Gyms have always intimidated me. I hate it. Never has a place made me feel so vulnerable, so…less. It can be hard to stay active when most of my job encompasses sitting at a desk, typing on a computer most of the day. I am normally relatively confident of myself. Put me in a gym, and it’s gone. I’ve acted on stage for hundreds of people (even with Judy Collins once, which was SO cool), given a speech with 15 minutes to prepare and received a standing ovation (though, this could have been because I was one of the youngest people in the room), navigated the murky waters of interviews. But gyms simply terrify me. Go figure.

I feel less worthy than other people to be there, I feel as though everyone is watching me, judging me, looking at the slow time on my mile run, or the speed, or the position I’m in, or laughing at me trying to figure out how to use a particular machine. Those machines…equipment? are in no way intuitive.

Put me in circus camp – I’m game.

I tried to break my fear once. I enrolled in a “Fitness” class during my last year of college. It wasn’t for the easy A. I knew I needed to be more active, and learn to use some of the equipment. My ex had tried once to teach me about muscles and stretching and why people don’t do full situps anymore, and running, and on and on. I needed less science, more doing. So I showed up, without much of a clue about where the actual workout room was, let alone what to wear there. I glanced nervously at the room; there were two levels. Great, more people to see, watch, judge.

Approaching the man I assumed to be my instructor, I signed in and stood there. Finally I asked him what I should do.

“People usually just do their own workouts and leave.”

I told him I didn’t have one, that I didn’t even know where to start. I don’t think he expected to actually teach. Before he took on the challenge, he just had to make sure:

“You’re not…” I could already tell what it was. “trying to, uh, lose weight, are you?”

“No. I just want to be healthy.”

He was relieved. That was over with.

Anyway, he showed me how to use a couple of things, set up a routine for me, walked me through it (which was hilarious: a new football coach, he wore slacks and nice shoes, so watching him demonstrate on a machine or do crunches on the mat while passing a giant yoga ball from his feet to his arms was entertaining).

This week, I decided to finally take advantage of the gym in my building. Thanks to another co-worker’s astute notion that given our summer workload we won’t have any motivation to work out when the day is done, I decided to wake up an hour earlier than usual and start my day with a workout.

Monday: OK, fine, I chickened out. I got up, I put in a DVD (shame written all over my face) and worked out for half an hour on my carpet.

Tuesday, today: Got up, put real clothes on, hair up, iPod ready, water bottle ready…took the stairs down! Tried the wrong door for the gym; there are a series of doors but only one is unlocked. Apparently. Used my fob to get in the correct door, feeling like an idiot.

Maybe it was something about the morning hour, or the fact that there were only 3 or 4 other people in there with me, or the way everyone else was completely in their own zone. I felt better. My time for my mile was awful, but I felt better. Less intimidated. I did my thing, I left. It was easier than I thought it would be.

You know what? Maybe gyms aren’t so bad. Maybe people are just focusing on their own workouts, not paying attention to me. Maybe no one is judging because they’ve all been where I am. Or not. Everyone has different goals. I have to keep all this in mind.

Hopefully tomorrow will be the same (but with a better time). Here’s to breaking my irrational fear of the gym.

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