aging · fitness

On exercise, love, anxiety and identity

On Monday, Sam posted to say she’s sorry for saying that we have to love exercise. She related some of her recent experiences here (edited for excerpts):

Things feel a lot more complicated since osteoarthritis and advanced cartilage degradation made me a candidate for knee replacement…

…Maybe after the book promotion I have to stop saying “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” There are a lot of things in life that I do but I don’t love. These days a lot of exercise feels to me to fall into that category. Knee physio can be tedious and sometimes painful. And I do it most days. There’s no way to love it. You watch Netflix to distract. You give yourself rewards for finishing. I need to do it but there’s little joy in it.

Instead, I take pride in my grit and determination, in my resolve.

These words really struck me. You see, I’ve taken pride and comfort in and felt gratitude about my identity as an athlete. I first sat on a horse at age 2.5 (I had some help getting up), played tennis at age 7, started team squash at 22, rode bikes intermittently my whole life, and took up cycling as a major pursuit at 43. Along the way I’ve canoed, kayaked, swum, walked, done yoga, tried to run (which just doesn’t work for me), downhill skied, skated, cross country skied, tried scuba (which does work for me but is too expensive), and ridden horses whenever I got the chance.

I’m an athlete, I tell people.

Fast-forward to now, at age 56. I don’t love exercise. I mean, I love the feelings of movement–these days I focus on yoga and cycling– but it’s so much harder for me. Why?  A combo of things: with menopause has come a huge wave of ever-present anxiety. About everything. I’ve always had anxiety, and lately been taking medication for it.  However, the meds no longer are doing the trick of lowering the anxiety to a manageable level.

Also, menopause has brought on other symptoms, like insomnia, feelings of increased heat (not hot flashes exactly, but I just run hotter), more fatigue, and also did I mention increased anxiety?

Then there’s the increased weight, brought on by– what? Menopause? Anxiety-provoked eating? Less exercise because of fatigue/anxiety/etc.? Less self-care in feeding myself? At any rate, it’s here.

I am doing all the things in response to this state:

  • continued therapy
  • just started HRT
  • seeing about changing up meds
  • harnessing social connections to do more movement
  • trying to be accepting of my body now and what it can and wants to do
  • work on self care as I can

But it pretty much sucks.

In January, I made a big list of physical activity goals, including some charity rides and long organized rides with friends. I honestly don’t know if I can do all of them. My very nice friends see this and are being sensitive and helpful (thanks, friends!).  But it still sucks. Just saying.

My first charity ride is June 10, for Bikes Not Bombs. I love this organization, and I love this ride. I’ve done it several times and it is really fun and collegial.

So I’m doing it.  My plan is to do the 30-mile ride. I have ridden about 30 miles at a time this spring, and I know I can do it. It’s a matter of how long I take and how non-fun it will feel. But I’m an athlete– I do physical things even when they are not fun. Why? Because movement makes me feel so very good at some point in the process. These days, that point tends not to be during, but after. Okay.  I’ll take it.  And I’ll post to let you know how it goes.  And as always, thanks for reading– you are the best!



6 thoughts on “On exercise, love, anxiety and identity

  1. Catherine, I always appreciate so much your vulnerability and openness to sharing your full present self. I have a friend who always values people who “show up” more than anything else, and I think you embody that.

    One of the things I find really meaningful about this blog and blog community is how it has evolved from Sam and Tracy’s initial quest — which I so admire and appreciate — into a full exploration in so many voices of what it means to be strong, what it means to yearn to be strong but experience faltering in so many different ways, what it means to maintain and sustain the complex notion of health in all of our own personal ways. It really is about living with and being in our bodies with the fullest possible awareness — whatever that means for us as humans at that moment in time.

    Sending you a huge hug of gratitude for who you are.

  2. Thanks for sharing Sam. I’m going through so many of the same things now at this time of my life and I don’t feel so alone and weird when you talk about it.

  3. Thanks Cate for putting that so perfectly. And thanks Catherine for being so open and honest. It’s not easy these days, not fun, but the life of the body is still central to who I am. And in a way that makes things harder not easier because I can’t just do other things.

  4. Thanks for sharing. Just for the heck of it, if your doctor hasn’t checked your thyroid levels recently, it might be worth doing. They wander out of norm for many of us as we age and being off can cause mental/psychological issues like anxiety that can seem not physically-based at all!

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