I happen to be having a rheumatoid arthritis flare right now, which means frequent inner conversations that go something like this:
My body: Everything hurts.
My brain: Yes, it’s an RA flare, we’ll be fine.
Body: Nope. Pretty sure we’re dying.
Brain: We are not.
Body: We are. We should lay on the couch in the fetal position and not move.
Brain: Actually we’re going to go exercise now.
Body: Nope. Need fetal position. And a doughnut.
Brain: No, we’re going to work out.
Body: But it hurts to move!
Brain: We’re leaving now.
Body: Why on earth would we move when it hurts to move???
Brain: Because it helps.
Body: WHY DO YOU HATE ME?
Brain: I don’t hate you.
Body: Well I hate you. And I want a doughnut…
Needless to say, when I get to the health club to work out during a flare, it is often with a body that is cursing under its breath at me. And sometimes that makes it hard to muster a good attitude – especially if, say, I missed my morning group fitness class because I was doing something stupid (like spending several hours trying to understand my cellphone bill, that kind of stupid). You know what else makes it hard to have a good attitude? The stair climber. Or, as I like to call it, climbing stairs to nowhere. Feels ridiculously futile, this climbing stairs in place thing, but when ya gotta sweat, ya gotta sweat, right?
And speaking of sweat…
This might sound like oversharing (and if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’re thinking, “Jen, that ship has sailed”), but I perspire profusely when I work out. I like to think that it’s because I’m just so gosh darned fit, but I don’t really have anything to back that up. All I know is, when I work out there might as well be a sign by me, like the ones they have at amusement parks: “You will get wet.”
So when I’m on the stair climber machine, going nowhere hard, I can seriously soak that sucker. And I’ve mostly gotten used to the looks when people walk by. Especially the poor guys whose job it is to clean the machines. I see them pass by warily, towel in hand, their faces painted in dread as they observe the way I have drenched the machine. One guy actually visibly shuddered, I’m not joking. Between them and all the side eye from the ladies with the perfect hair and makeup, it makes me want to stand on the rails of the machine and announce loudly: PEOPLE! I AM GOING TO WIPE THIS DOWN WHEN I’M DONE, SO RELAX! THE MACHINE WILL BE FINE!
The other day, after spending my morning with every cellphone bill from the last year and a half spread all over my kitchen table, and with still no answer as to why we are being billed for a number not associated with any of our phones, I gave up and headed to the health club and the dreaded stair climber. To add to my lovely mood, there was the RA flare, and those things can make me crabby if I’m not careful. Not as crabby as taking my “escape hatch” prednisone, however. My rheumatologist prescribed it for flare ups, but the last time I took it, I almost got kicked out of a soccer game, so I try to avoid touching the stuff. Instead, I try to eat super clean and work out and do all the healthy things (in addition to my regular RA meds). But for this moment, I will say I was a wee bit crabby.
So here I am with my aching joints and poisonous attitude, climbing stairs to nowhere and getting more than a little irritated at the “Oh my gosh could she sweat any more” looks I’m getting, only to notice out of the corner of my good eye that a guy has stopped walking and is standing next to my machine. Yes, if he had been on my left he’d probably still be there, but he was on my good side, so I knew he was there. And I was irritated. For real! I can’t believe he’s doing this. He’s probably waiting to catch my eye so he can shame me or laugh at me. I hate this. I hate being here on this stupid machine, climbing these stupid stairs with my stupid joints. I kept my eyes forward and silently, angrily sang along with the song in my headphones, until I heard him talking. Exasperated, I pulled out my earbuds and heard, “…you’ve got sweat flying everywhere!” I whipped my head around, preparing my best angry look (and I have some good ones, just ask my kids), only to be confronted with the most radiant smile. This beautiful man was beaming up at me appreciatively, “Look at you! You’re just going at it! I love it!” It was one of the personal trainers at the club, but I’d never seen him before. My mouth hung open for what seemed like a ridiculously long time, before I stammered something eloquent like, “Yeah, I sweat a lot…” He smiled, gave me a thumbs up and a “Keep at it!” And walked away.
To my credit, I did not proceed to trip up the stairs that oddly enough don’t stop moving when you pause to have a conversation – but I could have, I was so stunned. I stood up a little straighter, grinned and kept climbing the stairs to nowhere while dripping sweat all over the machine. But I did it with a very different attitude. Look at me! I am a beast! A BEAST, I tell you! Screw RA and cancer and fake hips and wonky eyes, because I am going at it! I don’t feel crummy often, and it’s very rare for all of my health “things” to come to the party all at once, but when they do, I want someone like him at the party too.
I left the health club with two takeaways. The first was about Mike (I checked his name tag when I high fived him on the way out). I thought about how, when other people saw gross, he saw good. I want to do that. I want to be that for others (I was going to say that I want to be like Mike, but I think that slogan is taken. Bummer, ’cause it would be good here).
The second thought was about Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong, which I cannot get enough of (thankfully she just released another book, so it’s going to be ok). In it, she talks about the ways we make up stories to explain the things with which we struggle. Only it’s not always a true story that we tell ourselves. She encourages people to say, “The story I’m making up right now is _____,” as a way of honestly examining and owning what we’re telling ourselves about the situation. So on the stair climber, the story I was making up was that everyone around me was disgusted by my sweat. The thing is, I didn’t actually know that was true. Perhaps no one even noticed my perspiration, or they did but weren’t repulsed by it. Who knows? Not me. So why make something up? Here I was, all achy and irritated, expecting the worst – and instead I got the best. It made me wonder: how many times do we brace ourselves and throw on our armor because we know what’s coming, only to find out that… we actually don’t know?
On that day when I didn’t show up at the health club as my best self, someone saw good anyway. We can’t always tell when someone is having a crummy day, but we can, like Mike, choose to see the good instead of the gross – and then take the extra step to speak it.
From one sweaty person’s perspective, I’d say it makes a difference.