Coping mechanisms

For the last couple years I’ve been making a concerted effort to exercise more, for the simple reason that I sit all day on a couch or desk, hunched over a laptop, and after years and years of doing that without much of a break, my body started to hurt.  Neck, back, shoulders — everything.  If I had a deadline, like clockwork I’d wake up some morning unable to turn my head — my jaw tight, pain radiating up and down my back into my skull.  Tension, bad posture, muscle weakness, you name it.  I’d take a bunch of Motrin, then keep working while resting in bed, propped up on pillows.

Now, you have to understand, I was that kid who hated gym, who always came in last in all the physical tests, never got picked for the team, blah, blah, blah.  Running a mile was a death sentence (still kind of is), a sit-up was out of the question, climbing stairs from the basement to the first floor made my legs burn with a serious hell no.  I liked to sit and eat and read and take easy (very easy) walks.  If you’d asked me then, or ten years ago, five years ago, if I could ever see myself regularly working out, I would have laughed in your face.

But…but…something had to change.  My health sucked.  I didn’t like being in pain.  Also, I’m getting older.  That mattered, too.

I decided to work with a trainer (because I didn’t know what to do, how to begin, how to even use a machine at the gym).  I started walking more, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.  I was always afraid, stupidly, that exercise would make the pain worse — when, in fact, just the opposite happened.  Movement was the best medicine of all.

It’s been almost three years of focused, regular, work — but I’m almost never in pain anymore (unless you count my aging knees), my neck doesn’t lock up, my back feels strong.  It’s a good feeling.  Great, even. And it startles me, sometimes, how much better I feel — even compared to my twenty-year old self.

It’s also incredibly useful, in times of stress, to focus on the body instead of the mind.  That’s something I never thought much about — how exercise has a calming effect.  Folks would say that to me, but it didn’t make sense — until I started working out.  And now, more than ever, I need distractions, I need calm.  Not, for once, because of my writing — but because of everything happening in our country.

Coping mechanisms.  Which leads me to this morning.  There’s a place down the street where you can take spinning classes.  I had no clue what that was, I thought it meant actual spinning (hahaha). And then I found out that spinning refers to stationary bike-riding.  But with loud music.  I was like, “Cool, I’ll try something new.  I got this.”  So this morning I signed up for a 7 am class.

Yoooooooooo what.  WHAT.

First of all, there was no whining, crying, or quitting — but damn.  WTF is this?  What is this arcane fusion of shadowy neon dance club and stationary biking?  Biking where you’re never supposed to actually sit down?!  And why did everyone act so happy to be there?!

Let’s just say that if my goal was to get fit AND be distracted, spinning was A++.  But beyond that, the best part of those 45 minutes-going-on-eternity was our coach screaming, over and over, “YOU’RE A BADASS BITCH! BADASS BITCHES RIDE HARD! RIIIDE!”

I confess that being called a badass bitch did not actually make me ride harder. But I did start laughing and my feet slipped off the pedals and I almost fell off my bike into the woman next to me.

Yes, stay smooth.

This isn’t meant to be some infomercial on why folks should stay active.  More like, making changes in our lives, even ones that are intimidating, can have real benefits.  I was super intimidated by exercise.  I still kind of am.  I lived my whole life being told, and believing, that I wasn’t that person.

But I was also told that writing wasn’t a real job, that readers wouldn’t buy romance novels written by Chinese writers, that women don’t read comics, or write them…and I shrugged and just kept plugging along.  Being able to climb a flight of stairs without feeling like a walking heart attack is simply part of that larger journey.

Also, don’t forget, a good distraction.


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