Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Gym

You know, I really love going to the gym. No, I mean really. I'm not just saying that to give the impression that I am a gung-ho, psycho gym addict. I do a 30 minute, Curves type cardio/strength training work-out 4 times a week and I enjoy it. I feel better afterwards, and have noticed serious improvements in my energy levels, muscle strength, sleep patterns and over-all health. I'm glad to go, and I am glad to go home afterwards. Rarely am I tempted to do more than the basic 30 work-out, unless it's a few minutes on the treadmill, but even then I'd rather meander down my km long lane at home with the cat, dog and a chicken or two.

But there is a problem. Guilt. Is there something about signing up for a gym membership that automatically triggers some kind of guilt receptor in one's brain? Is there a guilt hormone that is spontaneously released into our systems at the first arm curl? The only reason I have missed a day at the gym in the past two months has been for illness. I had the flu in March and missed a week. I've had two serious IC (interstitial cystitis) flares. When I have moderate bladder pain related the IC, I go to the gym anyway. While working out doesn't do anything for my illness, it helps me handle the pain. When the pain is on the high end however, I stay home because physical activity will worsen the flare.

Inevitably, though, when I choose not to go to the gym, I feel guilty. No one makes me feel this way. Even if someone was trying to make me feel guilty, it is up to me to decide what is right for me in these situations, and if I am making good choices, I can also choose not to accept anyone else's efforts to instill guilt in me. I get that. What I don't get is why I feel guilty.

Is it because I've paid money for the gym membership? Do I feel like I am wasting money by not going? I don't think so, because I see the money spent as an investment into my health, and it isn't healthy to do anything that makes me sicker. To work out while in high-end pain means more pain, which means more pain meds, which is ridiculous. Is it because I feel lazy? That could be. That, unfortunately, is the curse of almost all chronically ill people. Especially with hidden illnesses. A cast on a leg removes all expectations of certain activities. When the pain is hidden, expectations can remain high. For many chronically ill people, normal expectations are just too high. It's just a fact of life. So that may be part of it.

I also think that a part of the problem is the mind-set that I have that if going to the gym is a healthy thing to do, then not going has to be not healthy. I think it is really important that we pay attention to our thought lives, because I have noticed that often when I am struggling with some negative emotion that seems unshakable, the root is in faulty thinking on my part. Either I am believing a lie, or my logic is off.

Sometimes, I am just being too simplistic. In a "Twitter/Facebook" world where ideas and thoughts often get pared down to just a few words, I sometimes forget to flesh my thoughts out until they actually make sense rather than just sounding good. I don't want to live my life out in sound bites. I know that I can be wordy, to say the least, but I am beginning to think one of the worst kind of laziness is intellectual laziness, where we grab quotes and little bits of info and throw them out into the world (or clutch them to our hearts) without thinking about them, without muddling through to a logical, thoughtful conclusion.

I also recognize the danger of useless guilt in desensitizing my heart against useful guilt. If I allow myself to feel guilty over things that are not worth it, I may not be fully aware of the value of guilt in letting me know when I am failing God, my family and friends, my world and myself, morally. I believe true guilt is a gift from God, to help me be the person He created me to be, the person I long to be. True guilt is easily relieved by reaching for the forgiveness and restoring love of Jesus, and by choosing to turn in a different direction. False guilt lingers and poisons my soul, with little or no relief, because it is not connected to anything that can or need be turned from. Going to the gym when I am in pain will not relieve the guilt for any significant amount of time because the next day, the battle begins all over again. Talk about a hamster on a wheel!

In any case, I know I need to keep reinterating the truth in my mind, and do what I need to do. Because I do really enjoy the gym, and I don't want to let empty, useless guilt steal that enjoyment from me. So I probably won't be going to the gym today. I am in pain, I am tired, and I have several loads of laundry to do, a chicken house to clean, and a full and satisfying life to lead that doesn't involve useless guilt. Or, at least that's the direction I am heading towards....

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