Friday, October 14, 2011

Getting to the bottom of my dislike/fear of exercising. -Part Two

Continued from this post

Even at a very young age, physical education was something that I dreaded to the point it would make me sick, and filled with anxiety. For example the track meet that a bunch of schools in our area had, my dad was a teacher at the time and so I rode with him in his car to the meet that was being held in another town. The closer it got the more panicky I felt to the point that I sat bawling in the car begging my dad not to make me go to it. To let me sit in the car for the day, I was terrified at the thought of having to do it.  As I got older I started noticing something that would happen whenever I was doing strenuous exercise, I would struggle to breathe and then I would start coughing, A LOT! I would cough to the point my eyes watered and I would gag, and what was worse that coughing would make me lose control of my bladder a bit and I would pee a little. Now I am sure you can imagine how great a thing that is for someone in elementary school? It wasn't like I would just pee my pants all at once, but a tiny trickle would leak out and since I wasn't allowed to stop I would just keep coughing, and well, those little trickles would add up. It was so humiliating and the thought of telling someone was even worse. I was way to old to be peeing my pants, and so I tried to keep it hidden. It wasn't until I was in grade 9 that I finally tried telling my parents, and then my gym teacher at the time. Hoping beyond hope that they would understand why I hated exercise so much. 

Now even though I weighed a whole lot less than I do now, I was still on the chubby side and had been on diets since I was 7. My complaints were written off as some fat kid just trying to get out of exercise so she can be lazy, and instead I was made to do more exercise and put on a stricter diet. It felt like I was being punished for telling the truth and so I stopped telling them and instead did everything I could to avoid or get out of gym classes and other strenuous activity. This lead to me having to lie, and fake illness or pain, just to avoid that feeling of breathlessness, the coughing, and consequences of said coughing. I hated having to do it but the alternative seemed worse to me, and so physical exercise became an anxiety filled experience for me. 

Fast forward a decade or so to a time just a  few years ago when my mom and I went to a Women of Faith conference. We had floor seats at the same end of the stadium that we had parked on, the "shortest" route to the car was going up the stairs to the second level and then down again and out to the parking lot because they had the exit on floor level blocked because there was something else going on in that area. The other way out would mean walking to the other end of the stadium and out the floor level exit there and then all the way back the length of stadium to get to our parking lot. I tried to encourage my mom to go that way because the thought of taking all of the stairs through a crowded arena to get up to the second level was something I wanted to avoid. My mom however was having none of that and headed up the steps, telling me I could go the other way if I wanted to but I could tell from the tone of her voice she was upset and disgusted and so I followed her. I kept up with her pretty good but by the time I got a little over halfway up the steps I could feel that familiar tightening in my chest. I was wheezing and by the time we got outside I had started coughing. I could not stop coughing as I drove us to the hotel and was still coughing when we had gotten into the hotel room. Of course with the coughing came the trickles and I was so ashamed, upset and frustrated. It was the same feeling I had back in school.

I haven't been able to get that out of my head as I read about people who love to exercise and move their bodies. To me it is a terrifying feeling and I can't fathom it being something joyful, and it confuses me why even when I was much much thinner I still struggled and felt that way because isn't being skinnier supposed to make it easy to move?  Anyway I was talking to a friend about this a while back, the first person I had told about the troubles I had with exercising and how I didn't understand how people could love that, they mentioned that what I was describing sounded a lot like the asthma attacks her brother gets. I kind of brushed her off by telling her that it couldn't be because it only happened when I was doing something strenuous and that it didn't look like the ones I see on TV. She mentioned about something called Exercise Induced Asthma, so when I could I researched it and was dumbfounded at how much of it sounded like what I have been dealing with my whole life.  Now I haven't been to see the doctor about it, me and doctors are not on the best of terms so I keep putting it off. I can't help thinking though, if I had been taken seriously all those years ago in elementary, if the doctors I had seen, and the adults in my life had taken it seriously and not just brushed it off as a lazy fat kid excuse, that maybe I could feel that enjoyment of physical activity. Maybe, possibly, exercise wouldn't be an anxiety filled experience. 

Now I need to figure out where to go from here I would love to see a doctor about it and maybe see if I can get it in control so that I can have a much better relationship with exercise and movement. I just gotta take it one step at a time for now.


  1. Hi! My daughter, Adrienne, has exercise-induced asthma. The only way she could participate in marching band in high school was with an inhaler. She doesn't like exercise or sports very much, either. I can see where, if she'd had the traumatic experiences you have had, she'd have the anxiety and panic as well. Because no one has pushed her, she's developed a love of walking, but has no desire, or guilt for the lack of desire, to do anything more strenuous or competitive.

  2. I think that is awesome Shaunta, that your daughter has no desire and no guilt in regards to that lack. I love knowing that some kids are encouraged in movement they enjoy and not instilled with hatred or fear of it so young. I really wish that that was the focus of physical education, allowing kids to find physical activity that they like and then encouraging them in that. I used to love dancing, rollerskating, swimming, and biking and stuff like that that I could do on my own and not be compared to others. I really wish that I had been encouraged to do that instead of being told that it wasn't good enough cause it wouldn't make me skinny.

    If they had listened to me about my breathing problems, and encouraged me in movement I enjoyed, even if it wasn't something that would make me skinny I think I could have over come my hang-ups with it and grown stronger, instead of having to do stuff I hated myself for like lying to avoid it.