What’s so brave about exercise?

I mentioned in my first post that, for me, starting to exercise was an act of courage. For some, that’s no mystery, because exercise scares the hell out of you, too. For others, I’m sure this is all very confusing. I’ll attempt to explain.

It started, as these things will, with gym class when I was young. (Cue traumatic flashbacks for a certain segment of the population.) It wasn’t like I was terribly athletic as a kid, but gym class was fun . . . until about fourth grade. That was when I developed boobs, years ahead of my peers. It’s the sort of thing you can’t hide–though I did try, wearing baggy clothing and doing my best not to draw attention to myself–and gym class was the worst. Kids would watch me run just to see my boobs jiggle. I hated it, hated being watched. I’d fake injuries or illnesses to get out of activities.

It built in me a dislike for physical activity. I did what was necessary to pass my gym classes through junior high and high school. I even managed to enjoy a few of them–I’m still a force to be reckoned with in backyard badminton–but there was no love of activity and movement for me. It was poisoned by my early associations.

Small wonder, then, that I put on weight steadily through high school and college. After college, I went onWeight Watchers, and I made myself bicycle every day. I like a lot of things about bicycling, but the physical activity itself was hard, and I was only doing it to lose weight. And I did lose the weight. And then I stopped.

Cue putting on weight again. By the time I left Japan, I was at my heaviest, about 230 pounds. I felt awful. I looked in the mirror and saw someone who was sexless and matronly, which is not something a single gal seeking romance wants to see. My back hurt constantly, my feet and knees were a mess–basically, I was in terrible shape. And my dad was suffering from congestive heart failure.

I could see myself in him. There’s a chance I’ve inherited his heart condition, and it’ll manifest as I age. As I watched him suffer, I knew that if I didn’t get my weight down and my physical condition up, if it hit me, I’d be much worse off. Dad was in great shape when he was my age. That’s part of the reason he’s survived this long.

I started going to CrossFit with Mom and Elaine. The people there were insanely fit, and I was . . . not. The day after my introductory session, I could barely walk. I was scared of embarrassing myself, scared the other people there would judge me, scared of more pain, scared I wouldn’t be able to persevere.

Nonetheless, I went back. Jonas, my instructor, was patient and encouraging, even when I felt like I couldn’t do one more thing. The other people in the class were kind and nonjudgmental. Many were also in various stages of Squishy, so I stopped being self-conscious. As I continued, I started to actually enjoy the sensation of using my body in ways that made it stronger. I was getting in touch with my body again, and I realize how that sounds, so let’s justĀ  let it go and move on, okay? Sure, I’d feel like I was going to die halfway through each workout (well, sometimes during the warmup), but I’d get through it, and I’d feel amazing.

Eventually, I was unable to pay for CrossFit anymore. I started going to the Sharc instead. They had a “boot camp” class that incorporated cardio and resistance, and I joined it. The instructor there, Danielle, is a lot like Jonas–very encouraging and understanding and able to push me in a way I respond positively to. I’ve stuck with her class three times a week and work out on my own on off-days.

The difference it’s made in my life has been nothing short of incredible. My moods are more stable, which is something I’ve desperately needed this past year. I love my added muscle. It makes me feel powerful. I can run now and actually enjoy it. My lower-back problems have all but disappeared. I now call planking my “miracle back cure”. I’ve also lost weight. In my first year, I only lost about 15 pounds, but that was without altering my eating habits. Mom asked me to do Weight Watchers with her, and that was when I found that all the exercise has changed my metabolism, and the weight has come peeling off. I’ve now lost some 40 pounds. I’m not at my lightest, but I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.

I honestly feel like this exercise is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. If that sounds a little evangelical, so be it. Get out there and move, people. Find something you love and do it. I love doing classes because of the cameraderie. And if you feel like you need to get in shape before you do a class? Don’t get caught in that trap. That’s fear talking. Observe a class, talk to the instructor, make sure it’s a good fit, and just do it.

Life without fear

Everyone has their personal demon, the thing that either holds them back or drives them so hard they wear themselves out. Mine, I’ve come to realize, is fear. Fear of people, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, fear of failure. I’ve struggled with panic attacks and anxiety so bad they drove me into depression. Worse, fear has paralyzed me in my life. My dreams have crumbled because I’m too afraid to move. My youth is behind me, and I don’t have much to show for it.

It’s all down to fear. I failed as a teacher because I was too timid. I haven’t found love because I’ve been too afraid of rejection. I haven’t followed my dream of becoming an author because I’ve been too afraid of failure.

In my life, I can point to two things I’ve done that are truly brave. The first was going to Japan. It was a huge risk, a leap into the unknown, and I did it. Two of the best years of my life were spent in Japan. The second was a very mundane step I took when I came back from Japan: I started working out. It may not sound brave, but it was, for me. I was convinced I wasn’t strong enough, that it would hurt too much, that people would laugh at me. But I started, and I’ve held on, and I’m so much stronger for it.

Two brave things can become more. I’ve proven to myself that I can take huge risks, and that I can push myself and persevere. As I approach the end of my thirties, I’ve decided I need to start living my life without fear. This blog will be part of that journey. I’m going to expose part of my soul here. It may involve opinions others don’t like. It may involve language others don’t like. But I need to do it. I need to do one brave thing per day.

Come with me. Help me to be brave. Help me to change my life. And maybe I can give you a little courage, too.