Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Keeping the Wolves at Bay

When things are going well, I exercise a lot.
When I exercise a lot, things go well.

These are not mere coincidences.  When things are going well, I exercise a lot, and I feel great, which means I look at least halfway decent (or, as I now hear so often “good for my age”*) and people sometimes say to me, admiringly, “Wow.  You exercise a lot.  You must really enjoy it.”

Heh.  No. I do not “enjoy” exercise. 

I think anyone who says they enjoy exercise is either a.) lying, b.) counting sex as exercise, or c.) constitutionally made up of very different material than I.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy how I feel after exercise, and I enjoy how I feel in general when I am chronically (regularly) exercising.  But during?  Not so much.  The only thing I really like less than the exercise itself are the moments leading up to exercise, when I have that tedious but necessary wrestling match with my own motivation, in which I try to get it to exercise and it tries to get me to lay down and think about it, preferably over a margarita.  And every time I think, “Really?  Do we really have to have this discussion again?” and my motivation says “I can’t hear you! It must be the way this fluffy soft pillow cushions my tired head.  You should come over here and try it.”

I always tell people: I do not exercise because I enjoy it.  I exercise because it keeps the wolves at bay.  I tell them this because it is true, but also because I don’t want inadvertently to give anyone the luxury of thinking that they, themselves, should postpone exercising until it sounds enjoyable.   Because I want everyone to radiate with healthy living!  And also because misery loves company, bitches. So lace up those shoes and Let’s do this!

Last week in therapy, I was talking about how I haven’t been exercising enough lately.  I blame injuries, and a crazy work schedule, and single parenthood, and a new boyfriend who is loads more fun than jogging.  This is salient, because the wolves have begun to circle again. 

Here is what my diet looks like when I’m exercising and feeling good:

“A wheatgreass shot, you say?  Ah, let’s make it a double! And chase it with a kale-yogurt-chia seed smoothie!”

And here is what my diet looks like when I’m trying to feed the wolves before they devour me: “Om-nom-nom-chocolate! Ohmygod, are those pickles? Can they be deep-fried? Wait, no! smothered in BLUE CHEESE! Wait, how old is that cheese? Well, I guess it’s supposed to be moldy…maybe I can just scrape off the pink fuzzy bits…gah, the girls are gonna want dinner when they get home…guess we’ll just have to get quesatacos! With a side of caramel-stuffed churros!

I can tell the wolves are closing in when the bingeing is followed by self-loathing, when the Freak Chorus in my head begins to sing a round of its favorite refrain: fatstupiduglyworthless.  Yet, rather than take this as my cue to start working out again, my idiot motivation says things like, “Vomiting would be so much easier, you know. Or just not eating for an entire day.  That will make you feel skinny** again!”

[Fear not, gentle readers, I am inoculated against anorexia by how very much I love food, and against bulimia by how very much I hate to throw up.  Even in the throes of food poisoning, I will go to superhuman lengths to try to avoid vomiting.]

So I was in therapy, talking about all of this, and I wondered aloud to Raymond if I needed a different image than wolves. I feel kind of bad for the wolves, especially after that Little Red Riding Hood/Three Little Pigs frame-up, and there was a part of me that wants to have the wolves on my side.  I don’t want to picture them hungry, salivating, staring at me with incendiary yellow eyes.

I want to picture them as protecting and loving.  In my head, the wolves and me should be like this: 

"I think it’s a good image," Raymond says.  “Because the wolves chew at you; they come at you in packs, taking you down one bite at a time, wearing away your strength.”

He has a point.

Also, it occurred to me how much I hate that sort of romanticization, anyway.  Nature, though I love it dearly, is anything but romantic.  Nature has a single, cold calculus: fitness.  Anything which enhances the fitness of an individual and therefore the likelihood of the species continuing is good, anything that impedes its fitness is bad, the end. Though I love cuddly mom-and-baby-wildlife pictures as anyone with a heart, I cringe a little every time I hear an animal described as a “good mother.”  Who are we to compare the “goodness” of the polar bear mother that fiercely defends her offspring to the “goodness” of the cannibal burying beetle? In the end, the only arbiter that counts is the propagation of the species.

So I went for a jog tonight. To keep the wolves at bay.  It’s an arrangement of mutual respect: I acknowledge their strength and power and hunger. And they acknowledge mine.

*Bonus: when I am exercising a lot, I can also run down and pummel any punkass kid who tells me I look good for my age.)

** By which it means “loveable.”

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