I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
Throughout my life I have always kept a moderate to barely above average exercise regiment. I have my slow months but I also have some slight eyebrow raising high points. I ran a marathon and didn’t stop, I did the running of the bulls in Spain and didn’t die, and have stage dived hundreds of times over the years and didn’t break anything… well, except that leg in San Francisco, but that’s another story. Point is, I don’t “hit the gym” and “go beast mode for gains” and I don’t post tons of gym pics all over the internet because I think I’m some gym rat. I go, I do my little circuit, and I leave quietly because it makes me not want to throw myself in traffic.
A long time ago I was diagnosed with depression. I was offered meds and turned them down for all the wrong reasons. I never went to therapy and thought that somehow I would magically find effective coping mechanisms along the way. Strangely enough, I did. I found that when I ran a couple laps around the parking lot of my apartment complex I actually smiled more. It was this uncanny feeling of, uh, does anyone else know about this? Now, being raised on punk rock with a hearty “fuck you” attitude, I eschewed all sports and jock mentality. I rallied against it and sang songs that openly mocked athletics. So when I gained a few pounds after high school and a friend proposed running, I was quick to make fun of his suggestion. That was, until I found that it made me hate the world a little less.
Somewhere around that time I discovered writing. I had been ranting in fanzines for a few years but so was everyone pre-internet. One night, after a seriously traumatic and life-changing event, I drove straight home with a head filled with thoughts and emotions that I just had to get out of me because I was certain that I would burst. So I sat at a keyboard and furiously mashed out a story and I tell you this in all honesty – I LITERALLY felt lighter. As in, I felt a weight actually lift from my chest and shoulders. So while I might be all “cranky-posi” these days, if I wasn’t sweating away or bashing a keyboard so often there wouldn’t be any posi at all. Crap, this isn’t at all what I set out to write. I digressed before I even began. Whatever. You’ll see where this is going.
So today I walked into the gym wiping the sleep from my eyes and headed toward my usual treadmill. Normally, no one uses the ones that face the wall of mirrors because you can’t see the televisions but that’s exactly why I do. I like feeling like I’m earning every step and not zoning out while reading subtitles of day time talk shows. But today my usual treadmill was in use. I grumbled my disapproval as I walked past and walked to one that was free. I clicked “quick start” and began my slow gait. As I began working up to a run, I looked over at the woman who was on my usual machine and noticed she looked familiar. She was fit, with rivulets of sweat glistening down her dark black muscular arms and back and I kept staring because I think she was someone I recognized.
I started at this gym last fall. When I walked in to sign up, I noticed there was this overweight woman in jeans looking like she was about to have a heart attack on the elliptical. I looked her up and down and scoffed and said, “Uh, why the hell is she working out in jeans?” like I was some type of mean girl and went about with my sign up. Now, I love seeing overweight people working out, huffing down the street, scrunched pain face as they chug along running trail because I know how much more difficult it is for them. Not just physically, but I also see how people look at them and openly make fun of their efforts. I realized a long time ago that no one should make fun of people who are trying to better themselves, especially those who might feel vulnerable in a gym where they might compare themselves to other fit people around them. But jeans? Come on. I mean, right?
We both stopped running at the same time and I like to walk for a bit to cool down and watch everyone else work out in the mirror when I noticed the woman walk behind the counter and grab a towel. I thought, uh, that is where the people who work here go to grab towels then I saw her pick up a clipboard and greet a woman waiting for a personal training session. That was when I realized that the overweight woman wearing jeans on the elliptical I mocked on my sign up day back in the fall was now working at my gym as a personal trainer. Somehow, in less than a year she had completely changed her appearance and was now so good at what she worked so hard at that she could now help others.
We all start somewhere. At some point we are all some version of the awkward kid getting dropped off at the concert down the street in mom’s mini-van while wearing an oversized Green Day hoodie. And it is a shame that so many people who are further down the line will mock those who aren’t at their level. Because in our minds, “Hey, someone did it to us why shouldn’t we do it to them?” But that doesn’t make anyone’s lives easier.
We are all on a journey and sometimes we come across people who are just beginning, and sometimes you’ll meet someone who doesn’t even know where to begin. Sometimes that is with their fitness, sometimes that is with their art or their career or their communication or sex or relationships. And how you treat them tells you a lot about yourself and what insecurities you have yet to confront. Being self-aware is important because how we respond to those we see as socially “beneath” us is directly relatable with how we view ourselves and is a guide map pointing out what we need to work on ourselves. Because you never know – that person you mock, shut out, shame, and put down might come around and end up being the hottest woman to come out of your school. Or the most intelligent person you’ll ever meet. Or your boss. Or might just work her ass off in the gym and be able to kick your ass in the alley on the way home because she heard you mock her jeans eight months ago.
But in all seriousness, we are all on a journey. And just because people aren’t on your path doesn’t make their path any less valid. Respect their journey and it will make yours exponentially easier.