I gotta work out. I keep saying it all the time. I keep saying I gotta start working out. It’s been about two months since I’ve worked out. And I just don’t have the time. Which uh..is odd. Because I have the time to go out to dinner. And uh…and watch TV And get a bone density test. And uh…try to figure out what my phone number spells in words.
– Ellen DeGeneres
I’m in plank position, the palms of my hands digging into the scratchy astroturf. Above me fluorescent lights glare and I hear my trainer’s voice patiently encouraging me to keep going. The exercise I’m doing is basically a plank but while shuffling sideways on my hands and feet. I’m sweaty, my back hurts, and I’m self-conscious about my trainer’s cute assistant seeing me flopping around like a clumsy, out of shape sea lion. I also feel an irrational surge of rage towards my trainer for making me do this ridiculous move. At one point I collapse on the ground, look up at my trainer and exclaim, “I’M THE WEAKEST HUMAN ON THE PLANET!” I’m always one for hyperbole but in this case it feels like the truth. My kind, athletic, bearded, slightly broish trainer (thankfully not as cute as his assistant) smiles at me and says, “Believe me you’re not the weakest person I’ve trained!”
I find his encouraging words hard to believe. I’ve observed the other three people in our small group training session. None are especially fit or athletic but they’re certainly stronger and more agile than I am. As our trainer gives my companions heavier weights, he goes to find me lighter ones. As he challenges the others to more reps and longer distances, he modifies each movement for me in order to protect my body from injury and my dignity from further degradation.
Often my rage at myself and my body’s betrayals are the only thing that motivate me to challenge and push myself during a training session. I realize this isn’t the healthiest attitude, but I’m working out for the first time in years and sometimes a little dose of frustration goes a long way. At the end of the class I’ll be grateful for the endorphins and the opportunity to improve my physical and mental health but in the moment I wish the Astroturf-covered floor would swallow me up so no one could see me straining to complete a single pull-up.
Before my diagnosis, exercise was as mythical to me as unicorns or Santa Claus. Other people seemed to like (even love) working out. To me it was torture. I never kept up with a single form of exercise although I dabbled in yoga, rock climbing, salsa dancing, Zumba, and swimming. I now wonder if part of the issue was caused by my ADHD. The lack of motivation to actually get myself to the gym, the impatience with not seeing immediate results, and the difficulty of sticking to any kind of routine were all barriers between myself and the physical activity I so desperately needed for my physical and mental health.
When I was diagnosed I was 30 pounds overweight. I weighed a slightly unhealthy 159 pounds for my height (5’4″). I used to fit the classic definition of the word petite: short, curvy in places, but generally slender. Many years of unhealthy eating (when I lived in Austin I jokingly called it my “taco weight”), stress, and lack of exercise had packed on the pounds. I’ve never been body-image obsessed or overly worried about my weight. But suddenly I was buying pants 2-4 sizes larger than normal and hiding my body under bulky sweaters and sweatpants. I have heart disease on both sides of my family and my doctor was worried about my long-term health. Most importantly, I finally understood the importance of exercise for my mental health, an idea I had consistently and stubbornly rejected for my entire life to the chagrin of family, friends, and doctors.
I didn’t suddenly decide to transform my life through exercise. I started attending the occasional yoga class while coping with joblessness and severe anxiety. I found the combination of motion and mindfulness calmed my mind and allowed my body to rest and stretch. But the kind of yoga I was doing didn’t make me feel tired and I definitely wasn’t getting my heart rate up. It was time to face my mortal enemy: the gym. I actually joined the same gym as my parents (we even have the same trainer, though not at the same time!). The gym I joined was attended by members of all ages, races, and body types. There were no grunting body-builder men or whip-thin women, just everyday people trying to get healthy. The gym was clean, well-lit, and had a pool, cardio room which played movies on a theater size screen, hydro-powered massage chairs, and a friendly staff. Most importantly it never felt intimidating or like anyone was judging me aside from my own inner critic.
Reluctantly I joined. Reluctantly I attended my weekly training sessions. But without my noticing, something changed. I often came home from the gym smiling. Within two months, I lost ten pounds. The size 14 pants I bought from a thrift store started hanging off my hips. Working out made me feel powerful, healthy, and accomplished. It calmed my racing thoughts and focused my energy. It’s not a perfect relationship. There are still many days when the thought of getting out the door to go to the gym feels impossible. I still make excuses to myself: I have a headache, I’ll go when I have more time, my work schedule makes exercise inconvenient, a nap would be better for me than 30 minutes of cardio, I haven’t perfected my workout playlist yet, etc.
I’m still uncoordinated as hell and things that seem routine to others feel like huge accomplishments to me. Every five pound increase in weights I can lift, every extra hundred meters on the rowing machine, every day I hit my 10,000 step goal all contribute to the message I’m trying to send myself: I deserve to be healthy. I deserve to feel strong and energized. I deserve to look in the mirror and find the reflection attractive: not by societal standards but by my own. Most importantly, I can decide to do something and actually do it: to keep the promises I’ve made to myself even when stress and laziness and my ADHD brain are doing their darnedest to pull me away.
So if you come to my gym (which you won’t because I’ll never tell you where it is: I prefer to work out with absolutely no one looking at or recognize me) and see a woman in her thirties flopped face first on the plastic grass, keep on walking. She’ll get off the floor eventually, and when she does you may even see a slight smile on her bright-red and sweaty face.
One thought on “Me Myself and The Gym: Exercise and ADHD”
Great piece of writing! And you’re not the weakest–I am!