Working out never used to be a passion of mine.
In fact it was something I used to dread. A dancer for most of my life, upon coming to college I quickly fell out of shape; gaining the freshman 15 (more like 25!!) due to stress and late-night pizza runs. Realizing I was out of shape was the first step, but actually going to the gym was a bit more…difficult. I HATED it.
With all those facts in mind, it may come as a surprise that today I’m somewhat of a “gym rat.” Its become my own little sanctuary; a place where I go not just to exercise, but to clear my mind. For me, working out is not just a means to an end. While I initially started my fitness journey with the intention of losing weight, it has quickly evolved into more than just that.
When I’m in a yoga or a pilates class, or sweating it out on the elliptical, I feel at peace. My mind is sharp, and I am concentrated on the task at hand, not worried about any external stressors. It has helped me manage my sometimes overwhelming anxiety, which in turn has improved how I handle school, work, and my own social life. Instead of dragging myself to the gym, I look forward to it, as a break from the real world and a chance to truly work on bettering myself in the process.
This zen philosophy didn’t happen right away. Starting a fitness routine is HARD, especially if you go into it considering yourself out of shape, like I did. It’s not easy to go into workouts comparing yourself to others; wondering why you can’t keep up at the exact same pace. But here’s the thing: finding a passion for fitness doesn’t have to be about anyone but yourself. It’s an entirely personal experience, where the only thing that matters is what you gain out of it.
Working out as given me an outlet physically and emotionally; strengthening not only my body, but my spirit. There are still some days where I drag my feet going to the gym, after all wouldn’t it be nicer to stay in bed for an extra 3o minutes? Those feelings are far outweighed by the satisfaction I get from going to the gym.
It didn’t come easily, but having a well-regimented exercise routine has added a lot to my life, and I see myself continuing it into the distant future.
“You’re so strong! You inspire me.” From a young age, I was told these words. They followed me to the grocery store, school, the track, and the gym.
Strong was what I was supposed to be when I ate breakfast or went for a walk. I existed to exemplify “human perseverance” to those around me. I had to smile—to radiate positivity and pure joy no matter what I was feeling. If not, I would be disabled and unpleasant.
Able-bodies like it when disabled people exercise because if a disabled person can run or lift weight, there is no fathomable reason why an able-bodied person cannot. Any time I stepped into a gym, people would exclaim, “Seeing you here motivates me! You work so hard.” Even after two hours of exercise left my body limp, people would praise me. I was strong. I was positive. I was exactly how I was supposed to be.
When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I was “strong” for never bringing it up or complaining. I was “strong” for going to school and graduating. I was “strong” for going away to college. I was an example for everyone else; everyone ought to follow my lead.
Instead, I devoted my time to becoming weak. I ate as little as possible, stayed up all hours of the night, and tested my body’s limits with less than a glass of water a day. Of course, I did not consciously realize that I was weakening my body and mind in order to rebel against society’s expectations for me, and that was not the “cause” of my eating disorder, yet it contributed to my emotional instability.
Within a few weeks, my floor was covered in clumps of dry, gray-blonde hair despite being vacuumed incessantly. The skin of my hands became scaly and would peel off if I spent more than 15 minutes outside. My stomach growled until I could not distinguish the pangs of hunger from nausea. My muscles cramped every time I sat down, and if I sat for too long, my legs would go numb. My voice became hoarse from forced vomiting, and my fingers were decorated with teeth marks. My vision blurred, and my head felt light.
After six weeks of eating disorder treatment and nearly another full semester of school, I still struggle with finding strength. I tend to be strong for the sake of pleasing others instead of being strong for myself. I forget that even the strongest people need rest, an outlet for their emotions, and fuel in the form of food and water. This, I have learned, is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that I am still learning.