RelationshipsThursday, Feb 16, 2017 · 2500 words · approx 12 mins to read
Despite the title, this isn’t going to be a missive about relationships with other people, mine or otherwise. Instead, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with myself recently and, related to that, my relationship with exercise. But first, an admission.
I haven’t really done any proper exercise in my life. Ever. At least, not for the purpose of becoming fitter and healthier. There was a spell while I lived in Sheffield, going on a decade ago now, that I used to go to the gym with a friend, but that was more to get out of the house and avoid a toxic atmosphere there that I didn’t want to be a part of, than to lose weight and become healthier. I never felt then what I feel now, which is a real shame in retrospect. I really could have done with this boost back then. Better late than never, though.
So here I am, 37 years old, living a life that is often best described as stationary. I’ve been worried about that ever since I knew I’d make the switch to working from home full-time, roughly 6 months ago. I’ve worked from home before, so I’ve been aware of what I’m going to face. I was in my early 20s when I did it last time, though, and the human body is a lot more forgiving when you’re that age. Even if you let yourself go a bit, things roughly snap back into shape quickly if you put some effort in to bringing it back. At least that’s how I feel. As I’ve flown around the sun a bunch more times since, I realise I squandered an opportunity to set the health and fitness scene for the rest of my life back then.
Because of the kind of work I do, and the kind of things I love to do in my spare time, sitting down happens a lot. And by that I mean that if I don’t have an excuse to leave the house, I can spend easily 95% of my waking hours before bed sat in the chair I’m in now. I’ll get up to make a small handful of drinks here and there. I’ll eat. I’ll visit the room required to make sure eating and drinking can continue in an orderly fashion consumant with human biology. Otherwise I’ll sit, usually here. Sometimes I’ll sit in the living room, but it’s always with the sitting.
I exaggerate a bit, I guess, because there are plenty of good reasons to leave the house. I have 4 dogs, so when it’s not wet and miserable then I get a good walk while they get a big run, but that rules out regular walking exercise for potentially months at a time because of the average British winter. This last one has been wet for a full quarter of a year now, and it’s not that I don’t like the cold and wet; I grew up in Scotland mate so I was cast into the cold and wet from birth. But the hounds are mostly chihuahuas, with one dachshund that hates wet grass on her belly. They don’t do wet and they certainly don’t do cold.
Sometimes the food and drink I occasionally refuel with runs out. Having it delivered feels like I’d really be taking the piss, but I drive to the supermarket and the walk around gives me a trolley to lean on. I love to read, program, fiddle with electronics, build Lego, watch films, write this crappy blog, and play video games. None of those need me to get up. You get the picture.
So, with 40 looming and the possibility of kids on the horizon in a few years, and working from home giving me even less reason to get up and move around, I finally decided to break the cycle, terrified of being the dad that can’t do stuff with his kids because he’s fat and gets tired quickly. Actually, I tried to break the cycle when the Apple Watch came out. “Eureka! Finally a device that pairs my great hobby of wasting money on gadgets, with activity! I’ll close the rings every day and within bare months I’ll be fit as a fiddle!”. Yeah, no. I’ll write about how garbage the Apple Watch is for that another day.
So one morning, without really thinking about it, I got in the car and went to the gym and signed up. That’s a lie. I sat on my fat ass in this chair again and signed up online, because that gave me the excuse not to talk to some skinny gym assistant. I’ve been many times since and I still haven’t said more than, “my card doesn’t let me through the barrier”, to anyone yet. Fine by me.
Fired up as a new gym member, I enlisted my brother to help me buy a few things. Being a fat chair dwelling recluse, I don’t own training shoes, a gym bag, sweat pants (as a Brit, calling them that is weird, but hey, I think most of you reading this are American), gym towels, water bottles, or a padlock for my locker. We went into town to the local shopping mall thing (again with the weird-for-a-Brit-to-say phraseology) and I spent a figure I don’t want to recall ever again on gym things. That was it, I was committed if nothing else because of the investment. What could possibly go wrong from there on in, the boot of my car now packed with fine exercising paraphernalia? The padlock went wrong.
Let’s take a breather from my self therapy session so I can talk to you about the padlock, because it’s somewhat amusing. So I went to the gym for the first time, new bag packed with unworn t-shirt, sweat pa…jogging bottoms, water bottle and a little sweat band. I told everyone that would listen that I was going. That’s how fat people deal with the stigma of having to go to a place solely to deal with the business of not being fat any more. We talk about it, to own any conversation about it and deflect it from the off. No fat person wants to hear, “oh, you’re going to the gym?”, out of the blue. “Yes, I’m fat, thanks for not only pointing it out, but being surprised I’m going to do something about it”. We head that off at the pass instead.
So I get there, quick look around to get my bearings, and then head upstairs to the floor with the gym and changing rooms. I can do this I can do this I can do this. I walk into the changing rooms and head over to a locker to start getting changed, before realising there’s no way for me to lock it. Some of the locked ones have padlocks, but none of the open ones do. I ask someone in the changing rooms if it’s safe to just leave stuff in a locker without a padlock.
I know it’s a stupid question before I finish talking, but I was fired up for my first workout so I was filled with hope. Maybe he’d sit there for an hour and watch my stuff! So I head downstairs to reception. “Do you have any padlocks?”. “No, we don’t actually. You should have been told to bring one at your induction”. Ah yes, the induction I took online that didn’t mention it. So I have to walk out at the first time of asking, the only sweat on my brow as a result of embarrassment and frustration. Another version of me would never have gone back.
Padlock story out of the way, let’s get back to why I started writing this in the first place. Abortive first time aside, every time I’ve gone there so far has been great. The workouts are hard but I have a clear head about why, so it’s fine. I feel absolutely fantastic afterwards, to the point where I’ve felt great in general about pretty much everything. My Trump hangover is no more. I’m productive and enthusiastic about work, and I can’t remember looking this forward to the future in ages.
I now feel good about myself and where I’m going, all because I get 30-60 mins of good exercise a day. I even look forward to going. I had grand plans to go first thing in my day as the routine, before work or anything else, but it hasn’t worked out that way in practice. I go in the evening now at the close of my working day, before I settle in to my own spare time doing what I want, rather than doing what I have to to earn a living. I don’t feel so bad about spending that time sitting down now, because I worked out right before and I have energy for it. I have energy even though I just expended a bunch. How does that even work?
(psst, it’s endorphins, I already know)
So it’s changed the relationship I have with myself quite a bit. It’s not something we often think about, really. We think about the relationships with other people a lot, without realising we have one with ourselves first and foremost. I look forward to spending time with myself now, because I know I did something to earn it beforehand. I used to spend quite a lot of time just staring at the screen, into the abyss, paralysed by having so much stuff I want to do but an indecisiveness about what to tackle first. That’s mostly gone since I started at the gym. I just scan down the list and tackle the first thing that feels achievable, then go back for more. Even on the days where I don’t go and work out, because I’ve been ill or whatever, I still feel energised that something’s happening to my overall health.
I feel happier knowing this Ryszard guy, because I know he and I will have a nicer life in each other’s company as the years roll by (assuming we keep this all up, but given how it makes us feel, why wouldn’t we). Yes, jumping to the 3rd person to talk about myself is odd, but that’s the thing I want to get across. We talk to ourselves like that internally. It’s a psychological tactic for dealing with yourself, which means there’s a relationship you’re having with that person, even though it’s you.
I’ve worked hard on my mental health in the last few years; this blog is a direct result of that process, since I write it, as I’m writing this post now, as therapy. It’s a means to process the things milling around in my mind all the time. For me, writing helps with that a lot. Putting it on a public website where anyone can read it, even though a lot of it is embarrassing or introspective or reveals what we’d traditionally think of as weakness in character or whatever, is motivation to get better at being mentally healthy.
Now that I’m finally becoming physically healthy too, so I’m working on the overall package rather than just one aspect because I sit down all the time, I feel pretty fucking great. The weight is coming off, too. I mean, how could it not? I eat a lot better and I do some strenuous cardio almost every day. My body is reacting as you’d expect, by losing fat, because I’m putting less poor calories in my mouth and my cardiovascular system is working a lot harder. It’s not hard to understand.
What is hard to understand is why I didn’t do it sooner. 2007 was the year for this. Really 1997 was, but what the hell does anyone understand about themselves as a teenager, not least the impact of how they live on themselves 20 years out in the future? I have no idea what 57 is going to look like, after all. It’s all because I had a poor relationship with myself. Not that I’ve completely fixed it or anything; far from it honestly, but at least I’ve had a good talk with the guy and we’re on the level about some next steps to take together to be happier with each other.
As a result, I now feel like exercise and I get on great. I feel like we’ve forged a bond in the sweaty fires of Mount Cycling. I feel like exercise has helped me understand myself better, physically. I have a handle on my limits, both general energy that I can expend before I’ve had enough, and the limits of what my joints and muscles can withstand to get me there. I can see the limits getting further away as time goes by, and quite quickly too, which is great. I’m becoming stronger, and my legs in particular are getting used to the regime. I know to warm up a little first, before I push. I know that if I ramp my heart rate up at the start of the workout, it stays at a higher level even if I back off a bit, which is good for the overall cardiovascular aspect of what I’m trying to do.
I time my workouts, and now I’m starting to get to the end of them with the feeling that I could keep going without much problem. Exercise and I are friends with each other as a result, and new friends are good. So if you’re like me at all, slightly solitary and prone to staring at a screen a lot for work, fun or both, I implore you to hit the gym from time to time. Something to get the blood pumping and a sweat on at least. I’ve walked the dogs a lot over the last 4 years and while that’s helped, I never really get my body going while I’m doing it. The best results, both in feeling great and making progress on any weight or fitness goals you have, come from pushing yourself a bit so you’re doing more than just basic moving about.
Ha, like I know what I’m talking about having gone to the gym for five minutes figuratively speaking. Actually, let’s work it out. I’ve been alive for around 325,000 hours so far. I’ve been to the gym in total now, since joining recently, for around 1% of 1% of my life. If my life were a day long, I’d have been to the gym for about 8.6 seconds of it so far. So yeah, I’ve no idea what I’m talking about, but now I feel great while I pretend I do.