The title of this post is a long overdue follow up to my post, a dysautonomiac walks into a gym. In the near future, I hope to follow it up with “a dysautonomiac gets abs of steel, renews gym membership”, or better yet, “a dysautonomiac wins free gym membership with handsome gay personal trainer”, or even “a dysautonomiac wins the lottery, builds her own personal 5,000 square foot gym, installs pool, becomes a brilliant scientist and finds the cure for POTS. With abs of steel, naturally.”
Working title, of course.
The title of this post isn’t just a clever maxim, I actually did cancel my gym membership. Or, I’m going to, after I send a written request, go down to the gym to fill out a cancellation form, attend an hour long interview with the gym’s intimidatingly thin trainer “Bridget” who looks like she could benchpress my dad, write a five hundred word essay on why I want to quit the gym, and deposit some ovaries.
Going to the gym has become increasingly difficult over the past year. With helping to take care of my mom and my in-laws, and new home ownership, part of the challenge has been finding the time to go to the gym. The majority of the challenge, however, has been finding the energy. Patients with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) do not tolerate exercise well due to low blood volume, low blood pressure (for some), and high heart rate. Perhaps even worse than the exercise intolerance is the post-exertional fatigue that occurs after engaging in any significant physical or mental activity. You know how you feel energized after a workout? How you are empowered after climbing a mountain, or surfing, or running a 10k?
Yeah, I don’t. I know how it feels to crawl under the covers and pass out.
People with POTS pay for exercising, sometimes for days after. Right now, I will pay for a quick 5 minute recumbent bike ride for three days. There’s never a good time to feel awful, so planning gym trips becomes increasingly challenging. With the focus on my mom and my in-laws for the past year, my exercise plan has gone by the wayside. I take my dog for a short walk every evening, but that has been the extent of my activity.
Prior to POTS, I exercised regularly. I liked working out, although – full disclosure – anytime I have ever worked out, it was probably to cancel out something bad I wanted to eat later. That old adage – “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” – yeah, that’s bullshit. Ice cream tastes as good.
I tell everyone I don’t have kids, I have 3 old people. I like to pull out pictures and show random strangers – “This is my 75 year old. Aren’t they cute at that age??” Because caring for my old people takes a lot of energy, I don’t have any energy left to go to the gym. The once a month I do actually make it, I don’t have the stamina to walk from the car, up the stairs to the second floor of the gym where the recumbent bicycle and rowers are.
Over a year after moving into our new house, we finally brought my stationary bike out of the garage and upstairs where it can be used. Engaging in cardio exercises can help strengthen my heart and promote better circulation, but it’s so hard. Cardio is like my Everest. Or, like riding the recumbent bike on the “hill” setting. They’re basically the same thing.
So, now I start from square one, which means riding the bike on setting 1, the easiest resistance, for 5 minutes. After a week or two of that, I hope to be able to increase the resistance and/or duration of my rides.
Although I’m no longer going to the gym, I’d like to share some tips for successful gym sessions. First, I recommend reading a dysautonomiac walks into the gym, as those tips are still applicable.
- Wear something that makes you feel attractive. I don’t mean sexy yoga pants, although if that’s your bag, get up on it. I mean something you would have worn when you were 3, when you weren’t afraid of anything and you owned every outfit you wore like they were rolling out the red carpet, and, baby, you were the star. Wear a fricken tutu. With a superhero t-shirt. Or wear a cape. A pirate eye-patch. Wear something so incredibly ridiculous that you won’t wonder if they’re staring at you, because of course they’re staring. But not because you seem dizzy or because you only did 2 pushups, but because you’re wearing a t-shirt with a photo of your dog wearing a t-shirt with a photo of you, and rocking that shit like you were Michael Jackson. Or even better yet, make outdated Michael Jackson references. Then people will really stare.
- Talk the lingo. Nothing makes you feel sexier than talking about wee wees and hoo hoos, am I right? Same rule applies at the gym. You want to walk the walk? You’ve got to learn the beefed-up bro talk. No one will bat an eye when you walk on the treadmill for 1.5 minutes, then pass out in a puddle of your own drool when you inform them of all the burpees you did that morning. Or tell them you’re already tired because prior to coming to the gym you were doing kickdowns, or turkish getups, or cumquats, or hoozywuts, or motorboats. Clearly I have no idea what I’m talking about.
- Have a theme song. If you watch professional sports, you know that every athlete has their own theme song. When they’re introduced prior to tip off, when they step up to the plate, their song blasts over the speakers. You, my friend, are an athlete. Blast your song. Maybe a little “Eye of the Tiger” gets you going. Or maybe Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” is your jam. Maybe you’re like me, and you rock out to a little “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” or “Part of your World” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Whatever it is, rock it.
- Encourage yourself. Going to the gym is hard. You may not look like the others at the gym, and your body probably doesn’t work as well. That’s okay. That woman on her 7th mile on the treadmill who hasn’t even broken a sweat – don’t compare yourself to her. You’re not her. And don’t compete with the workout you used to do before all this illness shit happened. You’re not her, either. There’s no one for you to compete with, because there’s no one with your exact experience. So don’t get down on yourself, build yourself up. I tend to look myself in the eye in one of the 10,000 mirrors at the gym, and say, “Linds”, (I only call myself “Lindsay” when I’m in trouble), “be brave. And, p.s., your boobs look fabulous.” Have a mantra or a motto that you think to yourself (or shout aloud, if you prefer) when you first set foot in the gym each time. Maybe it’s something simple, like “You are strong” or “I’m proud of you for being here.” When the self doubt and fear creep in, maybe you give it a little attitude and say to it, “Not today, motherf*cker” in your best Samuel L. Jackson voice. Find whatever works for you, whatever lifts you up, and use it.
And after each workout, always thank your body for supporting you.
Friends, what are your exercise tips?
“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.” – Ralph Ellison
Smell ya later.