The wall between my recent spurt of confidence and my full-on gym crazy is apparently very thin and quite fragile. All it takes is one defensive, snappish comment from another member and anxiety girl is released from her cage and flying loop-de-loops inside my head. For HOURS after the very brief encounter.

I was in the big boys room this morning, going through an upper body series. Things were mostly going well; the gym was busy for a Saturday and my usual spaces had a lot of people pursuing their own workouts, etc. But I was pushing through and getting my stuff done.

When I got to the 1-arm row, both benches were I use the backs for support seemed to be occupied, in that there was a bar across the bench with weight plates loaded even if there was no actual person there. I was standing there trying to decide what to do about the situation and had set my bottle and towel down on the floor next to one while reviewing my List to see if I could or should substitute and come back. Of course at that moment the occupant of the bench I was standing next to returns and barks at me something along the lines of “can’t you see I’m using this?” in an “are you fucking stupid?” tone of voice. Caught off guard, deer-in-the-headlights expression I’m sure, I start to stammer that I was only seeking and wanted the back of the bench, to which I received an eye roll, one of those “whatever” shrugs, and a dismissive turn his back on whatever apology dying on my lips.

The user of the other bench, noting this interaction, kindly said I was welcome to use his bench as he had only one more set. I thanked him, and said to let me know if I became a distraction to him at all. After he was done with his set of presses, he remarked that it was certainly very busy for a Saturday, and I definitely agreed.

Essentially I was rattled the rest of my practice.

I finished my rows in record time and escaped back to the safety bench of the bodyfit room … only to discover the 9 a.m. class has been moved up to 8 a.m. Ugh. Still, I can take up residence with my bench in my corner and not bother them and not be bothered by them in return. But anxiety girl was having a field day in my head, and no matter how loud the volume of the podcast I was listening to, there was a replay loop of that encounter over the bench playing in my head.

And here I am, 2 hours later, marinating on the unpleasantness and writing about it to exorcise it from my head.

Nearly all my residual upset is directed inwardly, at myself. I always wonder how I can be so competent and good at managing other conflicts in life and fall apart inside when it comes to tiny little encounters at the gym. How quickly the idea of chucking all my consecutive strings of successful outings flitters through and lingers in my head with one 30 second encounter with someone I am unlikely to interact with ever again. I am mad at myself for letting it escalate to this degree and have been quietly perking on what it is that bothers me most and how to avoid going through this exercise it utter futility when it happens again.

I have this ingrained fear of being thoughtless and rude to others in public spaces; it is magnified when I am unsure of the rules of the organization or what is commonly known and accepted as good manners. A place like the gym, where it seems people are more vulnerable to all their own unique fears and anxieties, heightens that for me. Over the course of the last year of regular attendance that has lessened significantly. However, I would have to own the place and be the ultimate decider of what is appropriate to be completely comfortable. No matter how harsh the guy today was, any sort of territorial confrontation like that would have freaked me out, because I have only the vaguest sense of gym etiquette. I can read the signs and the rules (and have, many times), but there are so many subtleties surrounding the equipment and each person’s personal space. Whether those subtleties are real if unspoken or all in my head is irrelevant; I am unsure of myself and therefore automatically wrong if there is any sort of issue.

While I was going through the rest of my List of the day, I realized I completely forgot that reverting to the other version of one arm rows (knee on flat bench) was a viable option. Looking around me as well, I started to recognize there were a lot of other suitable substitutes for the lean-to other than the 2 benches I have been using. The back of an incline bench. The dumbbell racks. Even the TRX rack or other divider boundaries in other sections of the gym. I am not limited to just those 2 benches.

My own need for routine and rigid structure to be comfortable is a minor handicap much of the time. I am self-aware enough to recognize that education and knowledge gives me the power to overcome that paralysis that overwhelms or worse, engages my run, run, run away instincts. A couple of options are good, but too many choices is just too much. Here in the safety of my own space I kick myself for being such a baby about this shit, and for giving someone who probably did not think another thought about the encounter 2 seconds afterward so much mental energy and power over my day.

It does feel like I have gotten a bit lazy on my mental armor when working in the less familiar parts of the gym.

Turning this around, though, I give myself kudos for hanging in, hanging on, and completing my List of the day without further incident or harm to myself or others. Things that I find mildly annoying most Saturdays became potential gym-aggedon today. Even in the moment when I am wanting to turn a couple of regular guys’ coffee klatch social interactions and crowding my space into a Big Giant Thing I recognized that it’s my stuff driving the desire to have a freaked-out meltdown, bail on all I need to do and go home in a major snit. Over nothing. Because this happens every Saturday, and I can politely ask to use equipment sitting idle while they chat or indicate they are in my space and they will make way.

The world is not ending, blue sky still firmly in place overhead. I am not entertaining spin on this very mini cupcakes issue to use as justification to avoid returning to the gym for practice or future training sessions with J. I am far better, stronger, and long past such tactics and irrational reasoning. I may make a rare Sunday appearance tomorrow, just because I can and to have the entirely positive experience with this List I denied myself today. Or not; I can decide tomorrow what I’m doing tomorrow. As it is, I have spent far more mental currency on this encounter that is reasonable by anyone’s standard, including my own.

Happy Saturday everyone!

4 thoughts on “Armoring Up

  1. What a jerk! I think most of us really don’t know how to respond to people like him because we’re not used to that kind of treatment. We don’t treat others that way and we don’t accept it from those close to us. Good for you for not letting him drive you away from the rest of your workout.

    1. Thanks, Sam. I actually felt like I was the one doing something wrong and it reinforced my feeling the I don’t belong in the gym. Such bullshit my head tries to tell me. I’m learning, I’m getting smarter, and at least I’m talking about it rather than just slinking off and never returning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s