Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Ongoing Battle with the Gym

Remember in a past post how I talked about my ongoing battle with social anxiety and dysmorphia?

I have found there this no single place where I feel these feelings stronger than in the gym.

It’s really not in the way you’re thinking—I don’t feel inferior to a lot of the girls there or wish my body looked more like theirs. Somehow I’m able to look past that and honestly I’m not sure how.

No, my issue is with looking like a total freaking idiot on those torture machines, or worse, being CORRECTED by one of the many self-righteous men that strut about and grunt.

A little background: for as long as I can remember I’ve been a perfectionist, one of the many reasons why I suck at competitive activity. Rob and I tried to play MarioKart against each other once on our Nintendo DSs and I got so angry when I started to lose that I’d shut mine off, ending our game without his consent. I once screamed at my brother-in-law for stealing one of my answers in a game of SceneIt. Both of these things happened in my 20s. Yep, I’m that cool.

Suffice it to say I live in constant fear of criticism or correction. Truthfully I’ve gotten a lot better about it, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t relive every single second of a social interaction to see what I could’ve said that might’ve offended or made me sound stupid.

Once I started going to the gym I was already at a disadvantage – I’d never actually had a fitness regimen in my life, let alone use gym machines in any sort of correct or effective manner. Complicate this with the fact that my tattoo artist frequents our gym at around the same time we go and this makes for a very awkward Caitlin.

In the beginning Rob would go with me and patiently show me how to use the machines, how to adjust them, how many repetitions to do, etc. It was fine for him to teach me but god forbid he correct me once I started doing the actual exercise—sometimes I’d get so flustered I’d leave to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom to escape my embarrassment.

This seems a lot more ridiculous than I thought now that I’m writing it all out.

Anyway, as the school year started up again Rob and I would go to the gym at different times I had to learn to ignore everyone else and do my thing.

Here’s a little peek into my gym experience: to avoid correction, judgment, correction or critique, I only use machines I absolutely know how to use/adjust, or will learn to use/adjust a machine 100% by sight before using it. It literally took every bit of courage I’ve ever had in my life to start going into the weight room, where the more “serious” people work out, and even now I will only use the free weights (I should say that I carry them all the way into a less-populated area to do my free weight exercises) and the bench press, as well as the rope-pulley thing to work out my triceps.

Rob will describe in detail a new exercise that I should try in the weight room, and my general methodology will be to walk into the weight room, stand around all authoritatively while I figure out in about 10 seconds if I can effectively do the exercise without looking totally awkward and weird, and if I can’t I walk out and eliminate that workout for the day (or find some other less-obvious and easier way to do the same thing).

My other issue on top of my fear of looking like an idiot is socialization in the gym. Rob and I are from a very small area and because we go to the gym at around the same time every day we see the same people, more specifically our tattoo artist. As if it wasn’t hard enough to figure out how to effectively communicate with someone who I only see when I’m getting a tattoo, I have to figure out how, when, and when not to do it in a place where people don’t usually communicate. What I generally do in the response to this stress is avoid eye contact with just about everyone and stare at my feet.

Basically, I feel like an alien who is trying to learn human social rules. I feel like everyone is staring at the lumpy awkward girl in the corner using the dip machine incorrectly.

Good part of this is that my mind gets a workout while I’m exercising my body.

Does anyone else overthink every single action and word? Anyone else have trouble with criticism?


  1. "Basically, I feel like an alien who is trying to learn human social rules. I feel like everyone is staring at the lumpy awkward girl in the corner using the dip machine incorrectly."


    i hate the gym for the same reasons. a few times i've taken the time (and worked up the nerve) to read the instructions on a machine, but ONLY if there are almost no people around. otherwise, i just hop on the elliptical and call it a day. :D

  2. I have been thinking about writing a post about my own social anxiety/ awkwardness. I think that to a certain degree, everyone feels weird at certain points. It's important to remember that, breathe, and do what you wanted to do. It also helps to just keep thinking, "Why do I care what other people think? I don't!"

  3. There are lots of reasons I hate the gym and this is one of them. I have no idea how to use the machines, what order to do the exercises in or how much weight I should use. My husband showed me once, but once isn't enough for me to remember. He is a very patient teacher with everyone...except me. In all fairness, I can learn from almost anyone but him - with him I'm a terrible student. Not a good combination.

    I also find the gym smelly, boring and the noise grates on my nerves. So there you have it. My monthly membership fee is basically a donation. You're welcome, Planet Fitness.

  4. I'm also a perfectionist, and I can have a difficult time with criticism-- but I never connected the two things! So your post has really got me thinking about it now.

    One thing I've noticed is that the more I care about someone, the tougher it is for me to deal with criticism from them. I guess I'm wayyy more of a people-pleaser than I'd like to admit.


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