as I had been, just trying to get rid of the crap that had taken over my chest was about all I could manage to do. So, going from “pretty perky” to “inert” when you’re in your early 40s translates to a back issue that has been hanging around for the better part of a year. Physical therapy has made me realize I do not bounce back like I did when I was 30, or even 35. I have cried a lot in the last few days as I have pushed my carcass and struggled with things that used to be quite easy for me. While I have laid on the floor and did my bridges and held my lower abs and quadraflexed my ponyhoists, I thought about how much I liked physical activity. (Except walking. Walking – unless it has a purpose of getting me from Place A to Place B – annoys me. It’s the Phil Mickelson* of exercise for me.) I liked going to the gym and dancing about and developing big-ass calves. Frankly, I liked to annoy gym personnel when I would tell them my goal wasn’t to lose weight. As a person, especially a fat person, my response is not supposed to be only “I am interested in getting stronger” when I’m at a gym. It should only be about losing this unsightly flesh of mine.
But that isn’t what this is about – well, it is, tangentially, probably. Trying to work my way back to a level where I can tolerate going to the gym makes me think back to what giant a-holes I had for gym teachers when I was young and how they helped to kill the fun of physical activity. There was simply no room for anything but winning and being athletically skilled and if you didn’t fit into that particular box, you were a useless loser. My elementary school gym teacher (also fat) mocked me in front of the entire class; my junior high gym teacher thought I should be keeping a food/exercise journal – never mind she wasn’t having anyone else in the class do it. (My mom put a stop to that red-hot bullshit.) I was never going to be “good” at sports or games, and boy did they love to make sure all of us non-good kids knew it.
To what end, I wonder? What good does it do a child and, frankly, an adult, being told that if you’re not a) an elite athlete or b) aspiring to be an elite athlete physical activity and playing games or sports is off limits? Every single fucking fitness ad or product is quite explicit that every human being should be looking to run a marathon, basically. Having a goal like mine – getting back to a point where I can get into the gym three days a week – is for jerks. If I really wanted to rank, I would be making a 5K my goal. Followed by a 10K. Followed by a marathon. Followed by THE IDITAROD…except I WILL BE PULLING THE SLED AND THE PUPPERS WILL BE RIDING IT.
I would love to see an ad for a gym or a fitness product or “Let’s Move” that featured people that looked like me, all tattooed and goofy and just drenched in sweat and weird-shaped doing fun things…for fun. Flopping around on the elliptical and mouthing the words to “Let it Whip” by the Dazz Band or just barely staying upright on the treadmill because the connection between my brain and my legs gets distracted sometimes by thinking about work or my book or Benedict Cumberbatch or where my husband and I should go to dinner on the weekend. The universe’s physical body default is not the Rock. Those of you who wish to resemble the Rock, go forth and be fruitful. Hone your eyebrow-raising skills and make me proud.
My activities might not result in anything more than my getting my big-ass calves even bigger and returning to my pre-funkylung state of being where I was feeling good and ready to fight. But that’s good for me, and if that’s all that people aspire to, that should be good enough, too. No one should feel like they have to run a 5K in order to be considered “worthy”. Physical activity doesn’t have to result in pounds lost in order to be worth doing. No one’s goal has to be some towering athletic achievement in order to feel like one has achieved. Shit, my achievement this week has been walking up five stairs without pain. Good enough for me.
(*I have an irrational dislike of golfer Phil Mickelson. He has not done anything to me personally, professionally, or otherwise; he has simply made the grave error of existing in a fashion that somehow displeases me. The only other member on the Mickelson’d List thus far: Paul McCartney. Though I believe there are more, I can only think of Paul friggin’ McCartney right now. Just typing his name is causing my face to tighten up into a twist of displeasure and disgust.)