I Fainted in Public

Consciousness and I have always had an on-again off-again relationship. Usually when I pass out though, I am doing something important, like having a routine blood test or watching someone get shot on The Wire. While not something I’m proud of, these black outs are significantly more dignified than passing out in public, like, say, in the middle of an exercise class.

I have been doing 9:00 a.m. kettlebell classes on Saturday mornings for a couple of weeks now with my friend Ayelet, which is a testament to just how much I adore her. Most Saturdays I roll out of bed for our workout, groggy, crazy haired, sheets imprinted on my cheeks, singularly motivated by getting to spend time with her. I fly out the door to meet her on time with a handful of dry cereal. She lives across the street. Ayelet has a 20 month old baby, so 9:00 a.m. is mid day for her. She waits for me bright eyed, beautiful, with smooth hair, having already completed a number of chores around the house and imparted wisdom to her little one, like the importance of exercise.

A kettlebell is a circular-type weight with a handle on it that you lift, swing around and hope not to be sued for public endangerment. Most people in the class take a heavy kettlebell that actually gives them a workout. I, on the other hand, don’t really like to challenge myself. I typically reach for the weight that they give elderly participants and people who have sustained a massive injury. Chrissy, the cool, fit, instructor with half a shaved head that makes me want to take a razor to my own, calls this a paperweight. Having noticed my mastery over the paperweight, Chrissy suggested last week that I try using a heavier kettlebell. I was terrified. My first inclination was to tell her that I myself am suffering from a massive injury (a debilitating lack of self esteem), but have yet in 31 years to say ‘no’ to anyone. Ever.

“Sounds great!” I said, as she passed me the heavier weight.

Then she passed me another.

“This circuit involves both hands,” she explained.

Lifting the kettlebells over my head I immediately felt my arms begin to shake.

“Thirty more seconds!” Chrissy called.

The light started to retreat.

“Almost there!”

I began seeing stars.

Put the weights down, my body screamed. You’re about to pass out! In public!

“You can do it!” Chrissy yelled.

Not one to challenge authority, I kept my arms locked overhead until my whole body started to wobble and I felt something urgent rising in my chest. I ran to the bathroom where I remember turning on the sink, intending to splash cold water on my face.

You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay, I repeated.

Then I remember waking up on the floor.

No you’re not.

I came to with a woman nudging me with her bare foot.

“Excuse me,” she said. I looked up at her fuzzy outline. “I have to go to the bathroom.”

I was unable to move, so she finally stepped over me.

Somewhere in the distance I heard Ayelet’s soothing voice. “Don’t worry. Just stay down,” she said, sitting beside me on the floor.

I was humiliated. I could never show my face in the gym again. Except, when my heart rate finally settled, I noticed something. I felt completely refreshed. Getting up from the bathroom floor, I felt replenished and restored, more revitalized than I had in a long time. It was as if I suffered a system failure, my body flashed PC Load Letter, and the circuitry rebooted.

Passing out in an exercise class is actually quite liberating. In addressing anxieties, cognitive behavioural therapy always asks: what’s the worst possible outcome? What’s the worst thing that could happen? When it comes to an exercise class, for me, the worst thing that could happen would be passing out in the bathroom and having someone touch me with their bare foot. Now that that had happened, and I survived, there wasn’t really anything else to worry about. I don’t really like getting up early, I don’t really enjoy exercising while in the middle of it. I certainly don’ t welcome passing out and I definitely don’t like coming into contact with other people’s feet, but in the end, I feel better. Healthier, even. I am reminded of the quote by British novelist, William Sansom: “I don’t like writing, I like having written.”  Boy can I relate to that!

Knowing now that I could handle my greatest exercise worry, I felt more confident and more sure of myself. Maybe I could channel this feeling of mastery into other facets of my life. Maybe I could even start speaking my mind, telling people what I really think, answering them in the negative.

“How did you like the heavier weight?” Chrissy asked, as I thanked her for the class.

“I LOVED it!” I said.

Maybe not.