Working out has always been a sensitive topic for me. I’m not able to do a lot of the standard workouts. I can’t go to spin class or run on a treadmill at my local gym. I have a lot of internalized ableism I’m working through and a side effect of that is that my whole life, if I haven’t been able to do things like “everyone else” then I haven’t wanted to do it. I’ve often made snarky comments to myself and judged people I see in public who are wearing workout gear because the reality is that I wanted to be like them and was upset that I couldn’t be. I wanted to be able to put on my cute matching legging and sports bra set and go to a yoga or a spin class.
When I found water aerobics, it was like the workout world opened up to me. I found something I was able to do physically finally. The water is like a comfort cushion around you that allows for doing some pretty intense workouts without having to worry about hurting yourself. I’ve always felt strong in the water because the buoyancy it gives me means there are very few moves I can’t do. Even with at-home DVDs there are always moves I can’t do and my go-response for that has been to get frustrated and not even try. I didn’t want anymore reminders that I was different and couldn’t do everything non-disabled people can.
Ever since COVID hit, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do about getting my body moving. For most of the last 2+ years, I haven’t bothered with anything. I’ve been eating whatever I want and not getting any form of exercise. When I was living my apartment last year, I went to the pool there about 3 times but soon gave up because my mental health plummeted because of everything going on with that situation, and I just didn’t have the energy to devote to it. Plus, just getting myself out of the pool after I had worked out was so hard, I was worried I was going to get stuck there.
I still haven’t been able to find another pool to go to that I can actually get in and out of but it dawned on me in a very big way that I needed to start doing something again. I wasn’t in a good headspace and the more I didn’t even try to do something, the worse I felt. It was a fast-moving downward spiral.
Cue chair workouts on YouTube. I knew if I searched for these, I would probably find something, I was just always so afraid that it would be something else where I couldn’t do all the moves and I would give up anyway. The first one I tried, I definitely couldn’t do all the moves or do them like the woman who was leading them. I got frustrated but I kept going until my body told me it was time to call it quits. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going because I was so annoyed I couldn’t do all the moves or couldn’t do them in the same way or at the same speed as the woman on the video. But what I noticed was how much better I felt mentally. I hadn’t done full-on water aerobics in so long that I’d forgotten what it felt like to move my body in any way that I could. I wanted to keep that feeling and momentum going.
It’s been over a week now and I’ve done either a cardio or a strength chair workout with weights every night. I’ve only done 10 minute ones so far because I don’t want to overdo it or hurt myself, but those 10 minutes have made such a difference. I love the burning feeling you get when you’ve lifted weights for a while, or the tingle in my legs from moving them (I don’t however love that my legs sometimes feel like cement pillars that I can’t lift). I feel motivated again. I remember the domino effect working out can have. When I used to go in the pool regularly, it always inspired me to want to eat better and do more outside of the pool. I’m not quite there yet but I’ve already been thinking of ways I can cut out or cut back on some of the shitty eating habits I’ve acquired over the last few years.
I never wanted to admit to myself that I actually liked exercising in some form. I made sarcastic jokes about it or rolled my eyes at people who did it all the time. I let myself believe that being disabled meant I just couldn’t do anything, so why should I even bother. I didn’t value my body enough to take care of it because to me, it didn’t work “right”, and I was going to end up in a nursing home alone when I was older anyway.
I know that not everyone with a disability is able to work out in the same way I am. A lot of people with muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular diseases can actually worse their condition and speed up muscle deterioration by working out. Not everyone has full use of their arms and legs. This definitely isn’t a diatribe on how you should try to work out or move your body however you can, no matter what you might be dealing with physically. I still consider that to be an ableist mantra the world sells people without even remotely taking into consideration that not everyone is able to do that. Thereby making anyone who can’t feel like they’re less than or that there’s something wrong with them.
But for me, working out has become an important form of self-love. I’m not doing it so my body will end up looking like some version of societally-defined perfection. I’m not doing it so I can feel like I “fit in” or be like my peers. I may never get rid of my stomach pooch and people may never stop asking me if I’m pregnant, but doing it makes me feel good about myself and it makes my brain feel happier, and that’s all that really matters.