I recall with a haunting clarity as I walk through the front doors to my new gym, fumbling with my key card, that almost eight years ago exactly I told my now fiancee that I could never see myself doing what I was about to do for the second day in a row. I told her then that if I wasn't interested in activities that were physical, then wasn't it just hamster wheel work? She laughed and agreed powerfully, standing outside the auditorium where we would see Nine Inch Nails together and fall a little more in love- just like every day since. There was another guy there talking about his new fitness routine in a braggy sort of way and I saw him as a threat in the courting of what I had already to declared to be my romantic intentions towards my aforementioned fiancee of present day, so I was kind of being a dick about it even. I was twenty four then, just moved back from Seattle where I walked everywhere and had the metabolism of a God and the food budget of a broke ass twenty four year old. I didn't have a child to care for, I had just grabbed my first rung on the corporate ladder of the very job that is testing the limits of my sanity today. I believe I may have even been so bold as to state that if I ever got to a point where I needed to Hamster Wheel myself out of the fat house, someone should do me the favor of killing me. I only bring this up because if anyone else remembers that night, especially the poor chap whose love interest I wooed right the fuck away, I would like to redact my previous statements.
I'm absolutely amazed at how much kinder Day 2 is than Day 1. I'm not a pro or anything, not by any means. I came in thinking I'll be happy if I can get twenty minutes in on a bike and crawl back to my car in fit enough shape to drive myself home without the need of an ambulance. When I left the gym yesterday, I felt like I had been kicked in the nuts, repeatedly, from the inside. I actually held my breath to stifle the pain and wore a tight grimace across my face, pleading to my body that my knees hold out for just a few seconds more as I walked past the clerk who signed me up for my first month thirty or so minutes earlier. I made some hand wavy motion that was meant to wish her a good rest of the day but I'm certain was loosely translated as, "No medical attention required, thank you ma'am! I'll just walk this one off."
Yesterday the gym was nearly vacant, but today the machines have about one person per type occupying their use. I made the mistake of getting on the standard bike machine yesterday, gunning straight for it and starting up, clumsily working the dials- not really sure what my aim was supposed to be in terms of cardio or fat burning or hills or whatever other wacky ass options they presented. I started with Cardio on a light setting and then looked up to see that there was a sitting bike machine right in front of me that seemed like a tremendous improvement to the unpleasant stool seat being slowly jabbed up my ass. It was the difference between riding shotgun in a high end sports car or... having a stool seat crammed slowly up your ass. I couldn't even believe that they would even have these ridiculous upright bikes! I stared angrily while my legs moved in tiny circles and my head spun in wide, unrelenting loops; That would be like equipping today's cars with a tape deck because some people still like the feeling of playing Russian Roulette it provides as you would inevitably get one stuck in there, the last collection of music that you would ever be able to listen to in that vehicle again. Would it be the soundtrack to Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey? Or all the sexual innuendo you can handle with any cassette tape from AC/DC ever? *side note* I maintain that getting AC/DC tapes stuck in their car's deck during their formative years accounts for half of the pervy, douche bros that came out of the 70's and 80's.
On Day 1 still, kind of, but getting there:
My predilection towards the self-conscious wouldn't let me stop the bike I just started to move one bike ahead of me and announce to both of the only two people in the room that I was a newb, like I was just playing on all of these machines, treating their Holy Relics like an elementary school's playground equipment. Also, as my guilt ridden nature dictates, I looked at this metal beam lodging itself into my rectum as a self inflicted punishment for being stupid- a natural consequence that I would force myself to live with so that I might get some lesson out of it in the future- neurotic I know, but did I mention I'm on a Medical Leave for being more or less a Freakazoid? I'm not mean to myself or anything, I actually love me, but I am geared towards being the best me I can be and that takes a lot of discipline that I tend to regulate with an iron fist. On the more encouraging side, I told myself that this would be like when Goku was headed to Namek and started training himself at 100 times Earth's gravity. Tomorrow I'd take a ride on the sitting bike and it would seem like a walk in the park, when I would likely need it to be anyways, planning ahead to feel like sore dog kibble. I made a mental note that I should probably check my stool for blood later and I set the bike for ten minutes. It took only two minutes for my knees to burn and feel wobbly.
I've had problems with my knees for a decade or so, worsening the more my job requires me to stand. Last year, when I asked my doctor how I should go about losing weight because he told me that was likely a major factor in my knee problem, he gave me a prescription for Phentermine and told me to check back with him regularly. It rocked the fat off my ass for sure (about fifty pounds in a year), but I hadn't changed anything personally so when my anxiety started to spike at the beginning of this year, Phentermine was the first thing I cut because it was an upper and I needed no help being up- the weight came back very fast. I had also tried Physical Therapy for my knees but it wasn't helping and after a few months of no discernible results, I quit- it was really hard to keep those weekly appointments and I burning though vacation time to get an extra day off each week just to fit them in anyways.
One of the benefits of being placed on Medical Leave is that I won't be standing so much, but my knees seems to lock up on me when they are in a bent position (like sitting at a desk) for forty five minutes or so. It becomes a great source of pain and I get antsy and have to find creative ways to sit. By the end of a movie in most theaters I end up all sideways by the end with my legs outstretched at an angle just to keep from hollering.
Two days in to my Medical Stay of Execution I realized that I felt like a worthless lazy slag if I didn't accomplish something that seemed like work. After organizing all of the Tupperware to figure out which of our bottoms and lids had lost their pairs, after dismantling the vent casings of our bathroom fans to clean the dust and crud from them, after scrubbing my lawn chair that was so unused for the last five years that it was covered in barnacles and wild animal shit, I realized that I could probably stand to start working out to scratch this itch as opposed to finding such odd tasks that it seemed to be creeping in on Obsessive Compulsive territory. It was just the right amount of "I don't want to do it" mixed with pain and results that I could appreciate in the long run that it made sense in my mind and I latched onto the notion immediately.
Writing has been so-so, but even that feels like cheating right now. Taking advantage of the fact that I was declared unfit for duty and then using that time to do what I have always wanted to do? Make no mistake, that is on my list of goals of what I intend to accomplish with this time away from work. It's at the very top of the list, in bold print, highlighted and underlined. I just need to establish a disciplined regimen that allows me to feel good about the time I spend on it- or that's what I'm telling myself.
Anyways, moral of the story, yesterday kicked my ass and today was immediately better. I did it in reverse this time. Where as yesterday I broke my knees on the bike and then transferred to the "Walking Machine." I did it the other way around today hoping that the Walker would be less knee intensive.
First of all, the "Walking Machine?" That one with the ski poles that used to be sold on the Body by Jake infomercials? Nothing makes me feel more like a Hamster than a machine that helps me walk good. Fuck. But it was easier today. As I mentioned before, the gym was more dense with people today and though I picked the Walking machine with the most distance around it, before long there was a person next to me. Here's where the paradox kicks in- I'm not comfortable walking on a machine that I think is utterly ridiculous next to somebody... but I'm also a gamer. In my youth, we turned Mario Brothers into a competitive sport, seeing how long we could go robbing player two of their turn. Blood was shed over Zelda. I delivered my first whole hearted "Fuck you" over a pea green and calculator ink colored "High Score" dethroning on my Gameboy copy of Tetris. I think of labeling myself a writer as being a Professional Comparison Maker, which in this instance is absolutely an admittance of my own jealousy, greed and vanity. It's part of the same reason I don't like to be put in charge of driving- I know myself too well. Every car I pass is a point on the scoreboard. Every minute shaved off my trip is a record to be logged.
I'm sure this person who saddled up next to me had been at it for more than one day- just because... what are the odds? I'll be damned if we weren't racing anyways though. He seemed spry and fit, if not a couple decades my senior and he started his routine casually enough. I never made eye contact or cried out a public declaration of war. I'm not that kind of crazy... yet. Still, I counted the revolutions his tromp, tromp, tromps made against the sound of my own and made sure that mine were consistently half a beat ahead. I'm sure that even if he isn't as competitive as I am, there's something natural about syncing to the rhythm of the person next to you in a situation like this. even for myself, it was strange to be off tempo and would have felt better on my brain if I had slowed down just a little, but I remained vigilant. His rhythm constantly tried to catch mine and looking down from the corner of my eye, peripherally counting his steps, I hurried to be just a little faster.
Eventually, I think he caught on and slowed himself down to what the machine recommended his heart rate should be at and I was able to maintain a stride that seemed safe, if not inches away from being too fast for my legs to keep up. I hit the ten minute mark and was a little disappointed that I had only logged .85 miles. It would have been cool to say that I ran a mile today.
Then the machine pulled a fast one on me that it hadn't done the day before, or I was too delirious and ready to abandon to notice. I had set the machine for ten minutes and it gave be an extra three minutes on the clock working in reverse that was meant to be my cool down! I say "meant to be" because the older chap was still stationed next to me and I wasn't about to slow down and let him win the imaginary, stationary race without scores or judges outside my own head. In fact, I used that three minutes to make damn sure I cleared the mile line and then some. It was kind of awesome.
Then I put on a couple miles sitting in the Cadillac of bike machines for the next fifteen minutes, playing with the heavier resistance features while some chump behind me slowly lubricated his bum with sweat and worked the metal seat of a standard bike up his ass. Seriously- what's the fucking benefit of that machine?
I feel really good about myself today, which is great because yesterday as I was leaving my Psychologist's Office she felt "ethically obligated" to ask me two times if I felt "safe" to leave and be alone right then. We had been going round in circles because I've been having a Hell of a time getting my State Disability Insurance set up and can't seem to get a hold of anyone in that department to answer my two very simple questions. I needed her to complete a form and the website seems to not want to give that form to me, instead it wants her to sign up with the website and go through their very confusing setup. I don't blame her for not wanting to do it or feeling like it was so confusing that she wasn't even certain what she was agreeing to, but I had already taken the leap of faith. I told my employers that I wouldn't be returning to work for ten weeks or more. I signed up for this mental health, intensive outpatient therapy. I was seeing my psychologist on the regular. But now it felt like the rug was being pulled out from under me now and I wasn't sure how to proceed with getting the financial angle set up. I had spent two full days trying to contact someone in the department that had the information I needed.
Without going into furtehr public detail on that situation, I'll say a couple of things- as much as I prayed for it at my lowest points, I don't like the notion of being declared unfit for work and collecting a paycheck anyways, but it is an Insurance that I am afforded because I have been paying into it all of my adult life. Three separate doctors begged me not to return to work and risk a full on mental breakdown that they all assured me I was closer to than I am willing to admit, after I tried bartering with them to sign off on partial disability or a postponement so that I could leave my work a little less abruptly than I had, better preparing them for my absence before it happened. In the end, I need this money from the insurance in order to continue supporting my family while I get myself standing on firm enough ground to step back into the machine that helped crush me in the first place, hopefully this time with better coping skills and perspective, maybe with a mind set that I can place my needs first and fit work into the spaces of my life that are vacant after those needs are met.
But as with any insurance there is absolutely NO INCENTIVE to pay or help those in need. All of their manpower is staffed in the collections department, ensuring that the funds are being ripped out of my paycheck every month before I even noticed it was there, but when I need help? The website is a labyrinth. The phone number is a joke. When you call it, presumably because you need to talk to somebody about something related to the services they are meant to be providing, it navigates you down endless corridors that try to answer the most basic questions about how you can file, all the while discouraging and redirecting you to the website for more prompt, immediate assistance. Eventually, it tells me that I can get a representative by pressing zero- the option that I skip forward to from the beginning now when trying to contact somebody from that department. I have still yet to actually talk to somebody from that department though. You see, when you hit zero, it starts out by warning you: "Wait times of 7-10 minutes may occur if calling to speak to a representative on Monday or Tuesday, or Wednesday through Friday between the hours of 10 am to 2 pm. For faster service, you may choose to call outside of these hours." Bearing in mind that they hold regular business hours and that basically means you should call Wednesday through Friday from 2 pm to 5 pm, which I have tried to do and still only once have I gotten further to the next step, which is my fucking all time favorite way of being told to eat a bag of raw cock meat.
After that call that urges me to call at another time, the recording states, "Please hold while your call is being transferred and be prepared to give your ." After a second, the phone rings a couple of times and another automated lady's voice speaks up. She says, "We're sorry, the maximum number of callers waiting to speak to a representative has been reached. Please call again later." And then it hangs up. Soak that in. I'll wait.
I'm perfectly willing to wait on hold for as long as it takes. For two of the days that I've been on leave, getting a hold of someone in that department was my only goal for the day- the only thing I needed to accomplish. I spent their entire operating hours trying to get through. In between failed, rejected attempts to hold for someone to help me, I scoured the internet for a better source- so when I say my entire day was sepnt in the service of this goal, I want you to know how serious I am. Then, yesterday before my previously mentioned psychologist appointment, I was almost floored when I called and was allowed to be placed in the hold queue.
I happily waited on the line, even though every two minutes the phone would ring as if it were about to be picked up and then interrupt the generic hold music with a voice that restated, "Someone will be with you shortly. Please continue to hold. For more immediate service, try our website at [redacted]!" After more than an hour of playing this game, there was a tone followed by silence. I said "Hello?" I checked my phone to make sure I hadn't been disconnected. I was still on the line. I said "Hello?" again every few moments for nearly three minutes before the call finally hung up on me. It is my firm belief that some government worker who has no interest in fielding their shitty calls from their shitty job decided to spend the day pretending to pick up the phone and waiting for several minutes in silence so that their call logs wouldn't look suspicious and then they hung up and grabbed the next in an endless sea of calls they don't give a fuck about.
My blood pressure in that moment went coo coo banana balls. I feel the need to restate that the precise condition with which I am afflicted is an Anxiety Disorder that, while I am wholeheartedly doing my best to work on and make myself better, currently leaves me in a position ill-equipped to deal with fuck-tarded imbecilic behaviors and the types of everyday shit swallowing that the rest of the world seems capable of tolerating that I cannot adequately force myself to manage without having panic attacks that threaten to burst my heart from beneath my god damned rib cage. So don't judge me too harshly on one of my next steps, please, is what I'm saying.
Eventually, I started searching for a local office that I could contact. I knew the closest one was in Santa Barbara but every listing of theirs that I could find only had the phone number for the 1-800 number that I'd been impaling myself upon for days already with no progress. Eventually I saw a different 1-800 number though and I gave it a shot, even though I was fairly certain that I'd seen that number in my internet travels as the line for the hearing impaired. Remember, I said don't judge me. I circled that numbed for a while, trying to justify whether or not to call it and eventually I convinced myself that I have been given a diagnosis of a disability which impairs me from being able to deal with the anxiety caused by the absurdity of the main line. The number is 1-800-480-3287, by the way, if any of you want to fact check or play around with the Robot Witch who runs the machine. I dare you. Check me for embellishments. You will find none.
In any case, I called the other number, knowing full well that it was probably not for me but prepared to make my case, desperate to speak with a person. I thought it was strange when the call started with something like, "Please press 1 to continue," but caught off guard I did as I was instructed. Then a voice came on the line that said something to the effect of (I'm paraphrasing on this one) "Oh really? Gotchya! You can hear just fine, can't you asshole?! This phone number is for the hearing impaired and then you just followed our audio direction to push a button, you half witted mouth breather!" So fully was my shame that I did not try to call again to fool the machine. I simply decided that I was too near the precipice of insanity to continue along this line, choosing to put the whole damn thing out of my head for the next hour until my psychologist appointment, you know, the one that she cut half an hour short and had to get my double certain guarantee that I wouldn't be a danger to myself or others? In her defense, it was because I was so preoccupied with the above issue that talking about anything else was impossible and she used the time to call on colleagues of hers with more experience with the matter and solve one half of my SDI problem.
She sent me an email a short while later letting me know what steps that she was taking on my behalf to help resolve the matter, which I totally appreciate, and then she wanted to just kind of check up and see if I had come down from the ledge any since I had left her office weeping openly all the way to my car. I felt like sending her this:
I am at least in control enough of my wits that I did not send that back, for fear that she'd sent the white-coats to whisk me away. And to any of you who are worrying, don't. I'm too responsible, I love my family, I am afraid of dying without finishing my goal of being a writer- it's not in the cards for me. Besides, can you imagine all the paperwork?!
Sorry this one went on for so long. I guess that workout charged my batteries pretty good. I gotta go now, though. I've dipped an hour into the time I had set aside today to try contacting the SDI department again. Wish me luck.
Update: I just got a hold of somebody at the local branch who refused to be helpful and was downright insulting as he lied to me about his knowledge of the problem I am having, which came out after he delivered an intimate understanding of what form I needed and why he wouldn't provide it to me after claiming ignorance and trying to redirect me to the 1-800 #. He kept saying that he can't get the Governor on the phone to hire more people, he can't handle a job that has an entire phone service line is dedicated to solving and that we are letting people go rather than hiring more. I told him that his points were invalidated by the fact that I am speaking with somebody now who clearly understands the questions I am asking and is being willfully obtuse about it. We need to fire MORE people and hire the right people. I envy people who are capable of allowing themselves to be so terrible at their job and clearly give no fucks for the people they are being paid to help. It must be nice to let yourself be so cavalier and casually evil to your patrons, to lose no sleep or shed any worry at all that you are acting criminal in stealing a paycheck that you have not earned. I fucking hate the world. Robert out.