So. This will be a short and not-so-sweet but hopefully, relatable post. Here goes. I signed up for a 5k. Me, that weird, big black lady living in Germany. Because I wanted to take myself seriously, I wanted to reach new goals and feel good about myself. I wanted to exceed expectations, break the image of stereotypical fat people…. I wanted my daughter to be proud of me, my husband to see that I can do anything I set my mind to— but mostly, this was about me. And in every possible way, I failed and it fell apart. It’s ok to laugh about it, I’m honest enough to admit that I failed in fashion. I got a bag full of goodies the day before the run. It included a XXL shirt (I ordered that size hoping it would fit), vitamins, tea… my number and my chip. The shirt didn’t fit. Now in American sizing, I wear about a 14/16 top size, maybe an occasional 18. The XXL was a Euro size 44, or size 12 American, and the lady told my husband that the shirts run a size smaller, which means that the biggest size you can get is a 10. So that was off-putting to begin with, but I didn’t let it get me down, I mean who wants to wear a bright yellow shirt anyway, right? So I wore my own thing.
The night of, the family upstairs decided to sleep-train their child (the same age as O) with the cry-it-out method. Needless to say, everyone in our building and perhaps beyond was up from 2:15- 4:30, and then again at 6:30-7:30. Obviously, I felt bad for the parents, but was rather miffed about my own lack of sleep. Whatever. I spent the first half of the day thinking about the run to come. An hour before, I ate a half a sandwich, drank some vitamin water and ate a banana. I was ready to go. I stepped outside into the sweltering heat and was like, yeah, this isn’t ideal but I can still do it. When I got to the area filled with runners and family members, I noticed the stares. The looks of pity. I went to an attendant and asked if there was a locker for my stuff. She smiled politely and told me she didn’t understand the question. Well, ok. No problem, I could carry my stuff. Turns out, one of the moms for Mother’s Group was there and told me to drop my stuff with her husband. Task completed. The time was winding down and there had to be maybe a 100 ladies, but I really have no idea. It was packed. And almost everyone was in good shape; only three (including myself) were not wearing the t-shirt. One of them was a lady in a sports bra, mohawked with wireless headphones, so she was legit. And of course as soon as the run started, she took off like a cheetah through a herd of gazelles. I was the only walker. Yes, there were nordic-walkers all around me, and yes they hit me with their sticks. Also they too laughed at me (I’m not even kidding), so I let them pass. I was alone at the end. I held my head up high and tried to jog a bit, but I got too distracted by the jeers and laughter by a group of teen boys. People were watching me, a lot of them looked at me with a look I’ve experienced my entire life: the knowledge that I don’t belong there. Now, this is where you are probably thinking that I’m overly sensitive and maybe prone to social anxiety. Perhaps you are right on both counts. But I’m also extremely honest, and I know when I’m the brunt of a joke, every person who has ever been on the outside does too btw. I made it a third of the way through before the stares, the laughter, this guy calling me a pig, and the anxiety of putting myself in the spotlight caught up to me.
Now, at the beginning of the race, I stashed my phone in my sports bra because, well that’s a safe place for it. I pulled it out much to the surprise of a few elderly onlookers and called my husband.
“I can’t do this. They are all staring at me. I’ve never been so humiliated in my life.”
Tears were threatening to splash the cobblestones underneath my staggeringly fast walking. My mouth was dry from the heat and embarrassment. Don’t let people see you cry, you hold your head up.
I zipped up my sweater— yes I was wearing a sweater because I’m really shy about my big flabby arms, even in the heat— to block out of my running number so maybe that would stop people from noticing me. That’s what my life has come to. Would I do it in the US? Probably not. But here I’m usually one of the biggest people around. And in Germany, you have to accept that people are going to stare at you if you are only a little bit different. And I am a whole lotta different (say it like Foxy Cleopatra!). I met my husband and daughter, and I nearly collapsed into them. I dry sobbed. I wanted, at the moment, to get into a portal with them, and live a life of solitude on a lonely, tropical island in a beautiful beach shack never to see or be heard from again. The Island Life. We walked the long way home, so that by the end, I really did do a 5k and didn’t feel like such a failure. The Husband was a supportive beacon of light as always. These last few weeks I’ve been rather depressed, and to say that this was not the outcome that any of us wanted is an understatement. I had resolved that when I got home, I would give myself time to sob about it; to come to terms with one of my personal nightmares becoming a reality. But instead, here I am writing about it. Because I know I’m not the only one who has done something like this. I know people can relate. I know some of you will get it.
My husband kept repeating that he was proud of me for doing something that is totally outside of my comfort zone. Sure, I didn’t succeed but I tried. It wasn’t the exercise, it was the exposure. I could have done that 5k. I know that with my heart. I’ve been training for it; I’ve been really trying to meet my goals even and especially through the depression. Then he, The German, said something that made me stop. “In the US, you would have had other people walking next to you, cheering you on. The same level as you. You would not have been alone. But they don’t do that here. They are afraid, wouldn’t have the courage to do it. They wouldn’t even try.” Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s the same as when you ask a German to speak English and they say no, no I’m terrible. And then eventually they speak and it’s perfect. Maybe it is the same. But I won’t be trying a 5k again. It’s not who I am. I can achieve goals in my own comfortable way. Whether it’s more challenging work in pilates/yoga or jogging, or if possible, tennis (I love tennis!). I failed, and I’m embarrassed. And I’m disappointed in myself. But I will get through this. It’s just another part of life, right? Thanks for reading….