When I look out of my living room window, I see a man outside on his balcony — his apartment building directly across from mine. He is riding a stationary bike. He is an elderly man, and he is naked, head to toe. No matter the season, he’s out there, every day. He’s as pale as the day he was born, with a slim frame and saggy flesh. On days when the temperature is below freezing, he wears a wool hat. Since he lives on a high floor, his audience is restricted to those, like myself, who can see him by looking straight ahead. I have no idea how many people are able to see him, but if he sold tickets to his show, I’d be in the VIP section.
I give this man a lot of credit. He’s obviously at the point in his life where he just does not care about what other people think of him. Or, perhaps he’s been doing this his entire life. Either way, he’s made the choice to exercise in public in his birthday suit, and I bet he sleeps better than anyone who works out at any of the fancy sports clubs riddled throughout New York City.
To be honest, I haven’t seen “old naked man on the bike” for at least a year. Which tells me that he was reported to the police and forced to peddle inside, or there’s a possibility he moved to a warmer climate, or, sadly, that he’s riding the big stationary bike in the sky. I miss him, sort of. To me, he symbolized determination and tenacity. His daily routine reminded me of the inscription on the James Farley Post Office: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. So much for that – I hear they’re eliminating Saturday mail delivery this coming August. But I digress, the old man was committed to exercise, to staying healthy and nothing, apparently, came between him and his bike. Not that I would ever use binoculars to get a closer look at his physique – but it was apparent from my viewing point that he could easily have been in his 90’s and yet he made no excuses to not exercise – he just did it.
By stark contrast, I view any form of formal and planned exercise as an unwanted obligation. If I had all of the money I spent on unused gym memberships over the years, I’d be, well, not rich, but at least not self-chastising, feeling like I wasted hard-earned cash time and again. My intentions were always to get into a physical routine, yet it never panned out that way.
Exercise and keeping in shape are key elements in the fight against depression. Maybe I’m just afraid to commit to a routine because if I don’t follow it, I’ll feel like I’ve failed. Just hearing the term “working out” causes me anxiety. It just makes me feel so pressured when someone asks “so where do you work out?” as if it’s a given that I do so — an expectation that everyone should and does physical training as part of their weekly routine.
Like so many other things, I have to approach exercise the same way I manage whatever daily tasks appear at times to be monstrous — like laundry and loading the dishwasher. Depression has a loud voice and can be very convincing in telling me what I’m not capable of. I’ve had to learn to turn down the volume and do chores in small segments or else I get completely overwhelmed and want to shut down for the day. That means, instead of waking up with dread triggered by the thought of getting on a treadmill, I take the stairs instead of the elevator. That way, not only do I feel better about myself, (even if my thighs are sore the next day), I still got in some cardio and toning without working out, per se.
While I can say that I hope to one day have a regular physical exercise routine, whether it’s yoga or Zumba, I’m not sure it will ever happen. I’ll do what works to keep my blood pumping and endorphins flowing. Just don’t expect me to ride naked on a stationary bike on my balcony when I’m in my 90’s – the last thing I’d want is to have a nosy neighbor blog about it.
Adrienne Gurman has over 20 years of experience in advertising, marketing and magazine publishing. She is currently the Vice President of 1212-Studio, a product design company in NYC. A native New Yorker, Adrienne lives with her husband and their vivacious chocolate lab, Anya. Adrienne began volunteering for Bring Change 2 Mind not long after the organization was founded, and has since been a leading advocate for fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness. She has lived with Major Depression since the age of 12. Adrienne writes a weekly blog for esperanza magazine and continues to be a growing voice in the anti-stigma community.