I had not been to a gym in more than 30 years.
But that changed a few month ago.
My return was a challenge, to say the least.
And surprisingly, it was emotional
First, some background:
Late last year, we decided to stop the cancer treatments I’d been receiving bi-monthly for nearly three years. While they were effectively “managing” the disease, the effects were harsh and debilitating; my Oncologist felt my body needed a break. During this “medication vacation,” we would monitor my numbers to determine if the cancer became “active” (their term) again.
For me, the most annoying side effects of the treatment were the severe fatigue, the lack of endurance and my weight; I’d gained more than 60 since beginning the protocol.
Side Note: Many find this strange because what they know about cancer treatment are the typical results of chemo, which makes the patient look gaunt and...well, sick. Me? I gained weight. I’ve had folks discover I had cancer, give my big ole’ fat body a confused look and say “You don’t look sick.”
So, I was excited for the treatment respite, ready to get some of my life back, and return to a degree of “normalcy.” First, I wanted to lose some weight and increase my energy. I began a balanced eating program and monitored what I ate with an app on my phone. And I began walking around our neighborhood. I felt good and was seeing some results. But then, I was hit with a severe case of diverticulitis, probably exacerbated by the damage done during my radiation treatments, followed by a severe staph infection. (My body has a suppressed immune system due to the treatments, so I’m prone to infections.) Together, they essentially knocked me down for several months. And once again, I was so weak I could barely walk from one end of the house to the other.
By the time I was fully recovered, summer had hit Texas, and walking outside was out of the question. I got a letter in the mail from my new insurance provider that one of my benefits was a free membership to several gyms in my area.
As someone with life-long body issues, gyms have always intimidated me, and trigger so many bad memories from my high school years as the fat kid.
Everyone at those places was fit, and (rational or not) I felt they would all be looking at me.
And thus began my internal battle due to my overwhelming anxiety about going to a gym. Not only was I fat, but I was still weak. And still intimidated by the prospect of the gym. (Or more accurately, my preconceptions of the gym.) It took a couple of weeks of mental self-talk and deliberation, but I decided to try. I wasn’t not looking to “work out;” at this point, I don’t feel physically able to do that. But I could use the treadmill. After all, I told myself, it’ll be one more place to walk in bad weather. (Home treadmills are just a costly place for holding discarded clothes, right?)
But just to be on the safe side, I went late in the morning, thinking most folks would be at work.
The first thing that struck me was the woman who greeted me as I walked in. She was not the stereotypical “Barbie-doll” type I’d expected. She was (to put it delicately)...large. That immediately helped me relax. She was so friendly and helpful, showing me around and answering all my questions.
I also noticed as we walked around there was a surprising diversity of people. Some were much older than I and some were much more...PLUS-sized. There was enough eye candy to make it interesting, without the intimidation of being the only old, fat guy in the room.
And none of them were looking at me in judgment or disgust.
Once we finished the paperwork, I found a treadmill and put on my headphones. As I began to walk, tears unexpectedly formed in my eyes. (I'm so macho!) I think part of that reaction was feeling damned proud of myself. After 30 years, I’d overcome one of my biggest fears and I was at the gym.
But honestly, the bulk of my response was due to this song that came up when I started my playlist. (It's from the Broadway musical, Next to Normal.)
I know folks don’t expect to see someone walking on the treadmill with tears streaming down his face. (Not that I think they were all that interested in me at all!) Regardless, the magnitude of the situation was not lost on me. I was momentarily overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude that after years of feeling so horrible, I was able to do this at all.
The first week, I could only walk about 10 minutes, then I’d return home and crash on the sofa...with the heating pad...for the rest of the day. I’m still not able to do an hour, but according to my fitness monitor, my time is increasing each week. I'm slowing adding some time on a recumbent bike as well. At some point, I hope to add a few strength and toning exercises.
And I’ve lost 20+ pounds!
While I’ve abandoned my presumptions about the people at the gym, I’m still fascinated by what I call the “gym culture.” There are assorted machines that look like some kid went wild crazy with a white Erector Set. There are people are doing exercises, with accouterments, I've never seen. I was fascinated by those who work out in a zipped-up hoodie; that was new for me. (I was disappointed to learn it was for the extra sweat, and not Channing Tatum working out incognito!) Some exercise as loners; others work together, or use a trainer. Some folks engage in sports, such as basketball, racquetball, or classes, like Zumba or Spinning. There are those who seem oblivious, often inconsiderate, of others around them--counting reps out loud, grunting, talking on a cell phone (while working out?), etc. I loved watching one big guy on the elliptical, his hands uninhibitedly waving in the air, obviously keeping time to the music in his ears; it was like he was on the dance floor. One woman I see regularly walks backward on the treadmill. (I don't have that kind of balance, or health insurance!) I often wonder if there aren't masochists in the room when I watch the exercises they endure, voluntarily and on purpose.
There’s even a camaraderie I wasn't expecting; I’ve had a couple of “regulars” who will greet me.
In addition to pumping iron, I notice lots of preening and posing. (No judgment here. If I looked like those guys, I’d probably be in front of the mirror...naked...all the time!) And in addition to fitness, if my "gaydar" is functional at all, there’s plenty of flirting going on as well.
Hey, it’s like free entertainment with my walk!