A date which will live in infamy

While nothing so significant happened on this date in my personal history as Pearl Harbor is to this country, today is a significant anniversary for me. Looking at my calendar and checking back through the blog’s archives, it was this day in 2015 (I was writing and posting recaps the day after and you can read about it here) where J made a comment that had a truly profound and transformative effect on me and my life. I have remarked before that he probably doesn’t remember the conversation, that it was probably the same sort of advice/suggestion/wish (to come into the gym and workout more or more consistently between sessions) he has voiced to clients weekly if not daily since he began his career as a personal trainer. Looking back, I feel a tiny bit silly for reacting as I have, but if someone I like and respect calls me out on my behavior, I am either going to never see or communicate with him again EVER or I am going to get off my ass and pull up my big girl capris and get busy trying to address the issue.

One little sentence, probably repeated hundreds of times in his years as a trainer. But my oh my how things have changed in the last year.

I imagine all trainers tell their clients they should work out and with the routines they write for them between sessions. J telling me he wanted to see me in the gym at least twice before our next session catapulted me into becoming an almost daily morning presence at my home gym. For me, brain interpreted his comment as “Janelle, you slacker, I hate having to work with you because you are a dilettante who does not take me seriously” and morphed into this irrational fear of being fired at the end of my 20 sessions. He would suddenly or gradually (he is very professional) be too busy to retain me as a client. I would be unceremoniously handed off by his manager to a newbie trainer where all the slacker clients are dumped with until injured or bored enough to finally give up. Honestly, negative girl’s projections of the terrible, horrible training client I was left me with only a couple of choices: it was either analysis paralysis through the remaining sessions or allowing my upgraded fear and anxiety drive me to the gym at a new neurotic pace. I chose the latter. At first the plan was go every day for 30 days and then it would be a habit. Only that didn’t quite work out; before I had made it to the 30 day mark I had requested and been granted a second training day each week. Then the 30 days became a 5 week, 6, 7 week streak and finally crested at 68 days before I finally took a break and a real rest day.

The journey is well documented in this blog. I wish I had the time to go back and read all the entries and posts about training, exercise, diet, health … essentially, an entire year of blogging … to compile all the accomplishments of this past year. Most are small and unnoticeable to those around me, but they are genuinely profound to me. And it is as it should be; no one is a bigger critic of me, my life, my habits that I am.

While I am not someone who tracks health and fitness statistics in an ongoing and committed manner, I have very carefully kept track of my attendance at the gym or in the yoga studio the last year on a paper calendar. From this calendar I know 23 days lack notations of either training or practice in the gym or at the yoga studio for a pilates or yoga class. The 23 days include the day after our fateful training session and conversation (psyching myself up and ensuring my big girl capris were going to stay put and not split down the seams), Christmas (gym was closed), and the 5 days M and I were on vacation in September. If the gym was open on a holiday, I was there. The days both my children got married and the days immediately before and immediately afterward, I was there. I do not count the vacation days even though I did get more than my usual dose of exercise, because when I started this attendance tracking it was to kick-start me into a new habit of consistency at the gym more than anything else and was completely confined to gym and studio visits. And if I count the times I doubled up and went to the gym twice in a day or gym and then yoga, my modest 23 day deficit is erased and I have a surplus.

I am ridiculously, over-the-top, unashamed about my pride in this statistic. While I could minimize it and suggest I did not always work that hard, stay as long as I typically do, or feel great about my effort, fact remains that I showed up, I did something exercise-related that day. It matters and it counts.

Having never stuck with an exercise program this long much less this consistently, I am very pleased with myself. I wonder what I will be saying or doing this time next year. Not projecting, not overthinking, and definitely not worrying about it; I have found a nice groove and will continue to plug away at it, one day at a time.

An unforeseen factor of my better health quest is the friends who have fallen by the wayside or abandoned me as I squared my shoulders and kept putting one foot in front of the other in my forward march toward overhauling and improving my health. If anyone believes it is easy to get up as early as I do these days, dress, eat something, and drag myself to the gym – I am so sorry. Have you consulted a mental health professional about getting back in touch with reality? Anymore it’s no longer horrible, because it is a choice I make every single day and has now become a habit I have adopted and ingrained as part of my life. It is never going to be easy to have my alarm going off at 4 a.m. during the week when I need not be at work until at least 9 a.m.

If altering my schedule and my life to accommodate my exercise is a choice, so is addressing directly and not side-stepping the passive/aggressive negativity and behaviors of long-time friends. The lack of support from some factions remains this big, huge mystery to me. Had I taken up some bad habits like recreational drugs or destroying my marriage with promiscuity the attitude would be far more understandable, yet part of me truly believes that would have been easier to accept and to tolerate than trying to learn how to exercise and stick with it. There is some sort of implied shame that I am reforming into a daily exerciser where they are not. I guess, anyway. I am not one to intentionally shame anyone, and in my enthusiasm for what I am learning and trying to perfect perhaps there was a thread of fitness shaming that triggered their insecurities? I certainly cannot explain it, and when it came up, they could not articulate it in ways that I could understand either.

Sad, really, but I have grown more philosophical as the weeks and months have passed. Thinking about old friends who are no longer part of my life, directly or indirectly because of the way I am proceeding in living mine, I am lately reshaping the narrative. These are not friendships lost so much as releases on either/both sides from the confines of what once was a good and thriving relationship that has fallen into dysfunction. While I am someone who cherishes friends and values the ties that bind us, I am also someone who understands all too well that not all relationships are healthy, meant to thrive, designed to endure for the longest haul. And for every friendship that has faded from my life, I have grown closer to and expanded upon another or made new contacts, built new bonds of camaraderie.

I’m not sitting out here in solitary confinement by any stretch of the imagination.

I’ve learned what it’s like to be comfortable in my skin, in a place that was once so foreign (the gym) as to inspire my own unique brand of crazy insecurity. My home gym is now familiar and puts me at ease much of the time. Arriving and leaving at the at approximately the same times day after day, week after week I know a lot of the faces now, even if I have no idea of their names or anything else about them. At 5 a.m. it is mostly the same people, and I have found my place now among their ranks. It has gotten to the point that I recognize the faces of other members training with other trainers. There is a woman on Saturdays that has grown slimmer and stronger working with her trainer, another lady on Thursday’s as I am ending my appointment that has moved right along with me in the training weeks. Then there is the rest of the training tribe, some I have met, some I only know by sight and day and time of their regular appointments. For such a creature of habit as I am, such routine is lifeblood.

I have now been at this long enough to notice when someone disappears from the tribe roster or no longer appears on their regular schedule, and I sort of, weirdly, mourn their absence. I find myself hopeful that they have merely moved on to some other training time or gym and not abandoned their own exercise quest, not given up. Anymore, I am ardently opposed to the idea of giving up.

And that is definitely new behavior and outlook for me. I have always been sort of laissez faire about what people do, but having been working so hard to make this much progress, it now pains me to see others give up on their own quests, whatever they may be.

For the most part, I have negative girl pretty well under control. I know I weaken and I falter in this regard, but that’s okay. It’s no longer a way of life to berate myself for my shortcomings, both real and imagined.

I am far stronger and fitter than I was a year ago. Exercise, I find, is not something you are ever done learning or finding ways to improve. While I do not have notes on what I was using as far as weights this time last year, I will say that I never imagined doing off-List farmer’s walks to fetch and then return a pair of 35 lb. dumbbells from the big boys’ room. The 5, 10, and 15 lb. dumbbells I remember as a staple are still in use, but so are the 20, 25, 30, and on occasion, 35 lb. dumbbells as well.

Counting reps is an ongoing challenge, and my focus on this aspect of training remains rather hit and miss. But there are worse things. There are exercises that remain hugely challenging and I frequently still feel as if I may be giving up too soon … so maybe I do a few more. Or not. Depends on the day. But overall, it feels like at least 95% of the time I spend in the gym and the yoga studio I am trying my best and succeeding more than failing in my efforts.

I realized earlier today that it’s been months since I have grown so frustrated or angry with myself over performance that I want to cry, quit, or both. My anxiety over never getting better has mostly faded, along with my desire for external approval has settled down considerably. While it is nice to be acknowledged for doing things correctly, I no longer hope and pray there are minimal corrective actions from J every Monday and every Thursday. If I don’t get it I don’t get it. If I can’t do it now I can’t do it now. Minimum reps may take some time to work up to, and I’m not dying inside, trash-talking myself, or contemplating quitting. Because I am trying, and my ability is limited or directed by my body’s ability, not just my attitude or willingness to try to do better. Big, subtle change in thinking there. Before I always thought my body could do everything, eventually. But no – sometimes my joints and muscles do not work in the same ways someone gifted with more natural ability or inherent flexibility; we are not all created equal in any regard. My library of exercise is now broad enough that I substitute or do another List. I mention my nemesis stable and my arch nemesis exercises; they still exist and the rotation still changes. But I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of success in a year of consistent working at it. I am not athletically gifted and have to work hard for my gains, and I simply accept that nothing is easy or painless at first and just get on with it. Proficiency and competency – they do come to me. No longer do I have not-so-secret doubts that I am going to be past or present as athletically hopeless as I am or as I was when I started. For me, it takes time, patience, and a lot of practice. But eventually, I reap the rewards. I improve.

Setting goals and chasing measurements are not part of my process. I think in terms of objectives – I want to exercise today, exercise again tomorrow – and while it may be purely semantics, objectives are less hard-and-fast about failure. Objectives seem to have no finish line to cross in the same way goals do, therefore I cannot fail as readily as I would with a goal.

I also do not think too deeply in terms of success and failure, which is huge for me. I have learned to think in terms of the long game, the building blocks I learned last year that are only now becoming more apparent to me as I look around and see what other people lifting much weightier weights are doing. Looking back, there are things we have tried that have mysteriously disappeared from the final List. There are exercises that came back after a few months of absence, only this time they were just another way to squat or deadlift or press or pull, not the hill I was going to die on with regard to exercise.

For someone like me – terrified, insecure, and anxious about all this mysterious exercise stuff – these are not insignificant little gains. Overcoming my gym crazy was a gradual process, but as I have become more proficient and have more to do, more choices, I have more to occupy my thoughts than just being freaked out about everyone and everything else around me.

I vacillate between one-off nutball in my exercise pursuits and that I am just an average bear trying to blend in with the rest of the herd. There is huge comfort in believing I am just another woman in her 50s trying to make the best choices for aging gracefully, only I have to try a lot harder to make the inroads that may be easier for others. This was comparison in its worst, most destructive form. Maybe I am a one-off nutball or the average Jane that goes to the gym, but I have had to learn that such labels do not, cannot matter to me. What I had to learn is that my primary focus needs to be on the List in front of me, the weight in my hand, and doing each exercise to the best of my ability. And then come back the next day and try again with the next List of the day.

Truly, the most important and valuable lesson I have learned in the last year has been that consistency and practice are required if I ever harbor any hope of learning exercise, staying the course on my better health quest. So every single day I have a choice about getting up and going to the gym or to pilates (Sunday). Anymore I know I am going. Anymore it’s get up at 4 a.m. or sleep an extra 30 minutes and adjust my List once I get to the gym. Or do I get up and go to pilates or do I go to the gym instead? Or do I simply bail and take the day off?

It’s been a year of consistently good choices on exercise for the vast majority of the days. This trend has become a habit for me, and as we all know, I am a truly a creature of habit.

Speaking of habits, my eating has improved over the course of the last year. I am still so much a picky eater, but it has progressed from mostly starchy carbs to more fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. Still some starchy carbs. A lot of protein powder supplementation. But overall, I know I’m doing better than a year ago. The changes are modest – I do not tend to do well or sustain big changes all at once – and ongoing. Since I remain diabetes drug-free I have some wiggle room to experiment and backslide in this area.

The eating part is hard, very hard. I’m always honest about it. Temptation is everywhere, stress erodes my self-discipline, and I just do a lot of stupid shit when it comes to food. I continue to be a work in progress for as long as it takes to get wherever it is I am meandering toward. As I said, I tend to not deal in goals or chase measurements in terms of pounds and inches. Staying stable and in good control of my diabetes is my primary objective here, and as long as I am succeeding, I can tackle my food demons in good order. I am better; this in and of itself is huge progress.

And no one lives in a vacuum. While I have had to literally do the heavy lifting, I did not get here all on my own and by pulling myself up and along by the top of my big girl capris. My village has taught been there through the good days, bad days, the successes, the setbacks, the frustration, the tears. They have seen me at my worst and had a ringside seat for all my incremental improvements.

Trainer J sees me most days in passing; if we are not actually working together there’s almost always a wave across the gym or a few words exchanged. My texts with questions and angsty-sounding plaintive whines have tapered off dramatically as the months have passed and the successes began to build, my confidence expand, the attitude and absorption in the Lists grown.

RD has released me into the wild as my dietician of record yet retains me as a friend and learning to eat project. He completely agrees with friend J’s assessment that I have the tastebuds of your average 4 year old, but we’re working on it. While we talk food, recipes, eating strategies, exercise, and crap available to read or not (mostly not) on the internet, we also talk about anything and everything else, from relocating to Santa Barbara to his social life to our families and interests. Friendships bloom in surprising places.

Dr. Spencer is a recent addition to my village and helps me primarily with my diet and eating, questions to ask my endocrinologist, and writes me workouts that I promptly turn over to J to either teach me or rework and make our own. I imagine great things from him in his future.

As for TM, any and all confidence and attitude gains I have made this year were accelerated by his patience and wisdom. We have known each other a long time, are friendly friends outside the walls of his office, and honestly, my ongoing quest for balance would not be nearly as close as it is right now without his insight and guidance.

This village – I seem to run out of ways to say thank you and have sort of stopped trying. Except it’s written into my DNA to express gratitude, and I strive to do so in real, tangible ways they can feel and understand. I would have given up yet again a long time ago if this magical mix of individuals had not banded together with me.

My long-suffering husband, the fabulous M, has to listen to me bitch and moan when things are not going well, nod sagely and agreeably and come up with some new, satisfactory answer when I ask him 10 times a week if some part of my body looks different. He’s always honest, and if I ask him if something makes me look fatter, I need to be prepared for truths I do not  necessarily want to hear. He has never been critical of my efforts and has always encouraged me to simply move more every single day. Now that I am doing so, putting forth this much effort into my own health, he is so pleased and so proud of me. Where at first I was kind of afraid to admit going to the gym so much, M was telling everyone we know about my excursions and training sessions with great pride in my accomplishments no matter how small they might seem. He had more faith that the habit would stick this time than I did at first, and I am so happy to have not proved him wrong in his predictions that this time I would keep going.

The root of all happiness begins with my family, and I’m fortunate to have terrific kids – all 4 of them – who are loving and supportive. Through 2 weddings, way too many dresses for both weddings, we have had our share of tears and so much laughter and good times. It makes me realize, and genuinely appreciate, the hard work I have been putting forth to become the healthiest version of myself. I want to be around to enjoy this crew for as long as my ticket to ride last. And if sometimes it’s standing room only, with the crush of friends and extended families they have both married into, I am so much more capable of being able to stand and still enjoy myself.

As for my personal tribe, my goodness there have been ups, there have been downs, there have been departures and there have been arrivals. Circle of life, perhaps? Through deaths, accidents, very serious illnesses, and very bad events, I know who has my back, who I can count on, who truly believes in me when I’m struggling, boogie-ing down when I’m celebrating.

Today, I’m quietly celebrating on the outside, but happy dancing all over the place on the inside.

But I don’t get to call this a win and go on a victory lap or victory tour. Tomorrow I get up and go to pilates, or maybe I go to the gym and take a run through an older List just for grins. No decisions yet. My alarm goes off at 6 and I’ll decide then.

Finally, thanks to you, dear readers, for hanging in and hanging on. I know I have written probably hundreds of thousands of words about my diet, exercise, health, and balance pursuits in the last year, and it was not always the rainbows and glitter-bombing unicorn voice squeaking out from the screen. Keeping it real, though, means there are days when I feel like shit and want to quit, never return, become more sedentary, inject insulin and dies of heart disease or stroke or something equally preventable. I want to be lazy and whiney. Those are the posts that make me cringe in retrospect, but at least I present the less pleasant sides and thoughts my racing brain is churning. Mine is not a perfect journey where I report dropping X number of pounds and dress sizes and feeling like the world is laid out at my feet. Nope, mine has been a very human expression of the ups, downs, all arounds of trying to improve my overall health. I have lost some weight – not sure how much, actually – and some tangible inches with the way my clothes fit. I have also grown shoulders and upper arms that do not fit well into conventional ladies blouses now, and I kind of feel like the junk in my trunk makes my jeans fit better. And there you have it – my vanity on full display.

The health and fitness journey is not an easy one, despite all the glossy magazines and internet sites that want to synthesize it down into something bite-size for 4 payments of $29.95. Yet while not easy, for me it got to a point of something I dreaded and was glad when it was over to something I did and walked away feeling hugely satisfied and happy. There are still days when I’m glad its over for another 24 hours, but vast majority of the time I feel happier thinking about my List, what I liked, what I loved, what I nailed, what I want to work at more to improve upon. Part of that paradigm is being part of the gym community, seeing the same faces pursuing their own programs and objectives, the class in session that allows me to work along side its members a few mornings each week, the other tribe members coming in and working during their own training appointments. It’s writing my training recaps or reporting on how I feel about the days – the good, the bad, and especially the really ugly. I can be superficial; my feelings do get bruised or my angry engaged over the stupidest shit imaginable.  That’s why I blog – to sort out my shit.

And today, I blog to mark a significant anniversary of sorts. To feel the weight of my accomplishments and enjoy the satisfaction of an entire year of sticking with a loosey-goosey commitment based a few words at the end of a training session.

Words matter. And I am someone who listens and takes them to heart when it matters most.

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