Somewhere in the midst of the school runs and packed lunches, I stopped taking care of myself. I’d ask you to raise your hand if you are also guilty, but if you are, you’ll probably injure your shoulder in doing so.
I’ve got calendar notifications and weekly schedules, To Do lists which are miles long. But nowhere in any of those notes is a single mention of my own needs. Unsurprisingly, the wheels on my personal bus eventually fell off. I thought the solution was going to require a chase after my lost youth. I couldn’t have been more wrong if I tried.
It all started with my right foot. Every other step felt like my toepad was coming down on top of an ax blade. I was positive that something in there was broken, but I was also super busy with work and parenting and life. Like most women in their 40’s with achy feet, I bought some new insoles and hoped it would go away.
When my right foot got better, my left foot began to hurt. The heel, specifically. I bought a compression band, switched to running shoes and hobbled up and down the stairs at work. Next it was my right hip. Hobble left foot, grunt right hip. When my sciatic nerve set itself on fire, I finally waved the white flag and called in an expert – the physiotherapist.
“No more HIIT. No running. No super long walks. You need to rest. And strengthen your core. And omg, your form is terrible. No lunges, no squats, but find some way to get flexibility in your hips.”
“And did I mention that you should lose some weight?”
Apparently, my physiotherapist had never heard the old adage about adding insult to injury.
With my “exercise anytime” workout videos and mad dash weekend jogs off the table, I was at a loss for what to do next. I obviously couldn’t be trusted with myself. I needed someone more responsible. Someone who knows how to prioritize and shout at people until they get the job done. Fortunately I knew just the right person. Mama me. The guiding force I am for everyone else needed to turn its attention in the opposite direction.
It was time for a come to Jesus talk. You know the ones, where you stand in front of the mirror and lecture your reflection about all the wrong things you’ve been doing, and the penance you now have to pay. In my case, it was a literal penance payment. A gym payment specifically. Everything I thought was right was wrong. I needed some supervision or else I was only going to make my aches and pains worse. I was going to have to make an actual space in my calendar, stop doing stuff for everyone else, and do one damn thing for me.
When you are an overweight forty year old with sciatic flares and batwings, the last place you want to be is at a gym filled with pretty young things and 360 degree mirrors. Nobody needs to be surrounded by visions of my underboob sweat and cherry-red face. I eat too many leftover chicken nuggets to hope for a movie-style transformation from middle age hag to hot MILF. I am too tired from school runs and tracking down lost homework assignments to chase after my lost youth. I needed something different.
I decided to check out the fancy gym that had recently gone in above our local grocery. The signs out front had caught my eye more than once. The website had barely in photos, but the headlines talked about lifestyle reviews, free coaching and a need for only two 45-minute sessions per week. I made an appointment and pep-talked myself into showing up. No mirrors, just one single circuit of super high-tech machines that dictated your every movement. Take all my money, I was in.
Somewhere around my third visit to the gym, the truth of what I had done slapped me right across the face. I had joined an old people gym. Everyone around me was old. The background music was old. Even the trainers were middle aged. Instead of perky boobs there were swollen prostates. Butt muscles were replaced with orthopedic shoes. I had stumbled into an alternate universe where my mombod was the one earning all the male glances.
The solution to my achy back, feet and legs wasn’t a drink from the Fountain of Youth. It was a reality check reminder that 41 might not even be the middle of my road. If I did a bare minimum of maintenance, and remembered to make myself an item on the To Do list, there wasn’t any reason why I couldn’t be pedaling away like the 90-year-old on the cycle beside me. As old as I felt, I am actually still pretty darn young.
Nowadays I get my #fitinspo from the one crew of people who are experts at saying “I am done working hard for everyone else.” I cheer Ethel on as she does her leg lifts, and Betty makes me feel better about my saggy tits. I don’t want to age backwards, I want to grow up and turn into them – active, happy, outgoing retirees who can bend over and tie their shoelaces without having to rub their lower back.
The mouthy old ladies at the retirement center are having a lot of fun. Forgetting to prioritize myself is a good way of ensuring I don’t stay well long enough to join them. Looking back at my youth only made me nostalgic. The old people gym taught me that the best things are still yet to come.