Hooray for the gym! Three months after my last sciatica1 flareup, I’m finally back in action, and up to a little bit over a quarter mile in the pool. Today around 4:00 I felt like I could barely type another line of code; now at 8:00, after a good swim, I’m full of energy. Sadness particles dissolved. Maybe the fish oil2 is helping too.
Physical fitness is great, mens sana in corpore sano and all that, but the culture surrounding it can be toxic. I don’t know how many hours I spent as a teenager poring over Men’s Health — I was reading it for the articles,3 obviously — but the practice encouraged deep habits of envy and vanity that I’m still trying4 to root out, and the gym can do the same thing.
You spend all that time looking in the mirror, and you tell yourself you’re trying to soak up the image of yourself as manly, as strong and powerful, trying to correct the false body-image that so many men with SSA struggle with — but you end up more self-conscious than ever, with a little self-obsession thrown in. It turns you in on yourself, which for me has always been the problem.
I read an account once of two friends, both with SSA, both seeing the same therapist. They didn’t know about each other’s SSA, but each of them mentioned the other to the therapist, saying: I just wish I looked as manly as he does.
My SSA, especially in the early years, has always had a lot to do with physical envy of other men. So it was easy for me to think, If only I looked like that guy, everything would be fine. And there’s some truth to it. I’m much more confident than I used to be, and part of this is the confidence of knowing I look pretty good.
But I think it’s a small part. My need to be emotionally close to other men is greater than my need to look like a man. It’s easy to focus on the latter, partly because the latter is more easily achieved. You can go to the gym for two hours a day and never talk to another soul, and be worse off emotionally and spiritually than when you started.
What’s harder, but more effective, is sticking your neck out socially: accepting the invitation for poker night, initiating a conversation with the intimidating coworker, calling a friend on Friday even though he might turn you down.
Like everything else I write about, this is something I’m still working on. Keep up those prayers, dear readers! I appreciate them more than I can tell you. I’m praying for you, too.