Taking Care of Me

I really like going to the gym. Even at my heaviest, I went to the gym five times a week, at a minimum. Sometimes I went every day. Sometimes I skipped a Sunday, especially when I had to clean bird cages.

When I first joined a gym I went after school, but I found that challenging. I’d come home tired and wanting alone time, but because I had a gym membership, I felt obligated to go. Once there, I’d relax. And I’d feel proud that I had changed clothes and made the effort.

A year into that membership I started getting up at 4:00 AM to be at the gym by 4:15 when it opened. I’d exercise for an hour, then come home and get ready for work. Again, I felt proud of myself. After all, this meant sacrifice, right? But I am a morning person, so it worked.

After my first knee replacement, it was hard getting back into that morning routine. In fact, it took months before I could do much of anything except ride a bike and use some of the weight machines. Mike would drive me to the gym, then come back in an hour to get me. It hurt, but exercise loosened up my knee and made it function properly.

After some investigation I discovered that the gym in the town where I worked opened at 6:00 AM. I could sleep in a little longer, eat breakfast, feed the birds, then leave. There I walked in the water. Back and forth, back and forth, getting in as many laps as I could. Then I would shower and dress for work, teach all day, feeling proud of myself.

I lost weight. And gained weight. Each time I had surgery or broke something or a knee fell apart, I’d gain weight. Then I’d return to the gym as soon as I could and lose weight, but never as much as I had gained. It felt like I was a hamster in a wheel, spinning around and around and going backwards.

I joined Weight Watchers. That helped. I loved the expectations because they were reasonable and doable. I lost weight. In fact, altogether about thirty pounds. I gave away my too-big clothes and gleefully bought new.

But then another surgery, weight gain, bigger clothes. I was caught in a cycle that seemed to have no end.

The one consistency in my life was exercise. Every day that I could, I was at the gym. I walked in the water until my knee was strong enough and then I swam. I’d go to my gym nights and weekends. I kept my weight under control and even lost a few pounds.

Last year I was told that I needed surgery but the surgeon would not operate until I’d lost a considerable amount of weight. That was my motivation.

Interestingly enough, my exercise routine has not changed. I swim up to five days a week. I work with weight machines at least two. I use the elliptical and stationary bike at least two.

Since I’ve been retired I go out walking with my husband every day, except when it’s raining.

And I love it all. I love swimming. I feel sleek and powerful in the water even though I am not the fastest swimmer. But once I start, I don’t stop until I’ve swum a half mile. At the end, I feel tired, but proud.

When I am using the machines, I get embarrassed because of my floppy arms, but I push and pull over and over, knowing that what I am doing will make me stronger. And I feel proud.

On the elliptical and bike I challenge myself to up the ante by increasing friction and moving longer. It’s tiring, but it feels awesome.

Every single time I exercise, I smile. I am doing it for me. All for me, and that’s what makes it so special and meaningful.

When I had small kids, I did things for them. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I did things for Mike as well. I cooked and cleaned and shopped because I loved taking care of my family. I loved being with them and watching them grow physically, emotionally and mentally.

I took care of many dogs and cats and eventually birds. I did it out of love. They loved me back, which felt great. Well, maybe the birds didn’t love me, but they “talked” to me when I spoke to them.

I still have responsibilities at home, but Mike has shouldered many of them since he retired. I no longer grocery shop or cook or wash dishes or run the vacuum or push dust around. We share responsibility for the cat, but the birds are mine.

What I do have is time for me, and while there are many ways that I divvy up that time, a good portion still goes to exercise. I eagerly put on the right clothes and head out. I look forward to going, knowing that after lunch, my usual time, is dedicated to taking care of me.

We all need to do that. To set aside portions of every day that belong to us. Time when we do what we want to do, not what we need to do or are expected to do.

If you haven’t done that yet, give it a try. It’s amazing how wonderful you’ll feel.

About Terry Connelly

Terry Connelly is a retired high school English teacher. She earned her BA and Single Subject Teaching credential from California State University of the East Bay, in Hayward, California. She taught for 18 years at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, California. She was gifted to work with both College Prep students and those with learning disabilities.
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