The Six Greatest People You See at the Gym

Depending on who you are, the gym can be a very fun place. Some people see it as a house of torture, and some people see it as a playground for adults, but there is one thing about it that I always find myself enjoying: the people. The gym is a place where people can simply be ridiculous if they want to be, because let’s face it, whether you love the gym or you hate the gym, you’re there to pick up heavy things over and over again until you think you look better, or to run in place until you’re little more than a sweaty mess of a human being. So to celebrate the awesome things that either endorphins or exhaustion allows us to do in public, I’m going to count down the six greatest people that I tend to see at the gym (in no particular order – you’re all superstars here).

1) Grunters

These are the people who are really working out, and they want you to know that they’re really working out. Every time that they lift their weight, they let out a loud “UGH”, and then do it again. “UGH! UGH! UGH!” Maybe their weights are too heavy. Maybe they’re just showing off. But either way, you can hear them from across the room. Variations of the grunters would be squeakers (people like me, who sound oddly like someone let the air out of a balloon when their weights get too heavy), and people who mutter some sort of exclamation, usually a swear word, after finishing a set.

2) Singers

Usually, these are people who have their earphones in, their music loud, and they are really, really feeling it. These are happy people, singing along to their happy songs, or they’re pumped up workout junkies whose adrenaline is high and their music is a part of that high. And as they work out, even if it’s ever so slightly, they’re singing along to their Spotify playlist. And you know what – you go singers. Belt your little heart out, because it really seems like you’re enjoying your workout, and that’s awesome. And besides, everyone deserves to be serenaded during their sets, especially if they’ve forgotten their own music at home. Thank you for your service, singers.

3) People who throw their weights on the floor

I typically see guys doing this at the gym, although I’m sure it’s not exclusively a male thing. But it’s always some big, muscular dude, doing his bicep curls or something (maybe providing us with his services as a grunter as well), and then when he finishes with his set, he is done. He just drops those weights brutally, and then turns and walks off, leaving them to lie there and wonder what happened. Were they just dumped? Did he ever really care? Will they be put back in the rack to be lifted again? Who knows, all that’s clear is that this guy is done.

4) People who wear whatever they want

So I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there does seem to be something of a dress code to the gym, and a lot of it seems to be based on how fit you are. If you’re really fit, you tend to wear clothes that shows off your body a bit more, but if you aren’t very fit quite yet, maybe you just started at the gym or maybe you’re body just isn’t made to be thin or muscular or maybe those simply aren’t your goals, you tend to wear clothes that cover you up a bit more. And that’s all well and good, wear what makes you comfortable, whatever, but I have to admit that it’s awesome when you see people who shake things up a bit more. Because let’s face it, going to the gym to get super sweaty in the middle of summer can suck, especially if there’s no air conditioning and you’ve delegated yourself to covering up. And often times, such people who are covering themselves up are not doing it just because they want to, but because they’re self-conscious, when there’s nothing to feel self-conscious about! You look beautiful, so screw the dress code! Wear what you want!

5) Posers

This one, I blame on the fact that there are so many mirrors everywhere. Because you’re there to work out, your muscles are all pumped up and – oh! Oh, I didn’t realize that my shoulders were that toned! Next thing you know, you’re posing in the mirror, checking out your biceps, your triceps, your butt muscles, realizing just now that all that hard work you put in has paid off. And good for you!

6) Selfie takers

These ones are similar to the posers, but different enough to earn their own spot on the list. Like posers, they’ve just realized how much their hard work is paying off, but unlike the posers, they aren’t satisfied with being the only one to realize this. They want everyone to know, but at the same time, they want to be discreet about it. So they sneak out the cell phone, either on the floor or in the change room, and they snap a quick shot in the mirror so that they can later post it online with a caption like “I’ve worked so hard for this body and I’m so glad that it’s finally paying off”. Or “no pain no gain”. You know, something like that.

And now that I have counted down six of the best people at the gym, now it’s your turn! This isn’t a complete list – it’s just a start, because there are so many awesome people everywhere! So tell me, what awesome people do you like to see when you go to the gym?

The Door to the Rest of My Life

I found the door to the rest of my life, and it is open.

Now, I am expected to walk through it.

Now I have no choice but to walk through it. It doesn’t matter that I never thought I would get this far. It doesn’t matter that my life was supposed to end several years ago, in a bathtub, in a pool of my own blood. It doesn’t matter that I was born to be a sad story stuffed into the smallest corner of the newspaper: TEENAGE SUICIDE, it was supposed to read, and people were supposed to hear about me and shake their heads and say “what a shame” before moving on, forgetting me.

It doesn’t matter, because it didn’t happen. I’m here. I’m alive. And I will never be a teenage suicide, because I will never be a teenager again.

I’m an adult.

I’m a possibility.

I’m alive. And there’s so much that I can do so long as that remains true.

Because death is so final, and life is ever changing.

I can walk through that door. I can follow the plan that I didn’t have until recently, the plan that I never made when I was young because I was never supposed to get this far. The simple plan: job, move, school, career, maybe get married, maybe be happy, run into problems along the way but always push through them. I can do that now. I can live a life.

And what a strange party it is that I hold for myself, alone, in private. No invitations can be sent out because no one can know the reason why life overwhelms me and thrills me all at once. No one can know why I think it’s a miracle to be alive. If they knew they would worry, but they really shouldn’t because I survived. I made it through. I didn’t kill myself and I won’t kill myself. Instead of cutting into my skin, I fortified it with armour so that when the feeling comes back, I’ll know what to do. I’ll have prepared for this.

And for now, I found the door to the rest of my life, the door that was never supposed to exist in the first place. And I am walking through it.

The Choice In Eating Meat

Yesterday, I visited the homestead of an old family friend with my mother, and this particular friend happens to raise animals. I won’t pretend to understand everything that happens on her homestead, because I identify very firmly and proudly as a city girl who has never once had to kill my own meat, but I do know that she raises these animals, breeds them, and uses them for meat as well.

She took us for a tour of her homestead, and she showed us her pigs, her cows, her cute little bunny rabbits, and after the tour was over, when we were sitting on her porch and I had one of her dogs sleeping on my lap, she told us about the backlash that she and others like her have had to face for raising animals for meat.

She told us about a friend of hers who received death threats from people. She told us that she has been accused of raping her cows to get them pregnant, of being cruel and heartless for murdering innocent creatures.

“Don’t tell me I don’t love my animals,” she said. “I still love my animals, even though I eat some of them.”

This got me thinking about the attitudes that a lot of people have about hunting or farming for meat. A few months ago, I heard from one woman who was a yoga teacher and a vegan that hunting was worse than buying meat from the grocery store, because at least when you were buying meat, you weren’t actually killing an animal.

And here’s the thing – I don’t really know where I lie on this whole vegan-vegetarian-meat eater debate. I don’t eat a whole lot of meat, not by a rule but because I’m not the biggest fan of meat, I’d rather get my protein from other sources. And when I do eat meat, I try to get it from socially-conscious sources, like independent farms, similar to my family friend’s homestead. I believe that human beings are omnivores and that some of us have a harder time living without meat than others, but I also believe that we as a society have progressed enough that we can easily get protein from other sources, like beans. So I don’t disagree with anyone in this argument, I see all sides. But I don’t understand saying that hunting or independent farming is worse than buying meat from the grocery store.

Going back to the ways that we as a society have progressed, we no longer need to be honest with ourselves about where our meat comes from. Meat does not come from animals, it comes from the store. We can go for a jaunty walk to the supermarket, pick up some delicious bacon, and not once think about the pig that had to die to give us that meat. And more than that, we don’t even think about the sort of life that that pig lived. More often than not, meat from the grocery store comes from factory farming, and factory farming is much more focused on getting out as much meat as humanly possible as cheaply as humanly possible than it is on the wellbeing of its animals. Animals in factory farming are kept in tight spaces, crowded out by hundreds of their own kind, many of them rarely even seeing the sun. They are fed growth hormones so that they can be slaughtered as soon as possible, and there is increasing evidence that these growth hormones are harmful to the health of the humans who eat this meat. These animals are born in these farms and they die in these farms, leading a short and miserable life all so that you can have bacon for breakfast.

Now, contrast that to the lives that animals lead when they are raised in independent farms or homesteads like my family friend’s, or killed by hunters. These animals spend their days outdoors, roaming free. They get to run, play, eat as much good food as they want. These animals lead a life and then, yes, they die. And again, they die so that we can have bacon for breakfast, and you can decide for yourself is that sacrifice is worthwhile or not. But if you are going to eat meat, isn’t it better to make sure that you are eating the meat of a creature that actually had a life? And isn’t it better to eat meat knowing where it came from, and what sort of sacrifice went into giving you that meat? Isn’t it better to be aware?

I feel awful for my family friend, receiving threats and insults the way that she has when, really, she is closer to the source of her food than many of us are. She has a relationship with her animals, she loves them and takes care of them – knowing her the way I do, I cannot doubt that. She knows where her meat comes from, and she makes sure that before they die, they lead a fulfilling life full of love and happiness. That is not an evil thing. That is not something that anyone should look down on. Rather, that is something that those of us who choose to eat meat should try to emulate.

And when I say that, I don’t mean that we all need to start our own homesteads or go hunting – personally speaking, I know I wouldn’t have the heart for it. All that I’m saying is that we need to be educated about where our meat comes from, and we need to make sure that when we do eat meat, it comes from socially-conscious sources. Seek out independent farms and buy your meat from there – you can find these farms represented frequently at your local farmer’s market. Not only will you be healthier and supporting your community, you will be much kinder to creatures who depend on our benevolence.

Changing the Way We Think About Addiction

Very recently, I have found myself becoming acutely aware of the ways in which people talk about those who get involved in drugs. I have heard people say that they very clearly have a death wish, and if they want to die then let them die. I have heard people refer to those who manage to get clean as being “smart enough” to do it. And the thing about all of these statements that completely baffles me is the way that these statements dismiss drug addicts as being ‘lesser than’ the average person.

A drug addict who doesn’t get clean isn’t smart enough to do it. A drug addict who takes life-threatening drugs deserves to die. These seem to be very common assumptions that non-addicts continue to make, but they are very, very, dangerously wrong.

First of all, let me discuss this idea of an addict being “smart enough” to get clean. A comment such as this implies that any addict who doesn’t get clean, any addict who succumbs to their addiction, is doing so simply because they are too stupid to do otherwise. But I think that it is fairly obvious that a person who returns to a drug again and again is not doing it because they are stupid; they are doing it because they are addicted. In fact, intelligence and addiction have absolutely no correlation with one another. Not every addict is some uneducated sap sitting in a pool of his own vomit and urine with a needle sticking out of his arm – some of them are highly educated people. Some of them are very intelligent, very well-spoken, very worldly. There are many highly successful writers who have been regarded as great minds of their generation, while simultaneously struggling very openly with addiction, including William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, just to name a few. So, no, addicts are not addicts because they are too stupid to be anything else – they are addicts because they have become hooked to a highly addictive substance, one that, for better or worse, they keep turning back to again and again because they feel like they have to.

But this brings me to my second point, and to my response to the idea that if addicts want to die, then why not let them: why do addicts feel like they have to? I mean, yeah, sure, being hooked on a highly addictive substance is one explanation, but there is quite a substantial amount of research that suggests that chemical dependency is most common among people who are dealing with depression, post traumatic stress disorder, or some other form of mental illness or personality disorder. Some doctors, such as Gabor Mate, have even suggested that depression is the leading cause of addiction, and that as much as the chemical dependancy is a factor, it is much easier to become addicted if your brain is predisposed to needing that sense of comfort that drugs offer. Think about the way that other addictions work for an example of this: gambling addicts or shop-a-holics are most certainly addicted, despite the lack of an addictive chemical substance. And in many cases, they are addicted because the action makes them feel happy – it fills a void that they felt in their lives.

In many cases, the addict is a person who is intensely, deeply hurting. The addict is a person who has been sexually, emotionally, or physically abused at some point in their life. The addict is a person who has been tormented by their own mind for years. But more important than any of that, the addict is a person. The addict is not some idiot who turned to drugs for no reason at all, just because they felt like destroying their lives.

The addict is that kid who snorted cocaine once because he was curious, and found that it was the answer to all his pain, the mental torment that he has lived with all his life.

The addict is that grown woman who had a chance at a life, but lost it all because her mental illness went undiagnosed, and heroine masked the pain that she could not understand, even if it was just for a little while.

The addict is a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, a friend, a lover, a cousin, a mother or father. The addict matters.

And honestly, there are few groups of people that a statement like this can be directed to and it can be considered morally right. For example, while I am not addicted to chemical substances, I am a person who has dealt on and off with depression and anxiety, like many addicts. I also engage in some behaviour that some might consider harmful to myself, such as self-harm. I have struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past, but if anyone ever said to me “if you want to die, why don’t you just go and do it?” that would not be okay. That would not be tolerated – not by me, nor by most anyone who heard a comment like that made against me. Why would that be okay to say to an addict? And if it is okay to say to an addict, then why not to other types of addicts? Why is it only drug addicts who this can be said to? An alcoholic also takes in a mind-altering substance that puts their own life and the safety of others at risk, and yet I have never heard anyone say that if an alcoholic wants to die, they should. It is only drug addicts who receive this sort of treatment, and that is because people see the drug addict as a lesser human being.

And if you think an addict’s pain ends the moment that they start taking the drug, think again. I cannot speak for every addict’s experience, and it is especially difficult for me to do so as I have never been an addict myself, but I can imagine how hard it must be to be hooked on a chemical that forces you to become ostracized by society. I can imagine how hard it must be to feel hated by the very people who are supposed to protect you – the police. I can imagine how it must feel to know that everyone always expects the worst from you, or they expect too much from you. They want you to get off the drug but you feel like you can’t, you feel like it’s too hard. And if you go back to the drug, then everyone says of course you went back to the drug. What else would you do? You’re just a no-good, worthless addict. And if enough people say this about you, then you’ll even start to believe them. You’ll start to see yourself as nothing more than that. You’ll lose your self-esteem, fall deeper into that spiral of depression, and lose any and all motivation to get yourself out of the situation you’re in.

I am not trying to ignore the fact that many addicts cause harm to themselves and others. Addiction is an ugly thing, and it can make people do very ugly things. But that doesn’t get rid of the fact that addicts are people, and the vast majority of them are people who are hurting and people who need help. We as a society tend to ignore them. We don’t like to think about them because we see them as morally wrong, as ugly and twisted and not worth our attention. But they are worth our attention. They are entirely and completely worth our attention because they are people, and maybe it’s difficult to individually help every addict that we come across in our lives, but we should be pushing to set up our society in a way that better helps these people, rather than ostracizes them. And the first step in setting up a society that helps addicts is by changing the way that we think about them.

What I Learned From Eating Healthy

About two years ago, I decided that I wanted to eat healthy and lose weight. I thought that it would all be fairly straight-forward. Eating healthy, I thought, was nothing more than whole wheat bread, meat and veggies – nothing too complicated about that. But as it turns out, especially if your goal is losing weight, there are a lot of conflicting messages about what healthy eating is. Everyone is an expert, and everyone promises that their method works the best, so it’s really difficult to know for sure what’s true and what’s a lie.

And right off the bat, I’m going to admit that I am not an expert. I have not gone to school for nutrition, but I have lost fifty pounds by changing my diet and exercising regularly. And that is all that I am drawing on here: experience. Experience, and a desire to help people sort through the conflicting messages that are available online.

So, without further ado, here are the things that I have learned from eating healthy.

1) Different things work for different people

This might be one of the most important points. When searching advice for healthy eating, you’ll find a lot of the same questions: “Is cheese okay?” “Is a vegan diet better for you?” “Can I still eat breads?”

And here is my answer, from my own experience eating healthy and listening to other people: different things work for different people.

For example, there are some people who will claim with die-hard conviction that you will feel a million times better if you eliminate bread from your diet. But when I did it, a good three months later I was sitting in class, unable to focus on the lecture because I was too busy watching the girl in front of me eat a sandwich. I went just a little bit delirious, fantasizing about that little bit of tortilla that comes at the beginning of a taco. Eventually, I decided that it just wasn’t worth it, and I went back to eating 100% whole wheat bread, and I haven’t had any problems since.

Some people believe that a plant-based diet is better than anything. Some people physically cannot live without meat. Some people say that cheese is terrible for you. Others say that it’s a great source of protein, and a good way to bulk up your calories if you’re looking to gain muscle. It’s all very individual, and you need to work through different diets to figure out which one works the best for you.

And the same goes for how you eat too, not just what you eat. When I first started eating healthy, I was told that the best method for doing so was to eat small meals every two to three hours, because it keeps your metabolism up. I cannot imagine any other way of eating, because I find that, every two to three hours, I start to get a little bit hangry. Yet, I have heard many alternatives to that theory. I hear that it’s best to eat within a small window between, say, noon to eight p.m. I hear that it’s best to eat one large meal and small snacks throughout the day. I hear that it’s best not to eat at all, just drink water or tea or some sort of detoxifying concoction. And I’m not saying that these methods do not work for some people; I’m just saying that they wouldn’t work for me. And that’s okay. We are all different, and all of our bodies need different things. We just need to find out what works for us.

2) You can still eat many of your favourite foods – you just need to substitute

Ever since I was little, muffins have been one of my favourite treats. They’re a comfort food, and have been ever since my mom would bring them home for me when she got off of work. And as much as I can’t (regularly) eat store-bought muffins now, I can still make them at home with substituted ingredients. Using oat flour and honey rather than sugar, I can make blueberry muffins, gingerbread muffins, even double chocolate chip muffins if I want, and I can enjoy them daily without guilt.

And muffins are not the only treat that you can do this with. For example, you can make great healthy tacos using lean beef and whole wheat tortillas. You can make your own pizzas using whole wheat pitas or whole wheat tortillas or whatever you can think up. Heck, you can even eat chocolate, as long as you can get used to the taste of dark chocolate (and your tastes will change after a period of eating healthy. Honestly, I think I eat more chocolate now than I ever used to).

Pretty much any meal that you can think of has its healthy alternatives. You can buy pasta made out of brown rice or vegetables, you can make flour out of oats or almonds. And the internet is a great resource for looking this stuff up. You can do a Google search for healthy alternative recipes, and you will find a whole variety, many of them fairly inexpensive.

3) If you want some solid advice, just try to eat natural

There are so many companies nowadays that claim that their product is the best. Because their bread is low calorie, that means that its a healthy alternative to your typical bread. The problem with that is, in their attempt to make it low calorie, they stuffed it full of so many chemicals that, as much as you can most certainly digest it, it really isn’t all that good for your body.

It is so much better for you to just eat foods that come naturally. Fruits, vegetables, farm-raised meats, natural sugars like honey or molasses or maple syrup. All of these are so much healthier for you than the products companies push to help you lose weight.

Now, I say try to eat natural because, in our day and age, it isn’t always easy. GMO apples are much cheaper to buy than organic apples, and meats from animals that never saw the sun and were fed a diet of chemicals are cheaper than farm-raised meats. Every once in a while, something’s got to give, and maybe it’s better to accept the chemicals than it is to not have enough to make next month’s rent. But that being said, when you can eat natural, it is always the best alternative.