Ever have one of those days when you just want to toss in the towel?
Yesterday I came damn close.
My gym attendance is the one thing I've been doing to put myself out amongst other men, in person, and more importantly, to feel like one.
I went yesterday; it was leg day, something I never look forward to as I can be pretty hard on myself. I skipped the gym over the holidays, so this was my first time back after a hiatus of a week or so.
We are at the brink of the vacuous hole that is the next two months, and winter was on time with the coldest weather yet. To add to the gloom a cold was making itself known, I had that weary washed-out feeling, like a wraith.
I signed in at the desk, watching the staff ignore me. I've stopped acknowledging their presence in return for their cessation of acknowledging mine. Doesn't bother me anymore.
Warmup felt good, but then to the task at hand. I head on over to the corner squat rack, do a few warmup sets bar-only, and then put on what to me should have been a modicum of weight. I stand up, and am surprised to feel the terrible weight of the thing digging into my shoulders. My whole body tensed with the strain uneasily. I do a set, only my experience in proper form carrying me through. The weight gets returned to the rack with an uncharacteristically loud clang and I collapse on the bar.
In exhaustion I look over at my reflection in the mirror. I see a haggard, sad old man staring back. “Why am I doing this? Why am I even at this horrible place that perennially reminds me what an oddball of a man I am? This whole better-man thing is an illusion.” These poisonous thoughts come out and I do nothing to stop them, just stand there getting my breath back, thinking them.
Funny how these moments come, often without warning, testing our character. What I do in the gym is one of the few manly triumphs I've had at this time of my life, and with the exception of some good online advice, all on my own. I was so ready to toss in the towel, leave the gym at that point. And if I know myself I would not be back, eventually returning to being a pear-shaped, body-hating, now-middle-aged, non-man. Because this failure, this retreat will trigger others in a ripple affect, till I'm right back where I started from.
All these thoughts took place in the timed interval till the next set.
What did I do? I shut my mind off and got right back under that bar. Did it again, this time I paused with the bar on me, feeling it’s weight bearing down. “I will do this.” I thought. “I will not give up.” staring resolutely at myself in the mirror.
Simple thoughts, but they got the job done. Did another set, and this time it did not feel so daunting. My last set when I should have been tired I instead added more weight, and I was surprised how well I did. I was back in the groove.
I left the gym, tired, actually feeling less sick, and happy. I had faced yet another inner demon and defeated it. How many of us succumb to giving up, when all we need to do is persevere just a little.
In the battle to become a better man, I may have not made any advances lately, but at least I've avoided retreat.