Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The gym experience

My fitness in recent years has been something that I have felt has become very important to me. I remember starting running back in the time when I was dealing with coming out and how it would help me find the time to deal with all the thoughts and feelings such a process would evoke. 

I always found running to be the most useful of all exercise for this reason. When I reached the start of the process that leads to surgery, I knew that I had to do something about my weight. I was obese at the time and I embarked on a plan to lose that weight so that it would not be another barrier to stopping me getting what I desperately needed. I started running every day with a five o'clock in the morning start. I found a lovely route where we lived at the time, along the river Tone and then back along the canal. This not only helped me lose my weight and actually bring to a healthy level of fitness but also helped me with all the issues I was having getting to the surgery.

The surgery itself obviously put a halt to all of this and I slowly started to gain weight. Once I was given the all clear by the surgeon, I did restart running. Initially I was surprised at how little fitness I lost and within eight weeks of restarting, I ran a half marathon distance. Soon after this though, I started to encounter some issues and found I was struggling with a strange kind of fatigue when exercising. I learnt a few months later that it was possibly high levels of oestrogen. Once I dealt with this, the running became easier but I had gained some more weight and kind of lost my running mojo. At the start of this year, I signed up for the Taunton marathon and found this gave me the inspiration to really work at it again. Nine days into this, all of a sudden there was a sharp pain in my right ankle and I realised there was something wrong with my Achilles tendon. I limped over three miles back home and that was the end of that for a time.

I turned my attention towards my swimming instead but with our wedding in April and a holiday in June, the weight continued to climb and I eventually reached the point where my weight was back to where it was prior to losing it all in 2014. We (Mandy and myself) were finding the public swimming pool was becoming a difficult environment. Apparently they often get busier through the spring and school holidays are an absolute nightmare. I had some problems and felt management were ignorant of my issues. We decided at that point we would explore the possibility of joining one of the gym's in Taunton. We knew that the Nuffield in the town centre had a 20 meter pool and whilst this was not so long as the public pool, it would still be good enough for our fitness needs. 

We phoned them on the day that we had had a bad experience in the public pool and within a couple hours found ourselves being given a tour of the facilities. We both felt it had a nice and welcoming atmosphere and decided to join. Our plans were just to use the swimming pool and not use any of the rest of it. 

I did manage at this point to manage to get running again and had some good success. However the injury at the beginning of the year returned although not quite as bad. This led me to explore the options of using more of the gym which included visiting a trainer. 

My thoughts on gyms over the years were based on stereotypes of people who tend to be members and hardly use them. I have known many gym members who were less fit than myself and just as overweight. There is also the perception that those who do frequent the places typically tend to be men with ripped abs who live in them 24/7!

My thoughts could not have been further from the truth! The last month has seen us both exploring the gym to a much greater degree. For a start, the staff have been very friendly and welcoming; the front desk practically know us on first name terms! The pool is a much friendlier place than the public pool. It is still not perfect, there is the occasional ignorant asshole, but generally everyone gets on with everyone and all abilities of swimming are respected. In addition, there is a hydropool that is a lovely delight to sit in after a session of swimming. When we moved to our flat here, I had to give up my bath in exchange for our walk in wet room. Using that hydropool is a good replacement for that with its lovely warm water and jets of bubbles. I know they're breeding grounds for bacteria but it's loaded with chlorine and tested often so I have to trust in that. There's also a steam room and sauna and so far, I keep to the steam room.

Outside of the pool, I have found the equipment in the gym to be useful. When my Achilles went again, I booked in with a trainer and he showed me where to start. I was given some instruction in cross trainer, rowing machine and exercise bike. My first time going on my own, I decided on a Monday morning as soon as the gym opened its doors at 06.15. I felt that at that time, it would be nice and quiet. Again, this place continues to throw surprises at me and I was shocked at how busy it was. Just driving into the car park, I sensed there were a lot of cars in the car park. One going upstairs to the gym, I found it was very full indeed. I put on my MP3 player and then set about going through my routine. Over the last few weeks since doing this, I have extended my times and started to enjoy actually going there. There is a good sense of achievement when I leave, perhaps this is because I have to go out of my way to do the exercise.

There is more too and as part of discovering new interests, I decided to look at the wealth of activities the gym has to offer. From various Circuits activities to boxercise and even dancing, there are lots of things to discover. Every weekday has at least a dozen to choose from. Something I looked at was Yoga, and a couple of weeks ago I enrolled in the Monday night group. This was a whole new experience and there was a little trepidation when I walked in to a room with at least twenty other people as a complete newcomer to do something I had no idea about. It was good to go last night and feel part of group because when I walked to the studio, three people said hello to me and I even chatted to one lady prior to the activity. Yoga was cancelled however and it was Pilates instead. This was much more intense than the Yoga and not so much what I was looking for but hopefully Yoga is back next week. 

We have been trying to get Mandy included as well and a trainer is looking into what she could do from her wheelchair. This might involved some of the equipment but also the trainer is going to contact some of the activity trainers and see if Mandy could be included for some social activity as well. Mandy has also partaken in some swimming lesson and this has boosted her confidence massively.

It has not been perfect, there have been a few bumps. We have encountered extreme rudeness from one of the aquafit classes that saw fit to walk across in front of Mandy when she was ending her swimming lesson. I have been misgendered by one of the staff but I have got to the point where even this is not a bother to me any more.

There is also a whole social dynamic that is not apparent from the outside. As time goes by, you start to get to meet and talk to new people. Even though there have been few words exchanged with the early morning users, I am starting to recognise a few familiar faces. It is the same in the pool and this has benefited Mandy greatly, there are one or two she converses with regularly. 

The changing room is a whole new experience too. This was something I wasn't quite ready for initially! We have a separate disabled changing room when I go with Mandy, but this still means we have to traverse the communal room to get to that. Mandy doesn't really understand why this took me a while to get used to, but this is my first such experience of these rooms as my true gender and walking through with nudity everywhere was something I hadn't quite been prepared for. Of course now, I strip off with everyone in the morning and display my body without shame. It's not a pretty sight, there is a great deal of flab, but the rest of my body makes me very happy. It took a lot for me to get this body, more than nay ciswoman, and I am not ashamed of it any longer.

The whole gym experience was something I was not expecting and has enhanced our lives greatly. I don't think we could ever go back to the public pool again.