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The first time I stepped into an actual gym (and by "actual gym" I mean a gym that was not a part of the mandatory P.E courses way, way back in high school) was in college. During my first week of college the gym became my sanctuary, a bit too much of my sanctuary. See, I've never had a good relationship with food or my body, I can't actually remember if there was any moment in my childhood where my mind was full of silence from wishing my body was different or thinking food was an enemy, unless my mind could backtrack all the way back to just being an actual baby. Needless to say, I did not like the college I attended in the beginning, I also didn't really appreciate the people who surrounded me, and I really did not like spending time in a dorm room cramped with three beds and desks in a small space. As a freshman with no car at a college that was twenty to twenty-five minutes away from anything exciting, I spent a lot of time at the gym. I had terrible insomnia, too, so I usually would wake up around five in the morning and go back later in the day, how I did not die of soreness, I do not know. Well, I have a guess that it was probably because I was a cardio bunny and focused on the elliptical machine nonstop. It was a pretty hard year for me, I felt like I had dropped into this hole of hating my body even more for some reason. I was anxious to step into the dining hall because I felt like people would stare at me and judge me for eating for whatever reason. I was a small girl already and I felt like I needed to shrink even more. I was obsessed with that damn elliptical machine. I would even skip my classes to go to the gym, and I would barely eat anything. I dropped to a dangerous low weight and eventually the hospital forced me to be monitored until I gained some pounds. My depression got a whole lot worse at that point, and I had stopped going to the gym cold turkey just to sleep most of my days away instead or venture off into the forest-y parts of campus to paint. That was my first relationship with the gym.
When I stepped back into the gym probably around Spring semester of my first year, I decided I would also try out the weight room. I felt like the key to recovery was also to try and get stronger rather than just try to gain more weight and have nicer and quieter thoughts towards my body. I remember I had been scrolling on Instagram and I saw this girl who had a Youtube channel and posted her own workouts in the weight room. I thought she looked beautiful and strong. She had an ass! I had shrunken myself close to bone and although it still caused me anxiety to eat, I hated the way I looked. I jumped right into lifting weights without a lot of research. It actually helped me a lot with my relationship with food at first because I knew to build muscle I need protein and I needed the adequate amount of calories. I remember jogging to the dining commons after my workouts to buy muscle milk and a twelve inch sandwich full of extra meat and chowing it down. I actually did see a different in my body quickly, too, and it was great at first. I was excited to sit down and not be in pain cause I actually had some cushion growing on my butt (hurrah) and I saw some muscle developing in my arms. Then one day, for some reason, I woke up in the same anxious mood, I was afraid, I thought "what if I gain all this muscle, and one day I fall into another depression and stop working out and it all turns into fat?", so I started hopping on the elliptical and cutting my calories and tried to lose the weight I had gained from the muscle.
Over the next few years in college, the gym was something I revisited occasionally. I moved to an area on campus farther from the big gym and closer to a smaller one that had less equipment and weights. Honestly, I never saw the gym as something bad, I actually loved it, because every time I walked out I felt great. I felt like although it helped me lose weight at my darkest moments with my body, it also helped me feel happier and healthier (even if maybe I was not). The elliptical always helped me relieve my stress. The gym was a small moment in time where I was doing something for me, and I only mattered, and I got to listen to cheesy pop songs that I only really appreciate during a workout. I did go less and less towards my last years of college. I would go if I couldn't sleep around two or three in the morning, and I was mostly also going because I didn't want anyone else to be at the gym. During my last years of college my weight had fluctuated a lot and slowly leveled out to a healthy-ish weight, but I still looked skinny and not toned, and I still felt ashamed of my body.
This past year, I felt the same way, and had done gone to the gym for about a year. I had been on some antidepressants that made me lose too much weight and I was ashamed of my body being skinny (funny how your mind finds ways to attack you no matter what). Sometimes, I would put on my workout clothes and decide not to go because I hated how skinny I did look. I didn't want to go back to the cardio room only, because I've learned cardio only is not effective, and I don't want to lose weight. I didn't want to go to the gym if there were people there. I also just did not remember how to work most weight machines since almost all the time I used to go with a friend who could adjust the seats and show me the ropes. (I hate setting up equipment or trying to figure out how for ten minutes).
I've been trying out this all girls only gym that posts their busy times online and spent the first week trying to go at the least busy times. It's mostly filled with seniors and an occasional girl around my age. But it took a long time to really get my butt out there. I would workout at home, but I knew I needed heavier weight to see a difference. I would look up buying things online, but I was even intimidated by spending money on gym equipment. Anyway, one day I went into the gym at a time that said online it was usually the busiest, but it was the only way to squeeze a workout into my schedule and the gym was almost empty. It was reporting busy because of the courses that were held, but the weight and cardio rooms were basically empty. I kind of realized at that moment how irrational I was being. Gym anxiety is a thing, I know, I understand. But let me reassure you that no one is watching you. Everyone is watching themselves. No one is going to judge you if you're a kinda skinny or lanky person walking into the weight room, because honestly, that was probably them in the beginning, too. That's the point, you're going into the gym to work on yourself. No one is going to judge you for heaving and heavy breathing or sweating your butt off, that's understandable, you should be pushing yourself to see results, anyway. Everyone is too busy looking at themselves because they're coming to the gym for themselves. And if you are intimidated by a machine, ask front desk or join some classes, a lot of scary machines that I looked up online were super simple to use, and I would have never thought that!
All I can say is that stepping back into the gym is the best things I've done for my health. After spending so many days trying to workout at home with resistance bands and a few dumbbells, scared of doing what I was doing in front of other people, I walked right into that gym for my seven day free trial screaming in my head, and I left feeling amazing! And now, I honestly can't stop thinking about heading back in and researching more workouts and making my own workout plans. Exercise, in any form, (including outside the gym), is awesome, it's really rewarding to see how much your body is capable of. If you have gym anxiety, I encourage you to do some research and head to the gym or step outside for run, etc., just to try it out if you've always wanted to. Don't let anxiety of what other people could be thinking of you keep you from doing something that will benefit you in the long run. Put you first.
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