“Comparison is the death of joy.” This quote is attributed to Mark Twain but I first heard it retold by Brené Brown. I think about it a lot. I like to paraphrase it dramatically and say “comparison is where joy GOES TO DIE.” I spend a lot of time, comparing my life to that of other people, mainly my friends. This is really hard because for the most part I am in a completely different place in my life than my friends who are, for the most, 15 or more years older than me. I understand this is unhealthy and so I am actively practicing NOT comparing my life to my friends or random strangers who seem to have all their shit together.
The place I can’t stop comparing myself to others is at the gym. There is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, especially when it pushes us to go a little further. The problem is that I am bulimic, so my self-image is irrationally distorted. I look at other women and think, “damn, she is so skinny. Why can’t I be that skinny? I guess I should work harder.” Often times I am looking at a woman who is proportionately the same size or larger than me. Again messed up bulimic thoughts. I’m trying.
Recognizing that my body image is screwed up I try to keep my comparison to ability. Watching how many reps someone is doing, what weight they are lifting, how long they have been on the elliptical, what incline they are using on the tread climber. This is clearly healthier and more productive (but not actually healthy or productive, I know).
Two days ago I was on the tread climber and hitting my stride at a decent speed and full incline. I felt good. I have always tried to aim for a high heart rate. Magically, as I age that heart rate doesn’t have to be as high for the same results. The same heart rate that was endurance training ten years ago is athletic conditioning now. SCORE! Anyway, there was a woman on the machine next to me. She was a large woman, close to 300 pounds I’d guess, and it looked like she was struggling. I peeked over and she was working at a 0.8 speed and no incline. After 15 minutes she hadn’t completed a lap. What I wanted to say is “good for you! You have to start somewhere.”
I looked at my own monitor. In five minutes I’d done two laps at a 5 incline. Then it occurred to me. What if I am HER skinny bitch? What if I am the person who is making her feel bad about herself, her abilities, or her progress? That made me feel pretty shitty. I hope she doesn’t get discouraged and that I see her again so I can give her a smile.
Today, I got on the tread climber next to an athletic looking woman who had been on her machine the entire time I did my weight circuit. She had done almost half an hour, her heart rate was steady between 160 and 172, 5 incline, speed of 3.6! DAMN! I thought to myself “I can do this! Let’s do it!” After 3 minutes I was short of breath and my legs were weak. I have not slept much. I forgot to use my inhaler before I left the house and all in all I had set myself up for gym failure. But I kept going because I didn’t want this complete stranger to judge me. I thought “surely she will stop at 30 minutes so then I can cop out without notice. But 30 minutes came and went and she just kept on. Same incline. Same speed.
I sped up but decreased my incline to give the illusion I was pushing it. After six minutes it occurred to me how absolutely ridiculous the situation was. I was bordering on an asthma attack and was so tired I felt like I may slide right of my machine and smack my head on the panel. I hit the emergency stop button. I wasn’t dying, but I didn’t want to die either. I got my water bottle and my gloves, wiped down the machine and slowly walked away.
Did the woman next to me take notice at my less than impressive cardio efforts? Maybe? Maybe she did and felt sorry for me. Maybe she did and was like “damn, that’s all she has to do to stay in shape.” Or maybe she didn’t even notice I had arrived or left because she was focused on herself and her routine. Regardless, I felt power in walking away. Half the struggle for me is just getting to the gym. So this morning I was tired and feeling a little gross and could have skipped all together but I didn’t. I got dressed and went to the gym where I did a mediocre workout but walked away with something even better: authenticity. I was true to myself and my needs in the end.
Comparison isn’t where joy goes to die, it’s where I go to die (at the gym). We all have different abilities. Different physical limitations. I have asthma, arthritis and a torn meniscus. I have chronic pain from old injuries and recurring tension headaches that can be explained by dealing with my abusive ex-husband or pick any other from my list of traumas. But I’m trying. I’m not perfect, and maybe that’s ok. Will I still sneak a peek at the machine next to me? Of course, but I feel like today was a step in the right direction.