Supposed to be

Summer, 2010
Summer, 2010

After you turn 40, you’re supposed to graciously give in to gravity. Let the pounds accrue and let your ass gently carve curves in that one special corner of the sofa. After you turn 40, you’re supposed to let the young folks take over and forge ahead and sit back and reflect and plan the rest of the slide. After you turn 40, you’re not supposed to care anymore. After you turn 40, you’re not supposed to give a damn.

Not everyone receives these messages. I won’t claim they are universal, not these days. I can only claim I received them, and by the time I was 42 I’d taken them on as an unconscious philosophy of living. I was doing some things I liked with my life–writing for a living–and my depression could wait. My high blood pressure would succumb to medication, as soon as I found time to get to the doctor.

Then we took our summer vacation trip to Salem, Massachusetts (from Georgia, where we lived at the time) and my wife and I took a lot of photos and videos. We got home and I looked at those videos and I saw the shambling, red-faced, nearly 300-lb fat man in them and thought about how I woke some nights sick from reflux and how a mile walk in 80-degree heat almost made me pass out and I thought, maybe I’ll completely give in. I’ll make it look like I’m trying to fix things and hope the effort kills me.

So the first time I took a walk in the summer heat aimed at ‘starting a program’ I actually hoped I might die. I’ve written this before elsewhere and told people, but I’m convinced their reaction is to think I’m being dramatic. I’m not. I shuffled along those pretty wooded trails in that hilly park by our home in Georgia and by the time I reached a ridge where there was a slight breeze and the peaceful rush of the Big Creek below, I thought, very clearly, hopefully I’ll die here. A man the size I was at the time, with my uncontrolled hypertension, well, I was supposed to die in that situation.

I didn’t, so I tried again. And again. I skipped days and then tried again.

I never even vomited from exertion. I kept dropping weight, and I started feeling, well, better. The exertion, by degrees, began to feel good. I slept better. I made conscious efforts at watching what I ate, then found myself occasionally just naturally gravitating toward the better choices. Somewhere along the way, I stopped hoping I’d die on that ridge with the wind and the creek on either side of me and began enjoying them for what they were.

I encountered condescending, much fitter young people on the trails who gave me smarmy “encouragement” as they dashed past, but sometimes I saw other guys, my age, grinding along like I was. We’d nod grimly and keep moving.

Somehow, I just never stopped. Running and careful eating carved a good deal of the weight away, but at some point after I’d lost maybe 90 lbs. I realized I wasn’t just a runner. My curiosity took hold and I began to study exercise, in a way I’d never really even tried before. I grew fascinated with whatever steps one could take to never have to join a gym. I’m not anti-gym (there’s an old-style gym in the city where I live now I’d still like to check out–“old-style” meaning it caters more to large, solemn men bent solely on lifting very big weights than suburban moms looking to knock off the holiday pounds) but embracing exercise again taught me that I am at heart, like my dad, a born do-it-yourselfer.

With dad, this manifested in various construction projects around the home, some so successful and novel they bordered on genius, others perhaps less successful but still interesting. With me, it began to manifest in figuring out just how much I could do alone.

Today.
Today.

With kettlebells, body weight exercises and (a bit less) running, I dug in, hard. I’m digging still. Here is where I am today. I have never used a trainer, and haven’t joined a gym. I don’t have workout partners. I did this by myself, using excellent online resources like FitnessBlender, articles by kettlebell gurus like Mike Mahler and Pat Flynn and a motley crew of Youtube fitness lunkheads and weirdos, and I’m doing it still.

I haven’t fully conquered everything. Not sure I will. I still fight my weight. It turned out that accumulating 100 extra pounds of fat between the ages of 28 and 43 or so resulted in some pretty damned tenacious fat. There are legitimate (as in I know it’s not just my perception) things about my body I’d still like to change, in general. I still get depressed because depression is an integral part of my makeup and slack–though I’ve found that exercise has become such a hardwired habit for me now that even when depressed, I usually end up doing something.

But whatever I do, I’m going to do it without killing myself. I went from hoping a 2 mile walk on a hot day might put me out of my misery to feeling most alive when I’m buried in a long run or slinging a pretty huge volume of sweat with a 70-lb kettlebell in hand.

I might look angry in the “Today” photo, but I’m not. I’ve learned a different way of looking at things, and mostly taught it to myself. I’m determined. That’s why I wrote this, even though I’ve blogged many of these things either on my Tumblr or in this blog before.

I don’t know what this time of life is really like for other men and women. For some, I suspect the gradual beginning of a certain slowing down is exactly what they need. My own father had worked damned hard, mostly with his hands, by the time he turned 46. It was perfectly okay for a man who’d worked like that to want to walk in and sit the hell down and not move at the end of the day. But my time is different, the world has made a different set of demands on men in my generation. I don’t want to rest yet. I haven’t earned it. I’m pushing ahead. I think that’s how this is supposed to be.

Note, 6/16/2014: I’m grateful WordPress featured this post on Freshly Pressed. I’m also grateful for the comments I’ve received. I don’t often write this kind of thing–my professional writing has mostly been about current events, particularly dark subjects like crime and cyber crime, with some satire on the side–so the idea that this post would be of positive benefit to others is pretty gratifying. Thanks for reading.  

102 thoughts on “Supposed to be

  1. Hello, I am Danyealah and I am a young writer/poet/blogger. Reading your post was inspiring. I have an older brother that boxes and is a health/fitness enthusiast. He has helped my parents (who are past their 40′s) develop weight-loss and exercise plans. Your post reminded me of my brother’s motivation and tenacity. A very good read!

  2. Congratulations, on tenaciously working out to change your life around. An inspiring story. Age is only a number. I have seen active and healthy people at 70, an unfortunately unhealthy people at 30. The body and mind have a deep relationship. A healthy mind thrives in a healthy body 🙂

  3. I am 37 and just set up to accomplish ultra running. I find it that if you are passionate about it PLUS be positive. I have found myself in negative situations before and allowed those thoughts to put me on the couch or with a bottle. I try to understand – mind body and spirt.
    Great read and positive direction.

    1. I’ve heard this from many of my older lady friends. I am hoping it’s true–20′s were so-so, 30s are getting good, which means 40s are going to be amazing! {I hope!}

  4. I think I fit very nicely into your before area at the moment. I suffer from depression and weight issues, unfortunately these two often go hand in hand and they seem to be the prime cause of one another. It’s a very vicious cycle. I have recently been trying to find the push to really go and do something about myself, reading this I think has got me one step closer. I know when I reach 40 it will be all that much more difficult, but it’s a hard road.

  5. Hello! this is exactly where I am today…..getting involved with my body…..I am into running and I just had a bad finish with my half marathon yesterday. I am drumming up a game plan to improve my time and here is your post…..thank you….keep going….you are not alone in your journey!

  6. Great job loosing weight and finding you in the process! I’m approaching 41. Life is different now for both men and women. We can choose a longer, fuller life by trying to stay healthy as you have. 🙂

  7. Wow! Thanks for the inspiration… Just getting back into a fitness routine of my own (and in my 40s battling with brand new bulges in places they’ve never been before…I’ve slacked in the past year). I too hate the gym and it’s nice to know you really can get back into great shape with a bit of determination. Keep up the awesome job – we may not be twenty anymore, but we’re still young in today’s standards – I know I plan to stay that way!

  8. I’m in my 50s and have to admit that it’s harder to stay in shape. It definitely takes more effort but on the other hand, my friends are looking better at 50 than I thought. I loved hearing your story and happy for your success.

  9. Nice one. I went to my first yoga class when I was in my early 20′s. On arrival I realised that I was the youngest there by at least 40 years. I also realised that the other people there where way more flexible than I was. It doesn’t what age you are when it comes to fitness.

  10. Great post! I think that many people chalk up life’s “realities” to mere laziness. And we attribute our shortcomings and downfalls to the status quo.
    But there are so many people that shatter those expectations in everyday life, such as yourself. So much is possible when we put our minds to things and get up off those proverbial couches.
    I hope you, and everyone else out there, continues to upset the norm, and writes to tell about it!

  11. I too went that route of gaining weight, lots of stress from the job and bills high on my coffee table. A stroke at fifty three put everything in prospective. Then was the road to travel, hard and bumpy. Food and exercise became a main focus. No more bread, soda forbidden and salt a taboo. For exercise I got a job at Lego Land where I sweat and move. I lost ninety pounds and at sixty eight watch myself. Keep running for the hounds are hungry.

  12. Thanks for the read. Good to find it on Day One of what I hope will be the actual Turn My Life Around journey!!! Today I made a healthy packed lunch and am drinking water. Also focusing on keeping demon thoughts at bay.

  13. WELL DONE, all of it!! Honest insights, great writing style, personal goals surpassed. Excellent. And PS your 60′s are going to be even better, wonderful time of life.

  14. It is difficult to keep fit and healthy, the older we get. But I agree with you, about times that changed. And so many young people don’t think about “earning” rest, but that it is their right. I like the way you think and motivate yourself in this sense.

  15. I can’t believe you think that 40 is the time to sit back and let the young ones take over. It is the prime time of your life. I’m 65 and still walking and exercising along with many of my older friends. Never stop moving,it is the secret to an enjoyable long life.

  16. Age is the same as time. We created it as a label. There are those who embrace what comes, and there are others who defy it, and continue living as if they have their wholes lives ahead of them…maybe they do.

  17. Your post Supposed to Be was excellent, I am 56 and in the best shape of my life. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are too old to make a difference. Keep up the great work.

  18. Congratulations! Sometimes it’s the writing you don’t think is that inspiring that is the most truthful and in the end more relatable. I’m happy for you. Really I am.

  19. I am 42 years old and I started exercising in January for the first time in my life. Today I ran a mile without stopping and I almost burst into tears! I feel empowered, encouraged, and excited! I can relate to your post in so many ways. Way to go! To you and to me! 🙂

  20. This was a kick in the ass, a modernly masculine Just Do It, a triumph of expressive, honest writing, and simply fantastic.

  21. Im part way through my journey, today was my first “run” if you could call it that. I certainly dont image you would! But yes. It was a start. I hope I can become as committed to exercise as you have! Even when under the black dog. Thanks for writing this. Maybe see more of this side of you? Also if you want to follow my “running?” Progress check out my thingy on here! I got recipes and updates. Would be great to get some input if you dont mind.

  22. This is a quite inspiring post. As I will turn 60 in a couple of weeks, 40 seems a long time ago. But you are so right – at 40 many people don’t seem to care anymore. If weight loss is difficult at 40, at 50+ it is even more difficult.
    This is quite good writing too. I think you could pull off some kind of self-help book. And congrats on the FP!

  23. I’m kind of in the same boat. I just turned 40. I decided one day that if I wanted anything to change, I had to… actually *do* something different. So, I did. I started food tracking (I knew my portions were too big) and walking. I still do a lot of walking. Then I started running and then, like you, I’ve moved to weightlifting at home. I built my gym out of a $10 weight bench I bought at a garage sale and buying plates a couple at a time as I need them. I’ve dropped a lot of weight. I want more strength, so I just took my first boxing class, which was excellent. But here’s to us – the DIYers, the folks over 40 who aren’t willing to give up!!

  24. Excellent work, Steve. My husband has done the same thing; his wake up call was cancer, right before turning 50. It’s been almost three years now and he’s (I went along with him) a completely different man. And more importantly, he’s alive.

  25. What I noticed about myself when I turned forty: tastebuds change, metabolism slows down, desire to work out diminishes, your body gives in to gravity (just like you said.) One day I said “hell no”, and started exploring not gyms but options other than gyms. I have to admit I do not like gyms. Your post is very inspiring! Thank you for sharing your journey.

  26. Gyms can be a welcome respite when the great outdoors is catastrophically sub-zero or is working on the next Great Flood. I like the invisible human energy in a gym. And there are always people ready to exchange a grim nod as we all keep moving.

    1. I forgot to include–and I’ve always mentioned this when I wrote about this elsewhere–that the “no gym” decision on my part was also financial. When I started doing this stuff we couldn’t afford the extra monthly bill. As I said, I’m not anti-gym. I’m a bit critical of certain types of gym (as I wrote, I’m biased toward a more old-fashioned, kind of grungy place, as opposed to slick, carpeted glass boxes with banks of TVs–that said, I’ll use the gym any time I’m at a hotel and enjoy it, too), because I think they can be kind of a con, but we need gyms on the whole, that’s why they’ve stuck around.

  27. Well done! Well done! Not just the article but your efforts are an inspiration. I will think of you as I move through my own routine, developed by myself and executed in the basement and on the streets with weights and a bike. I do it for my children, I do it for my health and now I know that I don’t do it alone!

  28. I think it’s awesome that you shared your journey. I am turning 40 this year and completely agree; our generation is different than our parents’. There is more work to be done, Thankyou.

  29. I found your post very encouraging. I am over fifty and a diabetic. I am now walking for over an hour every day I can manage, because I find it manages my sugar levels just as much as my medication. I am losing weight, but slowly. It helps knowing other people are on their own personal journey to fitness.

  30. You absolutely rock. Seeing your after picture is great–you don’t look angry, just focused and determined. I think it is totally awesome that you started off feeling like crap and now feel the best when working out.
    I started in January this year (I’m 33) to recover my body and train for a 10k with my sister. In January I couldn’t run or even jog for thirty seconds without keeling over. I kept at it, even though it felt awful. I did it in the gym because this winter was atrociously cold, snowy, and muddy.
    By the end of April when the 10k was? I could run a mile, without stopping. Slowly, but I could do it. I’m sticking with it. I’d like to see where I am a year from now, strength and flexibility wise. My favorite part of the workout is coming out of it, drowning in sweat, feeling like I have kicked some major ass.
    Keep it up! I think working out is good both for the body and mind…especially in that it brings a feeling of pride when you look at the progress you’ve made.

  31. Great for you. I’m a young writer who aspires to do many things and loosing weight/getting in shape is one of them so thanks for the motivation. Keep up the good work!

  32. Awesome post. Congrats on the accomplishment! I really truly feel for people who are going through these battles, because it’s such a combination of mind and body.

  33. Your post is very inspirational. I found my destiny at age 47. That year was the beginning of my life. Thank you and I will be following your blog.

  34. This is the first blog I have read on this site and I seem to have chosen very well! Congratulations on your self improvement – this is just the type of inspirational writing I need to see to help me with my own goals! Keep up the great work 😀

  35. Love this! Unfortunately, I gave up at about 35. Now, at 46 I am beginning the process of turning my life around and getting back what was once mine. You are the MAN!

  36. I am in the midst of my own weight loss journey and thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Keep up the amazing work!

  37. I’ve always admired people like you and I’m pretty sure there’s a “do it yourselfer” somewhere in all of us. Just hitting the big four 0 myself this year, the very same introspection has welled up in me. 3 cheers for small manageable victories!, that seems a good way to bite chunks off a big self-imposed challenge. Very inspirational, thanks.

  38. “Hoping I would die but I didn’t so I tried again.” has to be the most unique form of motivation I have ever seen. From one 40yo who’s not giving in to gravity or the rules we’re supposed to follow to another, congratulations on your failure. You’re jacked!

  39. Its good to see you old folk starting to take your health and eating choices more seriously and attending to them aggressively. Thumbs up from us for making the effort to jump on the health conscious band wagon.

  40. As a trainer who gets tired of hearing peoples’ excuses as to why they “can’t” turn it around, this is incredibly refreshing. Congratulations on your success, and keep at. I’m approaching 30 and am in better shape than I ever was at 20. It can be done, as you’ve proved.

    1. Thanks, Trev. It’s a lot of work but I’ve considered working toward training certification specifically to help other folks in my age range. My dad raised me not to make excuses and I think one element of my turning things around was realizing I’d gotten away from that and just putting on the brakes.

  41. inspirational. thank you for sharing. As a 47 year old “huskie” father who has tried on again-off-again walking to running, dieting to screw-it-ill-eat-myself-dead moments…weakness seems to be the only prevailing shameful response!

  42. Reblogged this on barangaycamarinadminblog and commented:
    Our bodies at 40, and beyond.
    Reading this blog inspires me to be more careful with my health especially with the nature of work in the office sitting in front of my computer for a long period of time. Better not to hear ourselves by next year telling, “I should started it last year…” but start today transforming decades of bad habits into a healthier lifestyle.

  43. After 40 I’ll keep going with the exercice!!! I wanna live for many years in good shape but is important to start now to keep with a routine

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