Overcoming Body Shame and Mental Boundaries: My Exercise Journey

Author: Margaret Fitzgerald


It took more years than I want to admit for me to exercise. Many around me told me how doing so would assist me in having better mental health. It was obvious that exercise would assist me physically.

There were so many reasons why I would not exercise. First, I am overweight. I had an abnormal amount of body shame. I was so afraid that those driving by when I walked around my city block would judge and laugh at me for being so heavy. The thought of going out for a walk was paralyzing.

For many years the bipolar depression prevented me from leaving the apartment. Before I went on disability, there were times that I only left the apartment to go to work and to various appointments. Functioning at a normal baseline was difficult; exercise seemed impossible.

At one point, my doctor even wrote a paper script on a doctor’s pad with an order for me to exercise for thirty minutes, five times a week. I posted it on my refrigerator. That did not help, either.

For many years, I found the gym to be a distressing place. I was scared that everyone was judging and staring at me. I could not force myself to drive there, let alone walk through the door. The gym made a fortune on me, because I paid my monthly dues but I would not go.

I decided to have gastric sleeve surgery. The folks at the Weight Loss and Wellness Center would not consider me for the Roux-En Y (gold standard procedure) because I take Lithium and after that surgery the body does not absorb Lithium the same way. The Lithium would likely become toxic in my system. As other agents have not worked in my case, I opted for gastric sleeve surgery.

At that time, I was not considered physically fit enough for surgery. To be a candidate, I had to be able to walk independently for ten minutes. I was scared to walk outside as I had always been, but I afraid that I would fall and would not be able to get up. My physical therapist recommended that I walk back and forth across my basement floor until I could do so for ten complete minutes. Once I was successful at that feat, I had the surgery.

I plateaued at a weight loss of ninety seven pounds. By that point, my confidence had increased and I was walking around the neighborhood for thirty minutes each evening. One night on my walk, two people were sitting on their front porch swing and began commenting about my appearance, my clothing, and my weight. I was so embarrassed and devastated that I quit exercising.

A success coach at the gym called me one day and asked if there was a reason why I was not using my membership. He asked me to come in and meet with him. He offered me a physical trainer for an excellent rate and I began to go. I began enjoying the challenge.

While seeing the trainer, I was experiencing much abnormal physical pain. During that time, I was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma and quit exercising. My longevity at that time was questionable, so I cancelled my membership.

Once I accomplished remission, I got a new job as a home care aide. One of my duties is to take a senior citizen to that very same gym. I found that my confidence changed after having cancer, and my depressive spells are significantly less since going on disability and taking an atypical antipsychotic.

While supervising my charge, I was able to observe the gym in a whole new light. I watched people of all sizes and ages enter the gym. Most people are too busy trying to fulfill their fitness goals to care what I look like. After observing people enter the gym to exercise in wheelchairs and walkers, I knew that I could (finally) join in, too. For the first time, I saw that there are people larger than me exercising there. There are folks that are using a machine to lift themselves in and out of the pool.

I am still too scared to walk the track or use any of the equipment, but I now go to the gym three to four times a week to swim. It clears my head and definitely helps me feel accomplished. There are lots of women that enter the pool that look just like me.

Occasionally I wonder if someone is thinking negatively of me because of my bodily appearance. However, I find that I feel so much better after I swim that I no longer care. I have lost twelve pounds in the past year. As I trek across the water, I thank God for the membership and pray for the important people in my life.


Translate »