Pretty much all of us are aware that exercising more would improve our well-being. Every blogger out there has written about “finding what works for you” and how fitness is next to Godliness. Me? I’ve found “what works for me” I guess, there are a lot of exercise type things I really enjoy. But I don’t buy this fitness craze that seems to slowly brainwash our facebook friends into posting about how they LOVE running or sweating or going to the gym. Ugh. Stop it.
Anyone who says they genuinely enjoy going to the gym more than Netflix, video games, or napping is a liar. Maybe I’ve just lived with a lowered “spoon count” for so long…
…that I think this is just normal, but at the end of a work day, I have time to do maybe one thing in addition to dinner. So that one thing could be a lot of things – write a blog post for you guys, see friends for a couple of hours, play a game with my husband, or….exercise. Gag me. I’m not picking exercise.
That’s not to say that I never exercise. I go to a zumba class once a week with a friend of mine (although with the new freelance job I just landed, it’s looking like I’ll be working too late to go for the next month). I like it because I love dancing and I was in colorguard in high school. Plus getting to see my gal pal is a huge incentive to go, without which I would honestly never go. I also like working out on the wii. I have a zumba game along with a few other dance games like DDR. I also like to take my boy Dudley for walks around the block.
Not bad! But whenever the topic of exercise comes up, whether among friends or at the doctor’s office, I still feel like a lazy fatty. Even though my doctor never says “you need to exercise more” – quite the opposite! She always says those are great. So why am I so ashamed of my “exercise regimen?”
Because of those brainwashed souls I mentioned earlier – the people who would say that their favorite place to be is the gym, and who can’t resist a sweaty selfie (PLEASE STOP).
And the problem is not that they love exercise, the problem is the constant trumpeting about it. If you work out every day and also POST about working out every day, then the message you’re sending is not “I am passionate about this,” it’s “I AM BETTER THAN YOU!”
But it doesn’t even end there! Not only are you proudly proclaiming how much better you are than the average person because you wake up before dawn to get your crossfit fix, but you’re also evangelical. Exercise has saved you and now you’re going to save EVERYONE ELSE. Because you’re enlightened and strong and they need to be saved.
So you see, this becomes a subset of the common chronic illness problem of your well-meaning friends wanting to cure you. They’ll tell you that their great aunt used to have what you have and cured herself by going gluten-free, or that they read an article about how your illness is really a mental one and you should cheer up a bit and maybe you’d get better, or, my favorite, that they too used to have “bad cramps” (not the same thing as chronic pain, guys) but that they went away after they started exercising.
I understand and appreciate that you’re trying to help. But here’s the thing – with endometriosis (and a lot of chronic pain conditions) you really have to be careful with the exercise thing. You’re right! Exercise is good. It does wonders for your health. But all doctors and experts use the term “gentle exercise” when referring to patients with chronic pain. This means that the whole “no pain, no gain!” mentality of gyms and fitness-obsessed friends is EXTREMELY dangerous. Sure, I can tell the difference between my chronic pains and pains that come from a workout, but that’s because I exercise gently. Once you push yourself too far, workout pain triggers chronic pain and can lead to a cycle of pain triggering more pain and that’s bad.
Before I was diagnosed, I was the captain of the colorguard in a high school marching band in the south. Down here, marching band is a competitive sport. We spent summertime marching 8 hour days in the Texas sun, running laps, doing push ups, and dancing. I had begun to feel the beginning pains of endo, but had been told I was becoming a woman and not to worry about it. I had also been told “no pain, no gain!” about 8,000 times a day. There were two times between the ages of 15 and 17 that I actually passed out from pain. But they were short spells of unconsciousness cured by a little water break before I was back on my feet running, because I knew that if I just kept pushing I’d be alright.
How did I think passing out was normal? Well, sometimes other kids would throw up or pass out too. Hello, summer in Texas. Water was the cure. And don’t get me wrong – I was STRONG and felt GREAT. I had muscles and energy and loved it. I mean I loved band, the performing, the art, all that fluffy stuff. Like I said, I don’t think any of us would say “I like band because I just loooove push ups!”
The no pain, no gain attitude has got to go. Exercise is great for you, but it’s entirely possible to push yourself too far.
If you are one of those fitness zealots, ask yourself: why are you doing this? I hope your answer is for your health. But too often that isn’t the reason. I have one friend who is obsessively “sweating for the wedding” as the popular phrase goes. She’s had her dress taken in three times already, and posts daily photos of herself drenched in sweat. But she didn’t start out overweight, and now she’s so skinny that it’s kind of scary. I don’t actually know if she has a problem or not. She posts obsessively about working out and calorie counting – she’s specifically working out to loose weight. Again, that in itself isn’t bad, but it’s the extreme levels to which she’s taken in that really worries me. Her husband to be also seems to encourage this while not actually partaking in the regimen himself – also suspicious.
Exercise is really great for you but like anything else, too much of a good thing can be really, really bad. And in this “push yourself!” society of workout enthusiasts, it’s really really easy to take it too far.
If you’re a fitness zealot who is truly in it for health and well-being, good for you! But perhaps you too could do with some self-examination. Are you vocal about your workouts? Do you share about every single one? How many workout selfies are on your profile right now? Why? Does it make you feel like an elite? Are you trying to convert all your friends to your lifestyle? An occasional post is fine, but if you’re posting about working out every day, you may need to rethink why you’re doing what you’re doing.
And if you do have chronic pain or an illness that causes extreme fatigue, don’t be ashamed of your gentle exercise! Zumba and yoga are “real” exercise, they count! And little things to stay active, like taking a long walk with your dog or parking farther away from your office, can make a huge difference in how you feel! And if you do choose to try more vigorous exercise, make sure to carefully monitor yourself. If you do decide it’s safe to push yourself, make sure you’re not alone in case something goes wrong. And, as with any endeavor, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Don’t try to compete with your friends in the gym selfie competition or keep up with someone who does more advanced workouts than you’re at. I’m not saying people with chronic pain can’t run marathons or climb mountains – I’ve seen both! But it doesn’t happen overnight. Be gentle with yourself. And try not to be ashamed.
I’m working on that last bit.