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19 March 2010 @ 12:12 pm
At 16, I made a mistake  
While attending aksident's Sweet 16 "brunch" last weekend, I tried very hard to think of what I did when I was 16. I can only recall a few things:

- Played a lot of D&D
- Hung out with friends who played a lot of D&D
- Attended science fiction conventions like Disclave and Balticon
- Did schoolwork
- Avoided my parents

While the first few might may people think "I bet you never hung out with many girls," I would like to state MY gaming group consisted mostly of the opposite sex. Kate, Julie, Ellen, and Sheila were our regulars, with Jason and Mark taking up the male slack. In addition, I roomed with many girls at these science fiction conventions which, like anime cons today, were stacking teens like cordwood. Having also been in theater, the fairer sex were considered equals and there wasn't much canoodling as some of the hornier male counterparts (whom we did not invite) would have assumed. Not that I wouldn't have ENJOYED canoodling, it would have just broken a trust barrier within our own group. And personally, I preferred girl conversation to guy conversation. Then again, all we talked about was comics, movies, the convention, and how much we hated our high school like the guys did. I wish I could fill your heads with tales of horny teens, Wesson oil, and a tarp all going at one another with lustful probing tongues and possibly strands of Christmas lights. But that would be disrespectful and an outright lie. Still, that WOULD have been nice...

I was 16 was the last year I ever had to do gym class. My sophomore year had been filled with me getting badly needed therapy, and once gym class was no longer mandatory, I felt this was just one of the many moments at that age when things started to go my way for once. Gym was a pointless endeavor, and I felt its only purpose was to force humiliation down my throat in a tyrannical manner. It wasn't the gym teachers I had that sucked; in fact, most of them were kind and supportive. It was mostly the jocks who really took out their father pleasing issues upon me. I got punched, kicked, tripped, knocked down, beat up, and I had more balls tossed at my face than most gay pornos. I was taunted, shamed, and spoken about in the third person with more abuse than ever my dad did.

"Ha ha! You got Bucket on your team! You lose by default!"

Bucket. Ah yes, you know a kid named Danny Jaris in 7th grade had this joke that the only difference between me and a bucket of lard was the bucket. The nickname stuck through junior high and through most of high school. I remember by the time I was no longer an object of ridicule in my senior year, someone said to me, "I... never knew you're real name before. 'Greg' seems so... normal." One guy called me "Buckaroo," thinking I changed my name to reflect Buckaroo Banzai. But truthfully, I hated the name. And I really try not to name villains and victims in my short stories Danny Jaris.

Being a teenager sucks.

But I went on this tangent for a reason. I made a promise that was what most Wiccans would call a "binding spell" at that age. I was no longer fat by 16 (and wouldn't be again until about age 21), but my hatred of gym was so strong, I made a vow in front of Kate's woodburning stove. As I burned my gym clothes, I chanted a mnemonic that I vowed never to do gym or exercise again. Kate sung it with me. Together we watched our gym clothes burn with the rest of the homework from our sophomore year (a ritual we had), and I watched the odd blue-green flame of the polyester blend spin like a miniature dust devil as it funneled my angst into a cone of power, and a vow --a sealing pact-- was created. I can still see it, and I can still feel the promise burn in my chest as I type this.

This, of course, was a terrible mistake. It was a vow made in a youthful and idyllic mind, clouded by the turmoil of being a teenager who thinks in absolutes, and not remotely understanding the value of regular exercise. Not that I wasn't *told* the value dozens of times by PE teachers, but it didn't get across the burning hatred in my brain for what I considered a kind of incarceration and punishment for being who I was inside. This is how you think, as a teen.

Now, at age 41, it's been 25 years since I made that poorly-chosen vow. I am 325 lbs, which is not a good thing. I still have a bad heart, asthma, and probably Dutch Elm disease. But I do have one thing going for me: I am one hell of a fast walker. I have always been able to walk long distances for extended periods of time. I walk about 2 miles a day on a workday (according two two pedometers), and despite my weak ankle, if I wrap it up, it's good to go. But so, far I have no idea how far I can walk before I have to stop.

I am hoping this weekend I will find out. Anya said she'd walk a course with me, as last weekend she walked an 8K and was so out of practice, she got winded. And I thought, just to be funny, what if I walked some 8k marathon?

Don't get me wrong, running isn't happening. Not only because of the high impact and my weight, but I am so uncoordinated, I can't actually run like normal people. Only recently did I understand the scope of my mental problems with exercise. See, when normal people exert themselves, their breathing increases automatically. Mine does not. Nor does walking occur effortlessly. For instance, when I climb a flight of stairs, this is what happens in my head:

"Okay, head of stairs. Remember, when climbing stairs, we need to breathe harder and faster because if we don't, we'll get chest pains and collapse because the body needs oxygen to the muscles. Okay, start with right foot and begin... left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, turn at landing. Breathe deeply and quickly. Start with right foot and begin... left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, turn at landing. Breathe deeply and quickly. Start with right foot and begin... left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, left right, turn at landing..."

This requires most of my attention. If something distracts me, like I am walking with someone or talking or my mind is otherwise occupied, I will trip on the stairs, forget to breathe, and so on. I am a mess. Often, an external timing device can help, like listening to music with a 4/4 beat. This can set the pace, and I am MUCH faster and have a LOT more endurance with music, and that's not just with exercise. Like musicians need a metronome, I need music to set my body's rhythm.

But I have never seen how long this would last. The most I have ever walked in one go was 7.2 miles (according to Google Maps: Huntington Metro Station to Mount Vernon), and that was 22 years and 120 pounds ago. It took about 3 hours, it was dark, raining, and there were no sidewalks during half of it. In general, on a flat road in good conditions, I walk about 15 minute miles once I get my pace. Slower if I have to avoid ditches, watch for traffic, or part of it is uphill or on uneven terrain (like a field). Much slower without music.

So why don't I walk every day and melt the pounds off? There are three major reason for this:

The biggest problem subconscious is a terrible beast. I am a creature of strong moral fiber to the point of a fault. I find it really hard to lie, and when I make a promise, I do my best to keep it. And thus, this "binding contract" I made about exercise was made with my blood, and it's not as easy to switch off as others seem to be able to. In fact, when involved in deception, I find I am often sabotaged; my knee hurts, I get a cold, or something else very odd happens to keep me on the straight and narrow. Thus, when I exercise, I have to fool this part of me to convince it that the "more strenuous" option is actually the "more efficient" route. Like when I made the choice to walk down the 6 flights of stairs when I leave work, I was able to say, "This is much quicker than waiting for an elevator and then sharing it was some dink with too much perfume/cologne." But when that beast becomes aware I am walking in a circle for "no good reason," it hijacks the process with the same things that prevented me breaking my own arm as a kid to get out of gym class. Don't anyone even attempt to find solutions for this, because every time someone tries to offer advice, they are so far off the mark of the problem, it actually makes the problem worse; kind of like when parents lied to you and attempted to convince you vegetables were yummy and better than candy. While as an adult, you know boiled cabbage is better for you than a cupcake, which are YOU going to *REALLY* prefer, deep down? This is my own demon, and I must fight it alone.

The second is time. This will be easier to beat if I can somehow work in something I need to do anyway with walking around. Errands, for instance. I have really considered the benefits of a Trek Desk; too bad I gave away our treadmill. :(

The last issues is my bad heart and asthma. There is a chance I might get an attack of some kind and keel over. But I could get hit by a car on the way to work, shot in a robbery gone bad, or die of some unrelated infection as well. I can't let this limit me.
 
 
 
Bureinatobureinato on March 19th, 2010 05:14 pm (UTC)
I really wish that gym wasn't so evil. I also hated it, did my best in HS to not have to take things that involved teams. but the damage was done. Fortunately for me, I wasn't as hard core never again as you were.

What I wish is I'd taken up a MA as a kid. I think it would have given me much more confidence as an adolescent/young adult. But it never ever occurred to me (or my mother).
nancylebov: green leavesnancylebov on March 19th, 2010 06:19 pm (UTC)
Do you know anyone who could help with undoing such a strong oath?

Running with the Whole Body applies Feldenkrais Method (gentle attentive movement to get better kinesthesia) to running. In particular, I think it would help you coordinate breathing with exertion.

I haven't worked through the whole book, but it's the reason I have arches-- I did that chapter a couple or three times, and it taught me the connection between my hips and my arches.

It's conceivable that better quality movement would mean that useful exercise would no longer be connected to what you had in mind when you made that oath.
feyandstrange on March 20th, 2010 04:22 am (UTC)
As a fellow asthmatic who flunked gym class repeatedly because of undiagnosed asthma, I feel you.

I actually developed weird breathing patterns because of my asthma - mine is primarily triggered *by* exercise, which means that if my heart rate goes up or I need to breathe more, I start having an asthma attack. It's the stupidest thing ever. I can understand allergic asthma, but exercise-induced asthma? How did all my ancestors not get eaten by predators?

I could sprint, because I can hold my breath for a sprint. I could do just find at the 25 yard sprint, and okay for the 50, because that only took two breaths. The hundred was where I started to stagger and wheeze, and after that I staggered to a walk, clutching my chest. Fortunately girls suffer a little less of that gym-class torture, so I only had a rotten time instead of total torture. But every time they based our gym grade on our time running the mile, I flunked.

So I still sometimes start holding my breath when I should be breathing deeply, because I'm trying to ward off an asthma attack. Trying to train myself out of that is hard! (Not that I do that much these days now that I'm a wheelchair cripple anyway; strenuous exercise really is bad for me. But before I got sick....)

Can you use your inhaler as a preventative measure before you start a walk?

As for promises: try a ritual in which you have a word with your 16-year old self, and see if you can get him to understand that you're a fat old guy who really needs to get some exercise for health reasons. I'm pretty sure he'd understand that that's different - heck, lots of us at 16 never expected to live to be our current ages, if we could even picture it at all - and to release you from that promise to himself. As long as you didn't wear gym shorts.

I wanted to burn my gym shorts, but was pretty sure my folks would kill me if I burned them in the fireplace, and polyester elastic smoke plus asthma wasn't a good idea. I chopped my junior high gym shorts into tiny pieces with scissors and a Swiss Army knife, though. A friend turned hers into a chew toy for her large dog. In high school we were allowed to wear our own clothes for gym clothes, within certain rules (Not jeans, but bring your own shorts and tees and sweats sort of thing) which made it a little less horrible.
feyandstrange on March 20th, 2010 04:25 am (UTC)
oh and: lots of people think treadmill/track walking/running is useless and boring, so you aren't alone on that one. Even super-athletes I know would rather trail run or do almost anything else than use a treadmill; it's really really boring and feels "pointless" and "a waste of time". So yeah, walk *to* somewhere or with a friend and call it social time.

Some people are getting those little pedal exercisers and putting them under their desk at work and pedalling while they work. Maybe that would work for you. You don't have to go very fast or hard, but it helps vs. blood settling in the legs and stuff.