Body Health, Essay, Mental Health

HANG LIKE CHICKEN

In my first-ever gym class of high school, we underwent a fitness diagnostic. Our gym teacher required the students to perform as many chin-ups as they could. If they were not able to do a chin-up, he offered, they could simply hang from the bars.

The oddness of those two choices – to either perform an act or engage in something that arguably proves nothing except the presence of fingers – was further underscored by the vast breadth of physical prowess. If you had hit puberty by then, you could do chin-ups. If you hadn’t, you hung like a limp flag or, more realistically, the trussed and plucked chicken hanging in a meat shop. Since I’m barely hitting puberty at 22, it’s an easy guess to figure out which camp I fell into.

That did not stop me from pathetically attempting a chin-up. I didn’t realize that it’s nearly impossible to do a chin-up from fully-extended arms, so I tucked my knees underneath me and tried to pull myself up from ramrod-straight arms. After several tense, physically agonizing moments, I let myself hang quietly before dropping back down to the floor.

And I remember, in the seconds that I hung from the bar, thinking how completely pointless this exercise was. Gym class proceeded much in the same way; after freshman year, I just opted to do homework with a clutter of the other unathletic boys while the fitter ones fucked around with dodgeball, or whatever. By senior year, I was skipping out of gym entirely – using my senior privilege and status a runner to avoid it. But, to be honest, having a gym class once every six days wasn’t doing me, or anyone, any favors.

So for most of my life, the chin-up, and any desire to do it, eluded me. When I started working out in college, I hopped in and out of the chin-up phase. Once I realized that clinging to the bars and literally leaping up into a chin-up position didn’t technically count, I swapped to the assisted pull-up machine and avoided it whenever I could.

The assisted pull-up machine requires you to put your knees on a pad and subtract weight from your total mass. So if you’re 160 pounds, and you subtracted fifty pounds, you were doing the chin-ups with a body weight of 110 pounds. I was subtracting so much weight that I was actually flinging myself upwards with every pull and reaching an exosphere orbit.

I would eye the people who could do a pull-up or chin-up unassisted with hot glowering envy. It seemed literally impossible, and then I saw people actually adding weights to their own self and doing repetitions with that. That was as unbelievable to me as those stories of mothers lifting up cars to save their loved ones – actually more unbelievable. I began to measure my prowess in terms of how many unassisted repetitions I could do – one was bad, two was better, three was ideal.

But as I worked out more, I began to reacquaint myself with the pull-up machine. As I lost weight and gained muscle, the notches of the weight began to shift lighter and lighter. Eventually, I was doing ten to twenty pounds of assistance, for a weight of roughly 185.

And then, a few weeks ago, I decided to leave the pad entirely. Straining, I pulled myself up – my elbows narrowing into neat acute angles – and down. When I completed sixteen chin-ups, four repetitions in four sets, I fell into a crouch and felt my heart pump blood headily into the aching muscles. But I kept doing it. every day, at the beginning of my workout, I did sixteen chin-ups – always in four sets of four – before moving onto the rest of my workout. I found that the less I focused on what I was about to do, the better I performed. If I hesitated, arms extended upward but feet still on the ground, I could barely get myself into the air.

I began to change it up – I added another set of pull-ups to the routine. Eventually, I switched to sixteen pull-ups (working the back muscles, shoulder muscles and the latissimus dorsi muscles). I tacked on a set of chin-ups, and on arms days, I would do sixteen of each.

I’ve noticed more muscle changes in the few weeks that I’ve started doing unassisted pull-ups. My shoulders are squarer, my collarbones swoop with the graceful lean of ship’s bows, and my biceps are bigger. In the shower, I catch glimpses of back muscles rippling in ways that they didn’t before. I’m obsessed with my shoulder blades, their hookedness like two eagle beaks.

Unfortunately, like a lot of people, I have a complex relationship with my body. And I’ve often leaned on the gym in unhealthy ways, eviscerating myself on days when I had to skip, or punishing myself for days that I didn’t push myself as far as I could’ve. In my most depressed, the gym becomes more of an outlet and a crutch. Before, when I looked my best, it’s often because I was feeling my worst. At a particular low point in college, mental health-wise, I would escape to the gym for hours every day, later pinching the fat on my hips as it melted away. I obsess over my body’s aesthetic, how this looks and how this lays.

I’ve always carried that anxiety when going to the gym; that I could backslide and become obsessive again. I still have lingering habits, a twinge of despair when I weigh myself, or a slight internal battle about how much cardio to do. I take my backslides softly, and slowly, and I’m trying to treat myself gently. It doesn’t always work, maybe not even half of the time, but I try.

Doing these pull-ups aren’t about how they will make my body look. It is a physical challenge, a test of my own strength – something that doesn’t come from aesthetics alone.

But this feels different for me.

When I’m doing pull-ups, I revel in the strength as I lift upwards. I imagine all of the scenarios where I can pull myself up. Action movie scenes, where the ground falls away beneath me and I have to swing myself up from the lip of a cliff. Deep dark holes that I’m trapped in. American Ninja Warrior monkey bars. I revel in getting stronger, and it feels wholly unconnected to aesthetics or attractiveness. In every muscle micro-tear, I steel myself with strength. I feel myself getting stronger, and I nourish it like a seedling. I picture myself as a warrior, each line of muscle meaning that I am more capable, more sturdy, more indomitable.

It isn’t about how I look – it’s about how I feel.

And damn, sis, I feel good.

Advertisements
Standard
Humor, Mental Health

SELF-CARE: SOME TIPS, TRICKS, AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

Written after eating Talenti coffee gelato and trying not to hate myself. 

See that right there, that “trying not to hate myself” was a great act of self-care. I’m already off to a fantastic start. Go you, me!

Monday I wrote about my anxiety-ridden weekend, so I thought it would be nice to write something medium-positive to take the sting out of pouring my emotions out for the homies. It was either this or go in the complete opposite creative direction to make you forget completely that I can ever be a sensitive human/sentient robot.

So I was doing my daily ritual of light incense, meditation and cleaning out my “YouTube Watch Later” playlist, which at some points is longer than my list of friends (short list of friends or long list of to-be-watched videos? You be the judge), and I watched a video of Tyler Oakley’s called “Five Easy Ways To Self-Care” or something like that—idk I’ll put it below, don’t make me look it up rn—and that triggered/inspired/thinspired me to do something similar, but a little more…me.


A lot of times when I see self-care things, they’re by “nice” people and all of the suggestions are helpful but not very appropriate for someone who spends as much time praying that “vibing” people with negative thoughts will make their lives worse.

See I also just watched the season two premiere of Difficult People, which if you’re not watching, you should be, and if you are watching, stop taking my thing, and that’s much more me—a couple of 7/10s running around, being mean/funny to people. For a lot of people like me—hot but mean—we can’t really identify with traditionally “nice” people. So here is the self-care guide you need if you’re a little bit of a dick and a lot of a mess.

Obviously there are the obvious things—obvi duh—like exercise (because exercise releases endorphins, endorphins make people happy, and happy people don’t kill their husbands, duh!), drinking lots of water and eating healthily, and getting plenty of sleep. But you didn’t come here for a regular self-care guide—you came here for the Naomi Campbell of self-care guides (dangerous, beautiful, unpredictable).

1). Scream so loud: This is actually (semi)therapist approved. I once had a therapist who suggested that, as a way to get out my deep-seated anger, I get into my car and scream. Loudly. For as long as I could. When I, repressed as I am, finally did it, I was amazed at how good I felt. The primal and visceral reaction of screaming out loud, or into a pillow, or silent-screaming, is shockingly effective. It releases tension, it untwists the anger coils in your chest, and it’s so flagrantly weird that you have to laugh. At least, that’s what it makes me do. Alternatively, you could fake-laugh-scream at something, which always makes me actual laugh. Because I can find nothing real-funny until I find it ironic-funny. I’m a millennial.

2). Throw out your scale (or if it’s expensive just don’t use it): Seriously, if it’s money, just put it out of sight. I’m on a budget too. When I was at school, I didn’t have a scale and it actually really improved my mood. I know this because when I got home for the summer and discovered our fancy digital scale, I became obsessed with weighing myself. A lot of the anxiety-driven part of my depression manifests in body obsession and that translates to needing to know how much I weigh at any point. So I decided to stop weighing myself again and just let myself live. And it really helps. Numerical weight is such a scam anyway; a number can’t tell me how I feel about myself, or how the weight carries itself. I can be at my heaviest, but if I feel good, then that number is irrelevant.

A lot of self-care is cutting out unnecessary stress and stressors in your life, and trying not to give a shit about your weight—within reason—just seems like a no-brainer.

3). Pep talk: I don’t know how most people think, but I don’t think in words as much as I do in images and visceral emotions. Like, I don’t think, “Oh I’m nervous about work.” I feel it much more deeply and see it play out before me. And because of that, I don’t really have any sort of internal dialogue with myself. So when I’m feeling like I need to self-care, I’ll have a pep talk for myself, out loud in the mirror. In his video, Tyler actually said to treat yourself like your best friend, and that means to be nice to yourself and to lift yourself up. Alternately, I constantly sing out loud to myself. I’m not a good singer, but I do it when I walk, or do dishes, or fold laundry. Singing is a good, very healing thing to do. Emote, bitches.

4). Unfollow unhealthy social media accounts: I talked about this a little in my last post, but I can’t stress enough what a difference it has made. I’m not just talking about unfollowing boyz who you think are out of your league but are actually too emotionally withdrawn to like you; this totally works for cleaning out your social media followings. Unfriend that person you haven’t seen in forever; don’t force yourself to click through the Snap story of a colleague from four years ago who you only follow in the faint hopes of a shirtless moment. A lot of self-care is surrounding yourself with positivity and people you love; ditch the acquaintances.

 5). Watch videos of people falling: Funny as shit.

There are other, simpler things—good music, time spent outdoors, snuggling with cute animals. Then are other, more extensive things—a good therapist, self-reflection, journaling. It all depends on what you need. Also always remember to try to look on the positive…is the most annoying thing that anyone can ever say to anyone, but it’s honestly true. Even if you don’t have depression, it’s so easy to be stuck in the rut of negativity; taking active steps to appreciate things around you—nice eyebrows, the sunlight effusing a green leaf, old people holding hands—can change the roadways of your brain and rewire you for a happier outlook. Idk if that’s true; I read that somewhere.

If all else fails, start small. Smile. Take deep breaths. Close your eyes and just sit. And then read through all of my blog and tell me how smart, but how humble, and how funny, but how unintimidating, I am. Also someone sponsor me!!! Give me that $$$ so I don’t have to write “60 Ways To Get Your Sexy Back” listicles for the rest of my life!

Also I’ve been frequently changing up my header image to convince myself that I have some semblance of control over my life. What do you think??

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 10.41.30 PM.png

Source: Danny McCarthy via The Wunderkindof

Standard