There is something invigorating about exercise. The feeling of sweat pouring from your body as you push through both your physical and mental boundaries to achieve a personal goal. Around the time I left liquor by the wayside, I began to explore outlets that I could use to replace my bad habit. I needed to find something constructive that would build strength rather than make me numb. As mentioned in previous posts, I didn’t grow up as an athlete. I was always the scrawny musician so you can imagine my surprise after completing my first full workout at the gym.
I remember getting on the treadmill and beginning to walk. I put in my earbuds and began to find music to fit both my mood and my stride. As the music got faster, I would soon follow. Before I knew it, I was running as if my life depended on it. I began to think about everything I had been going through. My panic attacks, my anxiety, my bad habits, and how livid I was with how I let my life take dominion over who I was. My legs burned with the same intensity as my anger… and I loved it. I moved on to the arm and ab machines and kept the momentum flowing. As my muscles ached with every curl and crunch, I kept going to punish myself in the same way I would with a fifth. I had found my outlet.
It may sound sadistic, but with every workout that followed the idea of punishment kept my motivation high and gave me a sense of pride. It felt good to beat the old me into submission. Sometimes things can happen however that make good things fall apart. A few months into my fitness journey, I had a terrible panic attack at the gym. All my senses became heightened through my workout. I heard conversations outside of my earbuds. The smell of the paper towels and the disinfectant used to clean the machines made me extremely nauseous. My fight or flight instincts kicked into high gear as I lifted myself on the chin up bar sending adrenaline coursing through my veins. Then the crash followed shortly behind. My strength was drained as I attempted to pull weights to my chest. I felt as though the entire gym was staring at me, mocking my weakness. I got off the machine and made my way to the locker room for the most sickening shower of my life. I needed to escape.
The panic attack followed by some adjustments to my anxiety medication kept me out of the gym for about a month afterwards until yesterday. I met my friend Shane at work and he is also on a journey for self improvement. He works out at a different gym in town than I do and invited me to come along with him for a workout. I have to admit that I was reluctant at first but I also knew I needed to get back at it again. I had been eating and feeling like shit again and letting my mental health ruin a good thing, so I took him up on his offer.
The gym is in the basement of an apartment complex that used to be an old textiles mill. The exterior of the Loray Mills Apartments and Athletics Club towers above the city of Gastonia, serving as a landmark for the entire west side of the city. Upon entering the building the smell of the wooden stairwells was inviting to all who come in. We began our decent to the gym for the most intense workout I had experienced yet. Music pumped through the speakers providing motivation for all inside as we began cardio to raise our heart rates. Then came the weights.
Shane showed me how to use the machines I had never seen before and provided great insight to get better results. “One more rep!”, he would say. “You’ve got five more in you! You’ve got this”, he would reply in response to its’ completion. “Take it to failure. Don’t even count the reps.” His motivation proved to be extremely helpful and wise beyond just the workout. He taught me how to deadlift and how to use the proper form with free weights. My chest grew tight with every rep and my muscles burned with that same fire I remembered from my first workout. Shane helped me with more than just getting into shape again.
I have learned how to laugh at myself and how to speak up for myself and my beliefs recently. I now am beginning to learn to take my own advice and just do it. The more we think about what we are doing instead of just completing tasks at hand, the more stressful they become. We tend to focus so much that we overthink things and make them much more complex than they need to be. This keeps us from things that are good for us because they begin to feel like a chore. If I counted my reps yesterday, I would have never reached my true limits with the weights or have even tried the free weights for that matter. Sometimes coming back to something in a new environment with the company of friends is just what you need to gain momentum to not give up on something you enjoy. With that said, I challenge you to try and try again. If you enjoy something, don’t let your mind become your enemy. Let it rest for once and get your reps in. And Shane if you’re reading this, we’ll get together again soon and do it again!