My boyfriend’s answer to everything is to work out more. Insomnia? Work out. Depression? Work out. Creative block? Work out. Lethargy? Work out. Boredom? Work out. Annoyed with your significant other? Work the fuck out. You know what though? He’s not wrong.
I’ve mused before about my apathy, wondering if it’s a lack of motivation or lack of energy. I’ve never been athletic and as a kid, I was embarrassed about my lack of coordination and decided I hated sports because I wasn’t good at them. I figured it was simply my lot in life to be a couch potato and never really questioned it.
Now I know that sports can be fun if one is allowed to play at one’s own pace. I’ve also gotten over the assumption that sports must be competitive. I dislike competition because I find it detracts from the fun of games, and ultimately leads to anger and resentment. As an adult, I’ve discovered that there are plenty of cooperative versions of sports/physical games.
As I was nearing my thirties I began to take my health more seriously. As happens to us all, I found that my metabolism was not what it once was, and I started half-heartedly working out. First I worked out at home with the Wii fit, but that eventually got boring. Then I started going to a gym, but this was tough because as an introvert, having a lot of people around me can be annoying. It’s also difficult to work at your own pace when you keep having to stop to wait for bros to be done sweating all over the machines you want to use. Sometimes I’d go to the gym with friends and I found this to be entirely counterproductive. Working out with friends is really just half-assing a physical activity while gossiping about life. Unsurprisingly, I need to be alone to work out. As I was approaching my forties I got to the point where I was financially capable of buying a property big enough to accommodate a home gym, and this space has been a revelation. I use FitnessBlender as my personal trainer and work at my own pace, doing the easy, or hard, versions of exercises depending on my energy levels at the time.
I don’t know if I can blame my anemia or my laziness, but unlike the promises of every exercise enthusiast, it doesn’t really get easier over time, or at least it hasn’t for me. I haven’t seen any improvements in my strength, flexibility, or agility, but that’s ok because I’m not trying to be Ronda Rousey, I’m just trying to be me. I work out for my health, and I don’t just mean the physical.
About a year ago I started taking walks during my lunch hours. I’ve found that this not only helps me stay in shape, it’s invaluable in terms of maintaining my sanity. I have no idea how I managed my stress before I implemented this ritual into my routine. My office recently moved into an upscale suburban neighbourhood, and while I miss the convenience of being downtown, and close to the underground city, which was great for continuing my walks even in harsh weather, I really appreciate the slightly more rural environment. It’s nice to be surrounded by trees and impressive architecture. It helps to clear my head and reinvigorate my creative juices (studies have shown a link between walking and creativity), and my ability to tolerate interaction with human beings for another four hours before I get to go home.
And when I do get home I work out some more. Usually, after a long day of sitting on my ass at the office, I’m too tired to work out, but I force myself to do it anyway because I know once I get going I’ll get an endorphin rush and enjoy it. Working out is like taking a bath when you’re a kid. You try to avoid it at all costs but once you’re in the water you never want to get out. Ok, maybe working out isn’t always like that. Sometimes I’m in agony, counting down the seconds until my virtual trainers announce workout complete, but other times working out is simultaneously fun, relaxing, and energizing.
I’ve also gotten into hiking recently, which is surprising to anyone who knows me because I’m stereotyped as hating nature but it turns out that all that advice about getting out in nature to de-stress is fairly accurate. It’s very calming to be in the woods, and even though I need to go through an entire box of tissues during any given hike, it’s worth it for the way I feel afterward. I’m not one to use the term “spiritual”, because I believe it’s just a froo-froo way of saying “mentally fortifying”, but for all the hippies out there, yes, communing with nature is a spiritual experience. Even more so in the winter, for a snow enthusiast such as myself. I can think of nothing more beautiful than the twisted branches of a leafless tree covered in snow.
In the end, my boyfriend is right about exercise. It pretty much is a cure-all. Recently my father’s doctor told him that his health wasn’t doing so great and since he was already eating his prescribed diet the only thing left to do was to exercise. I work in a healthcare-related field so I know that most people will try literally anything before turning to exercise. So I was proud of my dad when he actually started working out and managed to successfully improve his health. A lot of people complain that they don’t have enough time to work out, but I would encourage them to make the time. You don’t need to be a professional athlete to reap the benefits of exercise, and it doesn’t take much. Just a half-hour a day is enough. I know it can be difficult to find the motivation, especially if you suffer from depression. But by integrating regular workouts into your routine, your bouts of depression may be less frequent and less severe. But don’t take my word for it! The science bears this out. I don’t really have any advice on how you can get yourself out of bed and on a walk when you’re depressed, but maybe you can ask a trusted friend to literally drag you out. A depression buddy, if you will.
Exercise is also good for anxiety. I got nervous recently when my boyfriend suggested some friends join us on a hike because I jumped to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a normal person’s pace, but that’s probably a hang-up of mine rather than a real problem. And the best way to overcome that fear is to go on said hike.
As long as I’m having fun it doesn’t matter if I’m keeping up with the Joneses. In spite of all my progress over the years, I’m still not athletic but as we age we realize that our lives don’t exist for the entertainment of others. When I first tried yoga nearly twenty years ago I was nervous about doing the poses wrong and felt embarrassed about my incompetence. Now I know that no one is looking at me because they’re all too worried about their own form. And even if they are looking at me, who cares? I’m doing it for me, not them.
When we were ten years old, my best friend’s father died, and I did the worst thing anyone can do in that situation: I made it about me.
We’ll call this friend Genevieve, as that’s how I refer to her in my “this day in” posts. I’d actually always been a little bit afraid of her father, so when he died I had mixed feelings. I felt horrible for Genevieve of course, but I felt some degree of relief for myself, though thankfully I never admitted this to her. At my twelfth birthday party, a few of my guests let me know that Genevieve was huddled in a corner, crying. I went over to her and found out that some of the other kids had been talking about their fathers, and it had made her sad. She told me she felt stuck because she couldn’t talk to her mother about this great loss they’d suffered, as every time she tried, her mother would burst into tears. Obviously, I should have offered to be Genevieve’s sounding board. I should have told her that whenever she felt sad, or whenever she wanted to talk, she should come to me. But I didn’t do this. I didn’t do anything helpful. I sat dumbfounded and tried to think of something to say. The best I could come up with was something along the lines of how when her father died it made me think maybe my father could die, and that made me sad. I mean… ????? As soon as I said it, I knew it was wrong. I was taking her grief and making it about me. And the worst part is I didn’t even truly feel that way. I simply didn’t know what to say, because I’m just not good at consoling people, or taking care of them. I’m not a caregiver.
I actually think I’m a pretty good listener, and I’m good at giving advice, but equally good at noticing when people don’t actually want advice, but just want a sounding board, or just want someone to agree with them. (Not that I always accommodate this wish since I’m honest to a fault). But I am absolutely horrible at taking care of people. This comes to light whenever the boyfriend gets sick. When I’m ill he’s amazing and becomes a sort of super-caregiver. He gets me buckets so I can vomit from the comfort of our bed, and he washes up any puke that might have missed the mark. I can’t even count all the bodily fluids he’s washed off of me and various surfaces in our condo. But when he gets sick, I’m useless. I want to help, but I just don’t know what to do. When people really need me, I freeze.
Boyfriend suggests this is a result of the way we were raised. When he was about six years old, his mother fell ill. So ill that she became bed-ridden. He and his sister grew up taking care of her, nay, being forced to take care of her, and their house. I’ve read enough articles about caregiver burnout to know that growing up in this way must have taken quite a toll and in some ways, Boyfriend is still traumatised by his childhood. For instance, he’s a great cook but refuses to do so because he associates cooking with his mother berating him for incompetently prepared meals. Yet he is also a product of his programming and can’t help but jump to action when someone he cares about needs him.
I, on the other hand, was never expected to care for anyone when I was young. Quite the contrary, as a kid I was often the one in need of help. I was a somewhat sickly kid, getting constant nosebleeds and frequent colds. I remember one time staying home from school and vomiting all over the couch. Then I did what any child would do in that situation: nothing. I walked away from the sofa and waited for my mother to get home and clean it up. Yes, I was left home alone as a sick child. It was the ’80s and that was fine back then, but also speaks to a certain level of neglect that was normal in my household. My siblings and I were never abused or neglected in any physical way – we always had food on the table and a roof over our heads – but we were never coddled, or offered much in the way of emotional support. I never thought it was weird because it’s all I’d ever known, but a few people over the years have commented on how oddly cold and distant my family is. An ex once complained that my father and brother were emotionally stunted (he actually used a much more vulgar term that I’ll spare you) and I’ve often been accused of being a
bitch big ol’ meany pants. Perhaps this is why I was so useless towards Genevieve when she needed me most. I just don’t understand how to help other people, either physically or emotionally.
As I’ve gotten older, and my self-awareness has increased, I’ve gotten better. I’m a much more competent listening board for Genevieve now that we’re adults, but I’m still not the person who offers hugs and hand-holds. I still struggle with what to do when people are in distress, mostly out of a sense of awkwardness. My social anxiety contributes to this inability to help, but I think I’ve also, just naturally, got a relatively low level of empathy. I’m no sociopath but I’m rarely moved by the troubles of others. Based on the definitions provided here, I’d say I’m capable of sympathy, but not much empathy.
Boyfriend actually admires my lack of empathy. He offers the following analogy of evidence of the folly of empathy: If someone is drowning in a raging river, jumping into that river is empathy, resulting in two people drowning, whereas compassion is throwing that person a life preserver while remaining dry on the riverbank. We can only help others if we maintain a certain emotional distance from their woes. So fine, I’ve got the emotional distance thing covered. But what of compassion? Am I doing a good enough job of helping others in need? Or should I work harder to strengthen my ability to help others? I guess if I’ve written this blog post I feel a certain inadequacy in this regard. But I also must admit that for the sake of making my point, I’ve exaggerated how bad I am, and how good Boyfriend is when it comes to taking care of each other. He’s been known to kick me out of bed for coughing too much, and I’ve been known to make him soup. But still, perhaps I need to try harder the next time someone needs me. But on the other hand… eww, sick people are gross.