When You’re Going Through Hell… Keep Going

I was never a fit kid. I started this blog in part to talk about my path toward some semblance of fitness after a sedentary period in South Africa spent sparring with cockroaches, drinking too much red wine, smoking too many cigarettes, and binge eating (a default I have fought long and hard to overcome).

Moving to Chicago inspired me to get back to the low-carb living and 90-120 minute workout days of life in Fairbanks (where there was very little to do outside the rec center in the winter). I took some boxing and mixed martial arts classes in Chicago, and started jogging (slowly and painfully, but jogging nonetheless). That little taste of physical power took a nosedive after I got sick, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I could and couldn’t do anymore, or – more accurately – figured out how I had to manage my shots and snacks to make the best of a bad situation.

I kept up a more-or-less reasonable fitness routine from then on, and figured out a comfortable weight for myself that was both manageable and still intimidating. In December of last year, that all changed again.

I was biking 20 minutes to work every morning in North Dayton. As December deepened, so did the snow and ice, and eventually, it became too risky to navigate the roads with my current gear. Erase 40 minutes of exercise from my daily routine.

Then I started getting tired and exhausted as winter descended, and started sleeping in, effectively skipping my am 25 minute workouts on top of that. It meant going from working out over an hour a day to… nothing – in about four weeks. To add insult to injury, I ended up having to have some minor surgery in January and again in March. Both times, I wasn’t supposed to lift more than 20 lbs over my head for two weeks. By this time, I still wasn’t biking to work and I was having a lot of trouble getting into my clothes. Add to that some stress over a job transition and the full marketing onslaught and newbie terror of my first book launching February 1st (with exhausting marketing efforts on my part from December to March), and by all accounts, I was a physical wreck.

Now, here’s this thing about me. I’m one of those people who charges on through stuff. It wasn’t like any of this was horrible stuff – in fact, the book and job stuff were actually stresses that would lead to great things. But they were still things that needed to be managed. They were things that needed spoons.

And I was in short supply.

There were a lot of stop-starts in trying to get back on the fitness wagon. I’d get up early again a few days a week and work out… then stop. I’d work out a day or two after I got home… then stop. My A1c went from 6.2 to 6.5 to 7.0.

It was the 7.0 that made my blood run a little cold (it’s recommended that all diabetics – t1 and t2 – keep their A1c under 7.0 in order to prevent stuff like going blind and having your feet chopped off). I finally stepped on the scale, and realized that I was now back to my South Africa binge-eating, cockroach-swatting weight, and knew something had to change.

So it was back to severe low carb eating, this time with a cheat day once a week in an attempt to avoid the “starvation” mode that severe low carb eating can trigger. I lost weight pretty quickly initially, and my blood sugar levels evened right out. Being a little lighter, it seemed like a great time to get back into the morning workout, and for the last three weeks, I’ve consistently logged in first 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, every morning of cardio and strength training. I’ve put on weight since doing that, which is frustrating, and it’s taken every ounce of will I have to remind myself that I’m in this for the fitness and the sugar numbers, not the end number on a scale.

This morning, week four, I finally graduated back up to my 20 lb weights instead of the 10lb-ers. I’m also back at the gym at work for 20 minutes on the bike. It’s not replacing those missing 40 minutes yet (my new job is a 90 minute bike ride from my house instead of a 20 minute one. Maybe next summer!), but it’s a start.

One of the things that always frustrates me about fitness is that it’s not something you learn and then don’t have to learn again, like 5+5=10. You learn that and you know it. Forgetting that will be tough. But once you’re fit, you don’t stay that way just because you achieved it once. It’s something you have to achieve again and again and again. Off the wagon. Back on the wagon. It’s intensely frustrating, and often demoralizing.

Life has hit me in the head with a shovel a couple of times now, as far as control of my physical body goes, and the first thing that stumbles when I go down is my fitness. I have to work so hard to keep it, harder than anything else in my life – harder than the fiction writing, the day job, my relationships –  because it just doesn’t come naturally. It was never part of my experience growing up (I didn’t start getting interested in actual fitness aside from “God, I have to go on a diet or no one will love me” until I was 19, and I didn’t acquire the mindset of “Wow, the end goal of fitness isn’t weight loss, it’s making me strong and powerful!” until I was living in Chicago in my mid-twenties).

The hardest part of getting back into it? Not hating myself. Because that’s always my greatest hurdle, my biggest enemy. The hatred I have for myself for falling off, no matter what the circumstances. I could get hit by a literal truck, and I’d still blame myself for not being able to fit into my favorite shirt anymore.

The best way I’ve found to cope is the same way I’ve coped with those getting-hit-on-the-head things: the layoffs, the illness, the eviction from back in the day, all of it – you’ll get through it. It will get better. This is a transitory place. Every day you’re breathing is another day you have to completely change your circumstances. Fuck knows it’s hard sometimes. It often seems impossible. But it’s what I have.

And the alternative is to give up.

But when you give up, you may as well be dead. I tried that once. It wasn’t any fun. I don’t recommend it.

So I keep getting knocked down.

And getting up.

And getting up.

And getting up.

That’s the secret to succeeding at anything, you guys. Getting up.

Lots of other people don’t.

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