I woke up this morning feeling a bit out of sorts, but not for reasons that had anything to do with Depression, grief or any other piece of emotional upheaval.
It was the realization that today was day one of a weeklong break from working out that was both earned and necessary.
Five months ago, I walked into the YMCA gym here in town and started what’s been the most prolonged exercise regimen I’ve ever undertaken and I did it for two reasons. First is that I was on the doorstep of forty and had spent much of the past 25 years both overweight and out of shape, and the second was that being required to live out of my newly-acquired jeep for however long it took to acquire enough job security to allow me to get an actual place to live again, I needed to build a routine that allowed me to still function as as much of a human being as I could under the circumstances.
So every five or six days of the week, that’s how I started each morning, even when I didn’t feel like it mentally or physically.
Exercise, like any other acquired skill, requires a high degree of self-discipline in order to sustain it and I’m the first to admit that for a long time, that’s something I lacked. Sure I told myself in my 20s and 30s that I needed to get in shape again and I’d put money down on a gym membership, but it wouldn’t take long before my inherent knack of coming up with excuses had me spending more time on my couch and less time working out.
To be fair, I also freely admit that this doesn’t make me any more or less special than anyone else because it’s something which plagues all of us. It’s far from an earth-shattering revelation to understand that self-improvement of any sort takes a lot of work. The internet is awash in kajillions of memes and pretentious cliches’ reinforcing that very narrative, after all.
But for me, it was a simple matter of needing something constructive to do to give me a break from my current predicaments, if for no other reason than the benefit of both my physical well-being and my admittedly fragile sanity.
To say it’s been an easy thing to sustain is to not take into account just how much of a genuine grind it can be. Most of the time I’d wake up wanting to do anything but throw on my gym clothes and work until pretty much every part of me was even more sore and unhappy than it already was. Some days, I may feel physically fine, but emotionally, I lacked any sense of motivation, which forced me to tap into my trusty reservoir of anger just enough to get me up and moving.
And that’s managed to be my routine for the past 150 days. I go work out, get cleaned up and ready for work, go get some food and try to relax for a bit, go to work, go back to camp, sleep it off in the barely comfortable confines of my Jeep and then rinse and repeat the next day.
But over the last week, however, my body has been telling me a lot of things that I really can’t ignore anymore. Pretty much everything from my ears down is one big knot of aches and pains. I was walking around the office yesterday like a guy almost twice my age, even though I’d try to take it easy.
I know it doesn’t help that I’ve been doing all this on a right ankle that’s been falling apart for a few years now and I probably need to have it operated on. Still, I try not to think about it or let it slow me down and I think it speaks a lot to our cultural nature to push ourselves, both physically and emotionally, past what’s safe or even logical, often to our own detriment.
Stepping back and looking at it, it doesn’t really surprise me that the last thing I want to do, now that I’ve managed to build up this degree of momentum, is to hit the brakes and stop for a slight period of time, even though it’s in my long term best interest to do so.
I remember being praised when I was younger for what was considered by those doing said praising, for my work ethic. I didn’t take days off. I didn’t do vacations. I didn’t half-ass my job once I was on the clock. If anything, I pushed myself to do more. Always do more. Make sure that whenever I was done, I’d done all that I could to guarantee I could come back tomorrow and keep getting that paycheck.
One of things I had to come to terms with as a kid was that being stuck in lower-class America, I didn’t have the same opportunities that all the rich kids or even middle-class kids, were going to have handed to them. If I wanted to get anywhere, it meant accepting that every day, every year, was going to be one huge grind that I had to just endure and, if I was lucky, I’d get to a point where that was no longer necessary.
But it’s called the grind for good reason, because the very word itself is defined as ‘breaking or reducing something down through the process of crushing into small particles.’
And once you narrow your vision into the myopia of outlasting the grind, you become totally blind to what the process takes out of you with each turning of the millstone.
Twenty years of trying to withstand the grind has cost me enough to understand that I should have stopped trying a long time ago and I would’ve been fully within my right to do so. If anything, getting out of that cycle would’ve helped me to the point that it would’ve saved my sanity six years ago. The problem, though, is that had you told me so at the time, I would’ve probably told you to piss off because with everything I was dealing with, the absolute last thing I thought I could do was stop and take care of myself.
Because in our culture, bucking the grind is considered lazy or selfish. It speaks to being irresponsible or apathetic, which is also irresponsible and dangerous because of the demands it places on a person to keep going past their very real and very important limits are.
I didn’t listen to myself when I needed to then and it cost me the life I both had and could have had, and yet, as I sit here writing this, it’s hard to ignore the constant message going off in my head telling me, ‘Okay, I’ll give you one day off, but tomorrow we’re going back to work whether you want to or not.’
Except I’m not. Not this time.
Newtonian Law dictates that an object in motion stays in motion, which also means that regardless of intent, there’s an exponential degree of probability that that object is inevitably going to crash into something that irrevocably alters its trajectory.
An object at rest, of course, tends to stay at rest and regardless of the social taboo surrounding that concept, it’s far from a terrible thing. If anything, it’s essential to a person’s well-being to do precisely that for as long as it takes to feel better both physically and emotionally.
So, for the next week, I’m going to be at rest because I’ve both earned it and because I need it. What I’m going to do to pass the time, outside of still having to go to work, I have no idea.
I guess I’ll figure it out as I go.