Post-Diagnosis Observations at the Gym


My gym visits are now sporadic at best. Why?  In my twenties, I attended with enthusiasm. Part of my success was routine 5:00 a.m attendance. The bliss of a whole gym glowing, but not yet bustling was precious, soothing. Exercise minus people.  I would even shower and fix my hair–something I typically must force upon myself (let’s hear it for routines!). Weight-lifting and cardio passed smoothly. I’d glide through and be gone before the first regulars arrived. Toned muscles gave me extra stamina and oomph. Marriage and motherhood wrecked these rituals.

I still prefer early mornings, since I can avoid gym classes. While “bumpa-bumpa-bumpa” music gives me zip, shouting instructors leave me cold. Each command seems personal, intrusive. As if they singled me out for Zumba-Tae Bo boot camp and I am pissing them off with my clumsy, ill-executed moves.

Today, a group of jovial chatting women provided entertainment. What an opportunity to analyse, catalog, and slightly judge! I wondered about their lives beyond our shared moment. Were they funny? Kind? Anything like me? Were they a level up from the mean girls who tormented me in junior high? A chill runs up my spine. They have that confident ease with each other that spells cliquishness.  Will they sneer at me over my oily hair and faded gym togs? No. They ignore me as if I were a rack of weights. I mentally note to always smile at lone sports-sisters so they feel included.

To the left I caught a glimpse of  my scowling self. I reflect in more than one way. Mirrors. A surprising distraction!  My folk’s bedroom closet featured four immense mirrored doors. Anytime I visited them, I’d stare at myself. “Whoa, look at me would you? Is that really me? Do I really look that way? Let’s test it out with a face. Whoa! I am so hilarious and amazed by myself! Hi! Hi! Hi! Lori!” Annnd, then I made faces until my irritated parents sent me away. Those mirrors got me more time-outs than outright naughtiness ever did.

Perhaps mirrors got me into trouble not because I recognized myself, but because I didn’t. Reflections feel alien because they are outside of me, created from a separate data stream. It’s one thing to feel something (me) and quite another to see it outside myself (reflection, photograph).  Every mirror is a giant puppet show. Cause and effect. This smile inside makes that one out there. It was so astounding that I could not think of anything else and had to experiment.

Now, I  avoid mirrors–they invite me to register every unsavory detail about my unwashed, uncombed self. When did this change? Hmmm. Good question.

My current morning gym schedule coincides with the disability community’s. I choose a bike next to a cheerful fellow who hooted loudly five minutes into my routine. This startled me so much, I jerked violently and almost fell off my bike. I laughed, not at him, but at me. I hoot upon occasion, too! What irony! I spent the next fifteen minutes stifling the urge to echo his hoots. This evening, I thought of him when I hooted over the evening dishes, imagining us doing hoot-duets and becoming good friends.

A week ago, as I cycled at the Y, it finally hit me–“I am a woman with Asperger’s. I am autistic.” I knew. I realized!  Deep down in my heart I had an explanation for all my differences, all my difficulties, all my passions. My life was whole, more than whole–expanded. An entire clan rallies beside me. At last I belonged to a people who understood without explanation my truth. Joy surged through me! Involuntarily, I slapped my thighs and let out a whoop. Tears fell. In an instant, I returned to the gym and exercise bike to smile at the world with new courage. The aging cyclist next to me shifted uncomfortably and would not meet my eager gaze.  I would have been mortified in the past. I wasn’t then. It felt even sweeter, to be me. Different me. Part of a sea of differences.

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