On Feeling Like The Elephant In The Room
Yesterday, in the wee hours of the morning, before the sun and before I had [enough] coffee, I went to a workout class. A group work out class. An able-bodied. Group. Workout class.
Usually, my first thoughts at the gym in the morning go something like this.
“Coffee. Please. Still tired.” “Too early for walking. Help.” “Can we start with that stretch where we just lay down? It’s my fave.”
Today I had a different sort of internal monologue.
Justin and I recently signed up for a twelve week workout and diet challenge at our gym. While I conceptually knew this challenge required working out in front of other people, it didn’t really hit me until I was met with five smiling faces. All at once I went from feeling like a very sleepy human, to an elephant. A big, pink, disabled elephant in the room.
Do I say something??? HiNiceToMeetYou I WALK LIKE THIS BECAUSE I HAVE CEREBRAL PALSY.
HI I’M OBVIOUSLY GOING TO BE DOING A MODIFIED WORKOUT DON’T MIND ME.
I decided against it and took my place on the wall for stretches. Usually, the immense pain that stretching with spasticity causes me is all I can manage to think about.
“Oh god. They’re probably wondering why I’m so stiff. I hope they don’t think I’m out of shape. It’s not me it’s my spasticity!!!!”
When it came time for me to modify my workouts, I was working hardest on reading their minds.
“They’re probably wondering why I’m not doing deadlifts oh god I look lazy. Should I try to do deadlifts??? No. Bad idea.”
I glanced at Justin trying to see if he realized that he was no longer dating a person, but an elephant.
He hadn’t. He was too busy grunting.
I looked at my trainer, convinced that he would share my horror about how terribly this was going. He had the same encouraging smile as always.
Before I knew it, the workout had ended and I was still alive. The thing was, I actually had a great workout. The only thing different from my usual routine was my obsessive preoccupation about what everyone was thinking about me.
I tearfully voiced these feelings to Justin, to my trainer, to my mom.
And they all had the same thing to say.
Those people probably weren’t thinking about me. At all.
I had a conversation with a friend recently about body image, how it feels to be a woman, and a disabled one at that.
“Ever noticed how women tend to fat-shame THEMSELVES in groups? Not even other people – just themselves. I was at a bachelorette a couple months ago with 13 women and I decided to really listen and stay present to the conversations going on around me, and resonate my feelings as they happened.
What surprised me ultimately, wasn't that women were 'talking shit' about anyone else. But, the amount of times they talked shit about themselves in bikinis.
"Girl, you look smokin’ in that swimsuit.'' ''omg no, I have cellulite all over my thighs. I wish I had your stomach." "No, my stomach is gross right now with beer."
"You're so cute." "OMG no I'm hungover and have this massive pimple growing on my face."
It was constant. Which surprised me because it wasn't anything to do about anyone else. This wasn't mean girls - except to one’s self. Which made me wonder: WHY DO WE CARE SO MUCH ABOUT OTHER PEOPLES THOUGHTS ON OUR BODIES?”
That’s a good question.
WHY was I so concerned with everyone else was thinking about me, when they probably weren’t at all?
It all came back to feeling like the elephant in the room. But as I vented, and as I truly listened to what others had to say, I began to realize that at some point, we all feel like that elephant.
My mom feels like the elephant in the room when she sits at a conference table full of physicians, the only one not a doctor.
My dad felt like the elephant in the room when he was growing up, and wasn’t given the same kind of clothes as other kids.
Ryan told me stories of all the times he felt like he may as well paint, “HI, I’M GAY” on his forehead.
But I had never given a single thought to any of those things. All the things my loved ones considered HUGE, painfully obvious, insecurities, had never even crossed my mind.
With that, a different version of the Mariah Carrey song played in my head: “Why am I so obsessed with me?’
In my imagined scenarios of what everyone was thinking about me, I had wasted a great workout. Comparing myself to the others only brought me farther from my goals. I spent so much time worrying about everyone else that I never even considered that they were trying to hide their own elephant trunks.
The reality is, people will probably always be curious about my CP, the same way I will always be curious about other people.
We’ve all felt like the elephant in the room. We’ve all felt different, obvious, and alone. And if we've all felt that way,doesn't that make us a herd?
I think I’ll go back to the class on Thursday.