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On Crossfit and facing your fears (or not) 

Hello, my doves. How are you? You smell fantastic. Like some sort of pastry. Come closer.

This is going to be a long and rambling post but hell, you can skim it, or not even read it at all, if it comes to that. Right? Right. Whatever you decide, I hope you're comfortably seated, or standing, or maybe even lying flat on your back, with a screen hovering above you. Do you have one of those futuristic Hover-Screens™? So great.

I know some of you have been wondering how my mood is, and let me tell you! Just eechhh. Isn't that cheerful? Isn't that a happy sound? I actually took one of those online depression questionnaires today, and the result came back OH DEAR. And this is about 90% better than I WAS, so, well, you can imagine!

I have an appointment with my psychiatrist in two days, and I intend to give him a piece of my mind. My not-happy mind! I'm going to be all, "See here, good man, why am I not yet whistling a happy tune?"

I'll let you know how that pans out.

Until then, here's what happened today. Today I completed my Crossfit Foundations course. In case you're not familiar with Crossfit, it's one of those bootcamp-ish, lift-heavy-things-and-run-'til-you-puke workout places. People seem to obsessively love it, so I signed up for the Foundations course, in which you learn, duh, the foundations. This is supposed to lead you seamlessly into the regular group workout classes. Which I was a little scared of, to be honest, because I felt like I was perhaps less than ready for such a thing.

My feelings of incompetence despite completing the course surprised me, as I have been steadily and faithfully gym-going for the past two years--and also they didn't surprise me, as I have held the conviction all along that I'm still fundamentally weak and uncoordinated. This is a feeling that goes back as far as I can remember. I have never felt like I had any natural skill at moving my body through space.

Not only do I persist in believing this, it's also a belief that carries with it a huge amount of humiliation and shame. I seem to seek out activities that are going to poke me right in this incredibly sore spot, either because I'm trying to move past it and improve or because I'm looking for validation that I am a hopeless weakling and klutz.

I took kung fu until the instructor singled me out in class for my terrible form.

I took belly dancing until the instructor singled me out for awkwardness and general unsexiness (my terms, not hers).

I practiced yoga until one instructor spent the entire session adjusting me and asking loudly if I had some kind of severe injury that made me move that way.

I get it: I'm not flexible. But I keep giving up on these activities because I'm convinced that I'm not going to get any more flexible. And then I try something else, until I'm humiliated and I run away. And so on.

So even with my regular strength training, I had hit something of a plateau, because of the above inflexibility. That's when I decided to try out Crossfit. I have no idea why. Masochism? I actually thought the intro course was interesting, if intimidating and hard as hell. I thought I was making progress, although I know my instructor was concerned about my mobility issues.

By the way, there's another course, one that people who are not quite ready for the group classes can take, called "On Ramp." I had a feeling he'd tell me I should take this before I went to the group classes. THIS IS IMPORTANT TO THE STORY.

Instead, he told me that because of my mobility issues, he wants me to take 10-20 private sessions, then go to On Ramp, and then maybe I'd be ready for group classes. He wants me to work on my mobility issues, and he's worried that if I can't get proper form in some of the stances, I'll just injure myself and give up. Which he does not want me to do. Reasonable, right? So reasonable!

I will tell you, I wanted to die of humiliation, when he told me this. It was yoga all over again. And belly dancing. And oh, lord, kung fu. Once again, I was being assigned to Remedial Gym.

(Did I ever tell you how I had to take Remedial Gym in high school? Yep. Just soak that in, for a moment. REMEDIAL GYM. It's no wonder I have all of these goddamn issues.)

So now I have a choice to make: do I go for private sessions? Or do I give up?

Part of me wants to forge ahead. I've made some progress, and I've seen how far it is that I need to go. The worst that happens is after the set of private sessions, I decide I don't want to do it.

But part of me is wondering, why do I put myself in these situations, again and again, where I'm just left feeling terrible about myself? What am I in it for? Yes, I'd like to be in better shape. Yes, I'd like to feel strong and capable and coordinated. But surely there are ways of doing this that won't leave me just feeling awful?

Another factor is, of course, my brain chemistry, which is all off-kilter at the moment. Maybe once my serotonin is re-uptaking or not re-uptaking or WHATEVER I'll feel a little more confident in what Mr. Crossfit Coach is telling me.

Right now I only want to curl up under some blankets. This might not the best long-term approach for general fitness, but on the other hand the blankets are warm and soft and almost never mention my "mobility issues."

I'm throwing it to you, my beloved readers: what do you think? Crossfit? Something else? Or the blankets?

(And by the way: I don't question my instructor/coach's motives at : he's smart and his advice has always been spot-on. I like him a lot and truly believe he wants the best for me. I also happen to think he secretly is horrified by what an awful, uncoordinated idiot I am. This may just be me.)

Reader Comments (118)

I've dealt with depression several times, and continue to deal with simultaneously being an absolute klutz and desperately wanting to be graceful and athletic. For me, what I need is a way to make progress in a way that is supportive and encouraging and non-judgmental, like the best part of curling up in a blanket, but without the negative "I give up" side of...oh well, I think you can see where this metaphor is going. Hee. It is your metaphor after all and I am only borrowing it (because it is awesome). Thankfully, I have a trainer who made it her business to learn what encouragement I need and when I need to be pushed and when I need to hear I am working hard enough. Anyway, it sounds like you have a supportive trainer so I would say keep going, and let go of judging yourself. (And refrain from berating yourself from judging yourself. Etc.)

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercarol

I have no doubt you could do it, but there are so many different ways to be healthy I don't really understand the point of putting yourself through classes like that if it's stressing you out and making you feel worse mentally. There's nothing to prove; overall health is the goal, I would think. So maybe take a break from the classes and try something else. I'm totally uncoordinated and also have severe depression and anxiety, and there's no way I'm going to a gym or a class anytime soon. So I do yoga, lift weights, ride an exercise bike - all at home. I'd really like to get outside more so I want to add walking or bike riding, or maybe even rollerskating; my problem is just WHEN to do that. So I say find some form of exercise that you love and do it regulary, at home or with a friend or whatever. But if you are getting something else out of those classes and you really do enjoy them because of the socialization or the discipline, or whatever, then by all means go and just know that it's ok to simply do your best and maybe not have perfect form and agility. Everyone has strengths in different areas (I keep telling myself this too); yours is in writing! Some of us wish we could write like you and we check your blog daily because we know when you do post it will be something funny or really interesting or something we can relate to, and also that maybe you'll tell us we smell like a pastry and that makes us feel really special. I'm a big fan of facing your fears, but also of knowing that when you're already faced them for a while, it's ok to take a break. : )

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

It makes me so angry to hear that those teachers singled you out in class. I teach yoga and I can't imagine doing that to someone in my class. Here's the deal. If you are enjoying what you are doing, it shouldn't matter what you look like while doing it. I always tell my students to find the joy in their practice and that their mats are an island. The same holds true for step class or spin class or any of those group fitness things. Do it because it makes you feel good.

That my two cents.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

I'm in the face your fears camp - but only because it seems like you really want to on some level.

That'll be $25.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMiss Britt

Alice you are such a beauty. There are too may things in life that we have to do, please don't feel like this is one of them. There are lots of ways to stay healthy and I admire your dedication to do so, truly. Despite what you may be feeling, you are not going to let anyone down, whatever you decide.

Cheesy, maybe. But we all know how much you love cheese :)

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterApril

I'm (now) super athletic. I dance, play rugby, box, run... you name it. But! I used to be just as awkward as my five year old daughter is now. Am I going to suck it up and try harder? No, not right now. I'm going to tell her to find what feels good for her body to do. What sort of motion feels good? Is it stretching while she watches t.v.? Is it walking? Swimming?

Do what makes your body feel good, not in the moment, but over the course of your life. Your mental state should not be the focus, listen to your muscles and your blood and your digestion.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEva

I am so inflexible (unflexible?), I had a jerk at the gym who was doing my "fitness test" say, "Heh, I guess you don't have a boyfriend" when he saw that I couldn't reach past my knees when trying to touch my toes.This was years and years ago, when I really didn't have a boyfriend and I wondered about this. . .I'm no more flexible now, but am married! Snap!

I'm not sure I'd be down for any fitness class that requires "private lessons" b/c I'd just assume they think I'm loaded and want to steal all my money. (and just as a side note: NEVER try Zumba. Trust me. It is hell on earth)

Why don't you do what most of us gangly, long-limbed types do and buy a pair of running shoes and go out for a nice neighborhood jog? Trust me, I've NEVER felt like an athlete, but I can't tell you how many people tell me I "look like a runner". I think it's b/c I have short hair and good sneakers. I still can't touch my toes.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFairly Odd Mother

Kudos for trying to exercise in the midst of the funky mood situation. That shows some kind of strength right there.

You've inspired me to get off the couch...not for crossfit though. Maybe I'll take a ride on my rusty 3-speed.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBostulla

So, I just voted for "face your fears" because of several things. For one thing, I personally loooove one-on-one type help with fitnessy things because I, too, am totally uncoordinated and totally helpless in these types of classes. Especially if there are mirrors. Are there mirrors? Those distract me more than anything. I start noticing how DIFFERENT I look than everyone else, and struggle to breathe because WHY DO I LOOK SO CRAZY next to other people, DO I REALLY LOOK LIKE THAT OMG!
For another thing, I think you can feel extra proud of yourself after facing your fears, and who the hell cares if you need extra work at that kinda stuff! How many of those gym rats can write things funny enough to leak pee out of others?!!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

I can't take the poll because the answer is C) none of the above. Life IS too short to feel bad about yourself but I have to think there's a way to do the thing that will help your body AND feel good about yourself.

Firstly, banish the shame. I say this as if it were easy and I know it is not but consider that while you were taking remedial gym, I have to imagine that some of your athletic classmates were not in your ultra-super-mega advanced writing and European history and what-have-you classes, in which you almost certainly excelled because you are a perfectionist.

You wrote one time about not liking to draw specific things for Henry because you don't like to do things badly. This is the same issue again in a different form. It's hard to be wrong (or do things badly) when you've been programmed to believe that being wrong or doing something badly is a reflection of your inherent worth and implies moral failure. It is not. Let me repeat. It is not a moral failing to be bad at something. (Again, this is something that I struggle with so I'm more voicing the thing that I am continually telling myself than actually telling you what to do and expecting it to be easy.) People specialize - we have to - the resources to be good at X usually come at the expense of being good at Y.

You are fantastic at writing and being funny and being a mom and a spouse and god knows how many other things. Look at this as an opportunity to do two things: conquer your "mobility issues" and your fear of people knowing you suck at something. Next time you see someone (your instructor/coach, perhaps?) being really good at something you don't feel so strong doing, imagine yourself standing over his shoulder while he tried to write a book.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

Ummm, Alice? You can't be good at everything. The flaws are what make people interesting. I can't think of anything that sounds funnier than "awkward belly dancing". I say, do the blankets until you feel like doing something else. Life is too hard to punish yourself!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarianne

This is the blog of a friend of mine. He is a 40-year-old man who used to be overweight like me, but now he's doing crazy things, like showing off a 52" standing jump. Crossfit does incredible things. I'm not sure it's for me, because I've already committed my fitness money to the YMCA, which gives my family so much more than just a gym, but sometimes I seriously consider it because of what he says about what it has done for him.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterI, Rodius

My vote is that you continue to work out and go to the gym but forget about classes. You are obviously healthy and fit and that's the point, right? Why should you have to feel bad? I can't even get off my butt to exercise at this point.
Hope your man can figure out the meds soon!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteredj

You don't have to do nothin' but stay black and die.

Maybe my grandma's advice isn't quite as universal as I thought.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

could you post a video of yourself, in class, walking down the street, I wonder if you are not much different than the rest of us and are obsessing/over working your perceived probs.

also , how about sticking with an individual trainer; Only you and he will know your foilbles and of course all the people he tells over a couple glasses of wine!

Your blog is lots of fun to read. thank you

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjoanlvh

What would you do if this were the situation with your kid? Different answers for different people, but I get the feeling that you would want him to succeed if he wanted to succeed at this one thing. And if you trusted his coach and thought it would help, you would probably get him the private sessions.

Also, if you were a seven-year-old who was consistently having a hard time with a wide variety of physical activities and it was really bumming you out and getting in the way of what you wanted and needed, these days someone might suggest to your parents that you would benefit from some occupational therapy sessions. So maybe you would benefit from some occupational therapy sessions?

What I'm saying is - it usually comes naturally to be an advocate for your kid if you see that he really needs it. But it can be difficult to be your own advocate and for many of us it is nearly impossible and goes against a lot of our own inclinations. Especially when you throw the reuptake level issue into the mix. But do for yourself what you would do for your kid, and you probably won't go terribly wrong.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfay

In the "evangelism of the newly converted" category:
I like running.
1. Running is simple. Does it hurt? No? Then you are doing it right.
2. It's badass. Lately I can cover five miles in about fifty minutes. My coach says I can start training for a marathon.
3. I am not ever, ever, ever going to win a race, so that whole idea can just suck it. I win by having more days that include running.
4. It's forward-compatible. I'm not dependent on a class, a gym, a location, a schedule, or a particular trainer, though I like the gym. This is my forever-sport and it will never leave me.
5. After dropping $250 on the used treadmill, it's cheap. (I run barefoot.)
6. I can adapt it to my mental state by letting my mind wander, listening to Human Emotion 504, or watching season 3 of Scrubs.
7. It's private. I don't have to interact with anyone, think about anyone watching me, about what I'm wearing, or about whether or not I'll have to stop halfway through to use the bathroom.
8. Running doesn't cause me guilt for taking time away from my family. Although they tend to take swingset breaks while I go for the rest of my laps, my family can run with me if they like.
9. It's primal. What was the first thing I did when I stood up on two legs? Started running away from my parents.
10. At the sweat-dripping-off-my-nose point, oh what a nice wallop of endorphins! This is the real reason why I run. Don't tell anybody; some asshole is bound to make it illegal.
So I think you should run. Or not. Couldn't hurt to give it a try.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Private lessons, I think, will take the humiliation out of the Cross-fit/group classes. And since you seem to trust/like the guy maybe you can just tell him that you have a history of quitting activities when singled out in front of a group. You can do it, Alice! And if it doesn't work out, it will be okay, too. love to you!

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

I've always wanted to be a good writer. I've tried several times to get published, and had some small successes, but the few big moves I've tried I've been rejected. I've been working for a long time on a novel and I've recently started taking a class with a really great writer! She says that she thinks with some private lessons, I could try my hand at getting something published. Should I take the lessons? Or just admit I won't ever be a good writer and stop trying?

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Do it! What 'I' read in your blog is that you really want to do it, but are looking for a reason to just bag it and forget it. Do it! Worst case, it doesn't work, doesn't make you feel better, you still gain some flexibility and momentum from your trainer and move on. If he's really as good as you think, he'll make sure you don't hurt your self. I think personal training is that way to go anyhow, especially for us 'mobility impaired types' and that really what you'll be getting.

Good luck, stay strong

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

Hey Alice, I'm sorry you are feeling poorly. I can relate to the exercise stuff! I used to be terrified to do it at all. I like the sort of exercise where you can get better by increments (yoga) or it is just fun (zumba). I also like gyrotonics because it makes you taller, but you have be a land baron to afford it, and you already seem pretty tall. I used to have a terrible relationship to exercise and wrote about my recent and extreme love for Zumba, here . We could just meet in the park sometime and ride bikes if you want.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

Look. I spent high school getting picked last in gym. Sometimes, picked last and then TRADED. THREE TIMES during one volleyball game. But, I believed that I was athletic. That I had an inner athlete. I WANTED it, like you want it. I sucked at everything high school gym/sports teams had to offer. But, at college, which had a pool that high school did not, I found something that I didn't suck at. Plus, field hockey. But, still not the inner athlete that I knew was in there.Then, in my early forties, I took up rowing crew. And there it was, from the first instant. My excellent inner athlete. For the first time ever, I knew the sheer joy that comes from finding your sport. Your own best way of moving with mastery.

You just haven't found your sport, your movement that will bring your bliss and inner athlete. That's all. You'll know it when you find it; it's transcendant. You will laugh out loud with the sheer joy of it, I promise. And it is so much sweeter for all the Fails.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermaude

My sister took a yoga class that had you lay on the floor supported by folded blankets in various positions. You weren't allowed to stand up for a year! The idea is that these various supported positions give you time to "yield" which is very good for increasing mobility. Also, Yoga Nidra is mostly laying on the floor (under a blanket) listening to a guided meditation of sorts and is very refreshing. So maybe keep looking for a better yoga fit, because that teacher you had should have her license revoked. You are successful the moment you step on to your mat. The rest is gravy.

I have gotten my groove back (literally) with dance classes. I'm doing Zumba, Body Jam, and other dance classes chosen for the quality of the instructor, not the dancing. I've always been a terrible dancer and very self-conscious about it. And guess what? Now that I am older (46) it makes me smile, and a big smile covers a multitude of missteps.

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLee

HULA HOOPING! Try it. Make sure you try a big adult hoop, not one of those little kid things. It is so much fun, great for coordination, is good exercise, and it has even made me (so unsexy) be a little sexier.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline

I am physically lazy and I HATE feeling bad at stuff. I am kinda weak and slow though very flexible and pretty coordinated. So I try to find stuff that I enjoy and seem to have at least a LITTLE natural aptitude for, like yoga and dance-y type gym classes. I don't think you could get me into Cross Fit at gun point.

Anyway, my point being that yes, it's important to strive for fit and healthy but there is no, repeat NO reason why you have to do something that makes you feel bad about yourself. I realize many, many people love Cross Fit with a love that will last through the ages but if you are not one of those people, or if dealing with needing 10-20 private lessons before you are fit enough to go "on the ramp" makes you feel bad, then screw it. There are lots of other fish in the fitness ocean.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarla Hinkle

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