Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Crying at the gym

I know you've probably heard numerous people say they hate the gym, but I really think I hate it more than anyone else. For instance, have you ever heard of someone sobbing uncontrollably while working out? Well, now you have.

Let me back up.

Every time I move to a new city, I face the decision of whether or not to join a gym.  I belonged to Crunch (R.I.P.) my first two years in New York, and actually faithfully went a few times a week, then New York Sports Club (which I think I literally went to twice in two years). In Boston, I did yoga at a studio in my neighborhood and, in my final months, joined GymIt, a bare-bones $20/month no-commitment gym.

Here in Chicago, my roommate is a member at Fitness Formula Club and there's a location literally across the street from where we live. I hemmed and hawed and toured the place and finally decided to join. My biggest issue so far is that everyone I see at this gym is already perfectly in shape. I'm the only one who looks like I need to be there. And the classes have been all over the place -- I went to a step aerobics class that was kind of advanced (I couldn't keep up with the choreo so I just gave up and just started doing my own thing) and then a yoga class that was annoyingly remedial.

The sobbing came about during my one free session with a personal trainer, a chipper, well-meaning 5'3" man named Juan who speaks so quickly and with such a heavy accent that I only catch about 1/3 of what he says to me. Juan did an assessment of my strength prior to our session, in which it was determined that I basically have none.

I was dreading our actual session and I didn't really understand why until after I broke down crying in between sets of squats and these horrible things called "plank scissors." You see, the gym reminds me of all the humiliation I felt growing up due to being the most unathletic person on the planet.

You think I'm exaggerating, but seriously, I'm the worst. I'm not strong. I don't have good hand-eye coordination or balance. I've never been fast and once my boobs came in, it was clear I never would be. I'm flexible, hence my ability to do yoga, but that's my only physical gift. And from age to 6 to 18, I was reminded on a daily basis in gym class how inept I was. And when you're a kid, being good at sports = being good at life. Everyone sees how good/bad you are in gym. I may have been getting good grades, but I wasn't able to really brag about that. And every time I was introduced to a new sport, I felt this desperate glimmer of hope: maybe this will be the one I'm good at. So what that I couldn't play tennis, maybe soccer would be my sport. Ok, soccer's not my thing, but maybe I'll surprise everyone and be an amazing basketball player in spite of my petite stature. Or hey, maybe my stocky legs and broad shoulders will make me a total animal on the swim team.

But just like in a Richard Yates story, I experienced soul-crushing disappointment when I failed. The inner monologue of "I suck" returned with a vengeance. And what I have realized is that all those feelings come back, PTSD-style, when I'm at the gym. Just walking into the facility makes my heart race and my palms sweat. All my successes in life recede and I'm back in 4th grade, picked last for kickball AGAIN. All I can think about is how ridiculous I must look, flailing around on whatever equipment I happen to be on. How hopeless I am and what a waste of time it is for me to work out, when who I am kidding, I'm never going to be toned and firm. Italian women are soft and curvy, so I'm fighting an uphill battle against my genes.

Juan didn't really do anything wrong. He just happened to be there when I was at my most vulnerable and he was pushing me, which is his job. But something snapped and the next thing I knew, I was blubbering about being out of shape and having a shitty metabolism and apologizing for how much I sucked at all the exercises he was teaching me. I was BAWLING. On the floor. At the gym. Juan felt so bad he offered me a bunch of free sessions. I politely declined.

I will keep going, but one-on-one with a trainer is too much pressure. I prefer the anonymity of group classes or machines where I can watch TLC shows like "Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss" and "Teen Moms" and feel a little less bad about myself.


Anonymous said...

I have totally been there. I hated most sports growing up and I remember crying in frustration and humiliation when I couldn't run as fast or when I got out of breath more easily (presumably because I wasn't in very good shape!) than other kids. In college I walked away from my first day of ultimate frisbee because they were making us do suicides. You are not alone! :)

-- Eleanor

Sarah Funke Butler said...

I have too many of these stories to share in this little comment box! Let's talk. Meanwhile, hang in there! xs