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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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Chicago Review Press

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Let's Panic

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it. → 

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Why gyms are no good. No good at all.

I quit my gym a while back, on account of I never went. Apparently I hated money enough to give it to a place that was offering me nothing in the way of goods or services. Anyway, eventually I came to my senses, and realized I could spend my money on something better, like cookies.

The gym quit was perfectly timed: shortly after that we made our decision to leave Brooklyn and find a house in New Jersey, and my weekly bouts of ennui became hourly fits of plus-sized panic. I ran back to my psychiatrist, who told me that the best thing I could do for myself was get some regular exercise.

For a while I fooled myself into thinking I could exercise plenty without some stupid gym. The gym and I were through. Who needs a gym, when you have a park and good sneakers? I’ll jog! Okay, ha ha, maybe walk! Fast!

Whoever said walking was a good workout was lying. To me, a good workout means you sweat, and maybe I’m in better shape than I thought, because I couldn’t break a sweat, unless I wore two sweaters. Also, I kept tripping on the sidewalk. And I inevitably took my dog, because I would be lacing up my sneakers and there he’d be, watching me--and you try to get a workout when Charlie is tagging along. He has to pee on every tree, every hydrant, every garbage bag. He doles out his pee like it’s his gift to all of Brooklyn, to be evenly distributed to its residents. Behold his golden puddles! It’s Christmas, but not!

Lately my anxiety level has been ramping up day by day, as we near our closing and our departure from Brooklyn (I actually just screamed a little). So today I sucked it up, and called a local gym. This gym is not my ex-gym; it’s a gym that happens to be in the same building as Henry’s school, so I really have no excuse. I can drop him off and go. Mind you, during that 5-second elevator trip up those three flights, my brain will be screaming NO NO GO HOME AND EAT DING-DONGS. Nonetheless, the chances are not bad that I might actually get myself some exercise, sometimes.

So! “Is it possible to get a six-week membership?” I asked the nice salesperson. “No,” she said, “We don’t do short-term memberships.” Apparently this place hates money as much as I do! We were meant to be!

“Really?” I said.

“The shortest membership we could do is two months,” she said.

“I’ll pay for two months,” I said, and she said, “Well, this month would be prorated to start today.” So six weeks, in other words. Who was I to point this out?

She told me to come down to the gym, so I went to the gym, and when I got there she told me, and I quote, “The accountant doesn’t want to give you that membership because it’s too much paperwork for just two months.” Wow! They loathe money!

”Really?” I said.

“Let me see what I can do,” she said. I was getting good at this! “Why don’t you go home and I’ll call you.”

So I went home, and no joke, there was a message from her saying to come back, the membership was approved. I took my gym stuff with me! I was going to work out! Mental (and, I suppose, physical) health for me!

“The accountant said to give you a temporary six-week membership,” she said when I got there.

OH MY GOD WHAT OTHER KIND WERE WE TALKING ABOUT, I wanted to shout, but didn’t.

Then I exercised today for the first time in a long time. That in itself is not worth the effort it takes to type the words. I flailed around on an elliptical machine. I tried not to hurt myself stretching. I considered the weight machines but concluded that I had done enough for My First Workout in 2006. The End.

But here’s what I forgot: when you’re a nervous wreck, having had a workout is an excellent idea, but being in a gym is the worst thing you can do to yourself. First of all, you're surrounded by muscled, supple forms, and you're not one of them. You have to get naked in a locker room, which would not be a terrible thing unto itself, but inevitably, in this cavernous, mostly unpopulated space, a woman will stroll over and take the locker right next to yours . You will try not to look but oh god peripheral vision. You have to squeeze yourself into your five-year-old, pilly Lycra-infused pants and witness the horror of the visible panty lines. You suffer a glimpse of yourself in a full-length mirror, an object you have very wisely banned from your home.

Then you go to the Cardio Station (do they perform open-heart surgeries there? It would be a welcome distraction) and you put on your iPod and commence to feeling the burn and so forth. You imagine the elliptical trainer is the damn gym accountant and you step on his head again and again. Your freak-outedness begins to dissipate.

But then! A beefy personal trainer (is there any other kind?) keeps entering the room and peering directly at you, the sole enjoyer of Cardio. You try not to worry, but that’s what your brain is good at these days. There he is, back again. Oh god, is he going to come over and tell me I’m doing something wrong? Is he going to—oh please no—correct my form? Or did I commit some terrible breach of gym etiquette? Oh please let me be done before he comes back. And then you realize: you don’t have a towel with you. And you’re sweating all over the handlebars. You are gross. You are what you always loathed at the gym. The sweat-leaving person. You jerk.

Now he’s back with another trainer, and they’re standing in the corner, pretending not to be talking about you. One of them has a towel wrapped around his neck. It’s an obvious message.

You finish five minutes early because you can’t stand it anymore, rush past the trainers, get a wad of paper towels from the bathroom, and purposefully wipe down the handles, as the responsible gym-goer you are. Anyway, with your iPod off you can hear what they’re talking about and it’s something about their hours or their quads, or both, but anyway it’s not about you.

At least your conscience (and the elliptical machine) is clean.

So after you’re done with your comic approximation of stretching, you return to the locker room, where Next Door Locker Lady is just emerging from the steam room and she says hello. Oh god do you have to talk with her now? Sweet Moses, do you have to make small talk when you’re both naked?

After a quick retreat to the showers and subsequent drying, dressing, etc, you head to the elevator. Standing at the elevator is a cadre of seven-foot-tall, confident athletic types, all dressed in revealing workout costumes. Undoubtedly they Take It to the Max on a daily basis, right after they Push It to the Extreme. And you have to stand among them, with your workout clothes in a plastic shopping bag. The group includes the "your money is not worth the effort" salesperson and the trainer who had been staring at you over at The Cardiac Center. No.

You duck into the stairwell and head down the stairs.

And you set off the alarms.

While racing back up the stairs, you see the sign, cleverly angled so that you can’t read it as you head down the stairs: DO NOT GO DOWN THE STAIRS ALARM WILL SOUND. You get back to the elevator, and there they all are, looking at you. “Ha ha!” you say. “That sure woke me up!” No one says anything.

Anxiety: returned!


Reader Comments (106)

Yeah. Walking is better.

You just need the right terrain. Something with a lot of hills and a dog park where Charlie can run free and gift the trees. And from the sounds of it, terraforming may be just as easy as getting a gym membership.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLaurieM
I'm sorry, but that, my friend was HYSTERICAL.

March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSherry
I know at the gym I hve never ever once seen a person that I think looks worse than me. They could have fat rolls on their skull and I would think they obviously looked 10 times better than me somehow. So, if the rest of the world is anything like me, people are looking at you and thinking "Wow, she has awesome calves" or upper arms, or whatever.

The moreal of the story is making other people's insecurities work for you.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterchristy
Man, I think just getting signed up for 6 weeks would have been all the exercise I could take. Well, I mean, until next Spring, then I'd be willing to do it again.

Too bad eating red Skittles isn't considered exercise. I could excel at that.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJust Linda
If your gym is the gym I think it is, check out the Sunday sculpt class taught a nice lady named Karen. I went back this weekend for the first time in months and months, and her class was thorough and thoroughly unscary.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWeeze
I finally joined a gym. I've never really worked out in my life, but I'm 32 and figured it's time to start. So the first time I make myself go and I walk in all anxious and self-conscious and head purposefully toward the treadmill (the only machine I know how to work) and who do I bump into but my ex-boyfriend from 5 years ago! That sinking feeling in my stomach was enough of a workout for me. And he's there every time I go. I mean each of the three times I went. I haven't been back.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterErin
I don't know about the gym, but this entry gave my abs a work-out, what with the laughy-laughy guffawing it engendered.

Actually, I am officially two-months in to a gym membership and know well the naked chatty and judgmental trainers of whom you speak. I've never cottoned to the classes, but have been regularly dragged to Total.Body.Conditioning with a deceptively diminutive teacher for a month. She scares the pants off me, especially when she shrieks, "WORK IT BLUE TANK TOP! DO IT FOR YOURSELF, NOT ME!"
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
I think you mentioned you were moving to Bloomfield, NJ. If you're willing to drive a bit, the YMCA in Montclair is really great -- better than most NYC health clubs, and does monthly memberships (at around $35 or $40 for a family). Maybe there's a good Y closer to you. Just a thought. I hate those awful fitness clubs and all their stupid contracts and rules.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdirtgirl
I donate to a gym that is across the street from my apartment and still I never go. I keep meaning to cancel but am afraid I will be confronted by a sinister cabal of professional-healthy-people demanding that I stay and get in shape. I do think exercise is excellent for anxiety, though, I just prefer to do it in relative privacy.I hope your nerves stop whirring and give you a break, already.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAlexa
Haha I swear you wrote this about me. I definitely rock the plastic shopping bag as the ultimate gym accessory. Oh, and it doubles as a great lunchbag too. So versatile, those plastic bags.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmber
Bless your heart.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterE
LMAO. I am sorry about your difficulties -- the membership hassles! the alarms! -- but wow, what an awesome story.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter(another) Nancy
Oh geeze. That sounded like a whole lot of mental stress, but you WENT! I, like yourself, hate money and have been paying a monthly gym membership since December to a place I have gone 6 times. I should really start going. You also just made me realise that I can not use my Shuffle at Curves because I won't be able to hear the station changes. Hmm....

On another note: What is wrong with the people who run your gym?No six weeks! Two months! No two months! Six Weeks!

I would have been taking out my anger on the machines as well.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSparklieSunShine
Your awesome post reminded me why I hate gyms. I like exercise (er, sort of), but IMHO there are other ways to do it that are more fun and less scary. Like swimming. Okay, so there's the whole bathing suit thing, but while you're in the water, no one can really see you.

The other day I went for a walk in the giant park that's half a block from my apartment (where I've lived for a year, yet I've been in the park about four times). There were women jogging while pushing baby strollers - you know, the expensive, trendy ones with huge wheels. There were also nonscary people. But I was sore after an hour. Of walking!

This from a person who harbours fantasies of being an extreme-outdoors-adventure sort of person. Day hiking (which I've done), long-distance kayaking/sailing/canoeing, mountain climbing, rock climbing, backpacking, touring on horseback or bicycle... Sigh. Roughing it sounds exciting, but I bet I'd actually hate it.

March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterspaulson
I am in a similar situation - I have been sending money to Curves, my gym of choice, for close to 2 years now. It seemed ideal - lots of women older/fatter than me! Huzzah! And no men! Also, 30-minute workouts, in which you change your activity every 90 seconds... perfect for my ADD brain. And one benefit that I'd clearly overlooked, never having been a member at a "real" gym before - NO NAKED LOCKER ROOM.

So how is it that with all those great benefits, it's been well over 16 months since I've last set foot in the building, yet I still let them take my money (direct from my account - these people are so clever) every month?? I must hate money too.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSara
I also gave money to a gym that I always *meant* to use. Prior to that, I joined a Big Gym for Lots o' Money and cancelled in the same day. That one sent out the Lycra-clad Amazon to try to dissuade me, and talking her down was apparently enough exercise to last me for years. ;^) Good for you for actually going!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
this was a quite brilliant post. during my brief gym tenure i tried the elliptical 3 or 4 times, and whenever i thot i was getting it, i'd end up falling out/off of it somehow. kind of like breathing i guess. when you sit there and think about the breath going in and out in and out, you get all screwed up and hyperventilate. anyway. good for you, alice. and i know the house stuff i super stressful. hang in there.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkristin
when i asked to have a trainer show me the ropes with the circuit machines, they signed me up with the geriatric specialist. which at first i was kinda bummed about, but then i realized it made me much less self-conscious. after all, if granny can do it, so can i! and since there ARE a lot of grams and gramps at my gym (hence the geriatric trainer) it takes some (but not all) of the loathsomeness away.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
I just started back to the gym after an ankle fracture (on my honeymoon, no less). The gym is attached to my PT's office.

I am v. v. out of shape having been in a cast for 8 weeks. And I have a limp.

One of those beefy personal trainers you wrote of came over this morning and tried to correct my form (egads! leave me the hell alone!). I had to lift the leg of my loose workout pants to reveal my ankle brace. "Oh," he said "I thought you were just weird."

Seriously, that is what the man said to me. After the gym? I may've decided never to return while downing a creamy beverage from the local coffeehouse.

March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
I just started back to the gym after an ankle fracture (on my honeymoon, no less). The gym is attached to my PT's office.

I am v. v. out of shape having been in a cast for 8 weeks. And I have a limp.

One of those beefy personal trainers you wrote of came over this morning and tried to correct my form (egads! leave me the hell alone!). I had to lift the leg of my loose workout pants to reveal my ankle brace. "Oh," he said "I thought you were just weird."

Seriously, that is what the man said to me. After the gym? I may've decided never to return while downing a creamy beverage from the local coffeehouse.

March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
Ah, the humiliation we put ourselves through in the quest for sanity. I recently started a class at a dance studio that involves a lot of painful stretching and the mircophone headset wearing instructors call you out by NAME when your form is incorrect. They demoted me from full size ballet bar to the American Girl Doll size ballet bar as I have the flexibility of an 80 year old. Even with the constant humilation- it's like catholic school all over again- I am finding that I feel much better afterwards. It really will help, and it's only for six weeks! By the end you'll be able to walk into any gym in NJ and Take it to the Max with the best of them.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJ
Oh, did I laugh at this one...

First time poster, long-time lurker. I work on a college campus where I belong to the rec center gym because it's super-cheap for staff.

Now, imagine trying to squeeze in a quick workout in a room absolutely packed with noo-bile 18-year-olds. Not so motivating when you're in your early 30's, trying to bounce back from your first pregnancy. Well, rather than bouncing back, perhaps jiggling back. Not only is everyone more lean, flexible, and beautiful than I am, but large numbers of these young women (and the occasional man who braves the circuit-training room instead of the raw-brawn free weight room) have more muscles than Michaelangelo's David. They all have I-Pods and gear from Outdoor Divas, while my really great brand-spanking-new self-motivating workout pants came from the sale rack at Target. And I will not go into locker-room detail except that, dear god, some of these girls NEVER get off a cell phone.

I take secret glee in imagining them in 10 years with c-section scars occasionally. I have accepted that I am an evil person.
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentergrad03
Just think - in that beautiful new house of yours, there might be enough room for your own elliptical or treadmill, thus avoiding sweaty Naked Chatters forever!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkrissa cavouras
And I thought I was the only person whose gym life mirrored a Lucy episode. I revolve my workouts around the least amount of women in the locker room as possible. I rush in and try to change in the least amount of time as possible. (I think I'm down to 30seconds).
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTricia
Thank you. You just lived my worst nightmare, and you're still alive! I now have faith in the future! lol!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSteph

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