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At the gym

Iga Nowicz (2019)

Three weeks ago, I took my last pill. It was actually half a pill. I decided to go off my anti-depressants, following my doctor’s advice and under her supervision.

I really can’t stress this enough: do not ever go cold turkey on your own.

A few months ago, I ran out of pills and thought whatever. I stopped taking them overnight. I was fine for a day and then it was the weekend. It was horrible. I ended up going to the A&E and begging them to give me something. Definitely not my proudest moment. On Monday, I went to pick up my prescription and my doctor looked at me with slight worry and said: “You know you can just call us, and we’ll renew your prescription, right?”

This time, it’s different. She told me what to do and gave me a follow-up appointment to check on me. I saw her on Wednesday. We talked about my symptoms and how I’d been. Sleeping a lot. Really tired but it might have been the heat. Upset stomach. Weird nightmares. I dreamt one day that I called my therapist to confirm our appointment, and he said no, he doesn’t have time for me right now.

Well, what is your worst nightmare?

My doctor took my blood to assess the damage done by the drug. She said it was just a precaution, but it had to be done.

“I think you will be fine,” she said. “Try not taking them for a while and see how you feel. And let me know if you need to talk.”

It really felt significant. It’s been quite a journey since I first went to see her three years ago and got my drugs.

And you know what? I was indeed fine. That is, until Thursday. I first did some useful, tax-related things. I wrote a long list of all the trains and planes I took in 2018. I went through my e-mails and found my receipts. I saved them as PDFs.

Then I did fun things. I went swimming. I had some nice food. It was a nice day. Sunny but not boiling hot, which was a relief.

And I felt horrible. The lake (yes, there are plenty of lakes in Berlin) stressed me out. There were too many people, and they didn’t want me there. They thought I was weird for sitting there on my own. Everything was dirty and unhygienic; the sand was full of rubbish and dangerous sharp objects. I bumped into someone I know, and they obviously thought I was a nuisance and wished me gone. Ordering my food at the kebab shop was stressful. Everyone was looking at me. I felt like I’d made a scene even though I was just sitting there, avoiding eye contact and being super uncomfortable.

Thursday night, I tried to fall asleep, but couldn’t. I just started crying for no reason and kept thinking about all the terrible things I’ve done to hurt and disappoint others. Finally, I managed to calm down. Plus, I had an appointment to see my therapist Friday morning. I’ll be fine, right?

On Friday I woke up to get ready for my appointment. Then my phone rang, and I thought it was O2 and didn’t want to pick up but guess what, my therapist had to cancel. Not because he hates my guts and never wants to see my face again. His kids were sick. He has many kids. He gave me a new appointment on Monday.

It was fine, it was ok.

It felt like death.

I will never be happy again.

What is the point of waking up, going to therapy, doing anything. I want to lie still and feel nothing.

But then I tried to put things into perspective.

“It might be the withdrawal. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling so horrible,” I said to my boyfriend. “I think I’ll go to the gym”.

“Yes, why not,” he said. “It normally makes you feel better.”

Because my therapist is not my drug dealer. I can actually wait till Monday.

And yes, having no structure in my day and being alone all the time sucks. But being around people won’t fix me. My boyfriend won’t fix me. Even if I had a cat, it couldn’t fix me.

Because I am my own problem. But it is not my fault.

There are many things I love about the gym. It’s anonymous. It’s almost always open. You can listen to your own music and pretend no one else exists and it doesn’t make you antisocial. You can disinfect everything, and people don’t think you’re weird. There is antibacterial spray and paper towels at every corner.

Quintessentially, it is the paradise.

When I first signed up to join the gym, I was asked: “What are your fitness goals?” I felt totally exposed. I thought joining the gym counted as a fitness goal. Obviously, I couldn’t say that out loud. But I had to say something. “Well, I don’t want to be in pain anymore. My back hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts.” The woman looked at me and said nothing. She just scribbled “no pain” on my form.

Maybe I was setting the bar pretty low but what else was I supposed to say? I am doing my best not to buy into this whole be–fit–or–die–a–terrible–death bullshit. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

And yes, every time I enter the gym, I feel a sense of accomplishment. In my disturbed brain, eating is bad, and exercise is virtuous. Which means that even being at the gym is virtuous, like going to church or something.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s all part of the same fucked up shit that makes me miserable, and I just keep punishing yourself. And you might be right, because I still felt goddamn awful when I walked into my local cave of modern virtue that Friday afternoon. I had no energy to exercise at all. So I went to the stretch-and-relax section and put my towel onto the mat. I sat down, cross-legged. I closed my eyes and started to breathe. Tears instantly flooded my face. The muscly guy doing some intense planking next to me probably thought “crazy lady!” and ran away.

And I just sat there. I started moving my body, very gently, repeating the yoga routine we normally do on Sundays. My hips were hurting, my back was hurting, I was tense and rigid. The tears didn’t stop, and I just kept going, trying to loosen up the tension, and to let the pain circulate through me, all the way from my brain to my toes.

And I thought, “Well, maybe setting the bar low is ok for now. And the pain is here, in my body, my brain, my thoughts, and it won’t just go away but… it will get less intense.” And I do know my relationship with the gym is slightly disturbed. But at least it’s a place where I can give myself some space. To breathe. In. And out.

Till my next appointment.

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