I thought this might be an appropriate place to post this. I could really use some feedback and advice so thank you in advance for taking the time to read and/or respond to this. I’ve been struggling with this specific issue for about 2 years now. I’ve had severe anxiety associated with going to my local gym, and related concepts. But not for the reasons you might assume. It involves anxiety, depression, shame and patterns of OCD. Sorry if this is too long. I need to work on being more concise I suppose. Writing is cathartic for me.
Background: (maybe skip the background if you don’t have the time)
I used to work with a guy 5 years ago. Let’s call him John. We became friends through working and started spending time together outside of work. He has a very outgoing, risk-taking, care-free personality. He’s 5 years older than me. John has a somewhat troubled past and spent a small amount of time in jail for theft, has been charged with multiple DUI’s, etc. John would come into work high on a combination of drugs basically every day and on multiple occasions I even saw him selling drugs on work property. He’s no boy scout. Personally, I’ve never been in any serious trouble and my worst offense is a speeding ticket. I liked hanging out and talking to this guy, pretty standard stuff.
He ended up stealing money from our company and I caught him doing it. He actually admitted to me he was doing it because he thought he could trust me and to be honest, it was not a large amount of money that he stole, though it did happen on multiple occasions. He was also considered one of the managers at this company, while I was just a regular employee. I did not say anything to anyone for about a month and asked him several times if he would just return the money that he stole, but he refused.
I tend to obsess about things and create narratives in my mind that cause me a lot of anxiety. I began feeling guilt about not reporting this crime and I created a narrative in my mind that it was somehow my fault and that he would be found out and I would end up being charged with a crime for not stopping him. I felt terrible for about a month before finally reporting it to one of the managers. I just couldn’t stand the guilt and shame anymore, despite it being such a relatively minor, victim-less crime that I witnessed. This was a summer job that ended at the end of August and I ended up reporting it in the beginning of September, about 5 years ago. Because of the nature of the job, there was a police officer in the same building of the place the manager I reported it to was working in, and so they promptly got me to report the crime to the police officer as well. Then I left, knowing my friend would likely get into serious trouble, and that he would know it was me who sold him out, and that we would no longer be friends. But to me this was better than living with constant guilt, and I did feel some relief after reporting it. Still, I continued to feel anxious and shameful that I reported my friend’s crime, that I might have to give the police more info, or that I might be called to testify in court, etc.
My life went on. I was spending most of my time going to college. I no longer contacted John, and hoped to leave him in the past. I later found out that he was called in for questioning, but nothing ever came from it. John was never charged with a crime, there was never a trial, basically nothing bad happened as a result. I had planned on never returning to that job and I knew John planned on never returning as well. John knew it was me that sold him out and told mutual friends that he hated me for it. But I was just glad it was over with. Most of our coworkers never learned what happened. I never saw John for a couple years, but we still lived in the same town.
(End of background)
I have always been a big fan of athletics and since about 18, I’ve worked out regularly at gyms. I was working out a particular gym for a while, until a group of friends convinced me to join a different gym. I liked this new gym a lot and enjoyed working out by myself and with others there. After going for a couple weeks, I notice a familiar face. My former friend John (significance explained in background section above) goes to this gym. The shame and anxiety came flooding back. I ignored him the first few times I saw him there but eventually I knew there needed to be some kind of interaction between us. To cut to the chase, he never showed any kind of animosity toward me at this new gym. He never said or did anything that would make one believe he resents me for the past, and was actually pretty nice, as usual. I still felt that deep down he must have been harboring negative thoughts toward me, and I continued to feel shame for what had happened.
The gym went from being my happy place to a place of torment. I began feeling severe anxiety about having to go to the gym and cross paths with John. Every day at work I would feel increasing dread as gym time approached. I would feel so anxious that it became difficult to focus on anything else. But I never stopped going to the gym. I felt that my workouts were suffering because I would always show up to the gym in a terrible mood, I would feel anxious and distracted the whole time and I would leave in a terrible mood. As if it weren’t difficult enough to stay on a strict gym routine, I developed this additional burden. Then I would feel terrible about how I’m wasting my potential at the gym and underachieving.
I continued to work out 5 times a week, feeling anxious all day about going to the gym, feeling bad while there, and feeling bad afterwards. I couldn’t bring myself to stop going but I strongly considered switching gyms. I would only cross paths with John about 1/5 of the times I was there, but the looming feeling never left. I always felt an anxious association and dealing with it made me more depressed than I already was in general. Despite John not showing any signs of ill will, I felt shame about his existence there. We even joked and talked when we ran into each other, although I was only interacting with him because I thought it might help me feel better. But I just couldn’t seem to shake the guilt or the negatives associated with this new gym.
A newer gym opened in town not long after, and it was nicer and cheaper than the current gym so we switched. I felt huge relief that I would no longer have to cross paths with John at the gym. My anxiety started dropping, and I started enjoying my workouts more. My only anxiety stemmed from the possibility of John switching to this nicer gym too. And after about a month, he of course showed up at this gym too. The anxiety came back. Same routine. I felt helpless and like I would never escape this. Fortunately, he rarely showed up to this gym. For the next 3 months I saw him 3-4 times at this gym, and then never again. I still feared that he would show up at any moment so the anxiety continued. I’ve been going to this gym for a little over a year now and learned a couple months ago that he no longer has a membership at this gym. I felt relief at learning this and thought I might finally be past this. But the anxiety continued because I’ve built up such a strong associations with the gym being a place to fear, and feel anxious about.
Throughout this whole ordeal, thoughts of fitness, mentions of gyms, workout routines, etc. have triggered my anxiety and so I’ve avoided talking or thinking about them, but I’ve continued to show up and work hard. But I just feel like I can’t shake this association and that’s what I need help with.
I have talked in depth with my therapist about this over the past year and a half but I have yet to fully overcome this issue. I have come to terms with the fact that: I did nothing wrong in the scenario with John, I have no reason to feel shame or anxiety about it, John doesn’t seem to care about what happened anymore, I have no logical reason to feel shame about this, etc. I’ve tried focusing on the good things at the gym: the music I workout to, the attractive women, the progress I’m attempting to make and so forth.
I’ve tried mediation, weekly therapy, challenging my thoughts, etc.
But despite there being nothing in reality that should make me anxious about going to this gym, I can’t seem to break the association. Every time I think I’m over it, I get pulled back in. To some extent I’m trying to sabotage myself by using these negative thoughts to bring myself down, but the awareness of this does not seem to allow me to overcome it
I feel like I’m stuck in a rut with being unable to progress in my life because I have this constant anxious routine about going to the gym, and most days it feels like I’m just existing to survive those feelings, rather than making progress in my general life goals. It feels like one of those problems that I can’t overcome because there’s nothing in reality for me to conquer. It’s all a narrative I have constructed and despite knowing how illogical it is, I still feel terrible about it. There’s no concrete resolution it seems. It’s negatively affecting every aspect of my life and I hate it. I feel so stuck in not being able to change my thought patterns. Fitness is a very crucial part of my life, and I have a routine of going 5 times a week. I can’t see myself walking away from it.
I just can’t seem to let this anxious association go. What tips do you guys have for this? Anything I haven’t tried? I have considered switching to yet another gym, but my therapist has told me not to as this is just running away from the problem and not confronting it.
I have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and depending on which therapist you ask, OCD. I have been medicated for these in the past but I’m not currently being medicated, although I am considering getting back on some kind of medication.
TL;DR: Guy I have a rocky past with went to same gym as me. I felt very anxious about him being there despite there being no animosity between us. He stopped going. I still go regularly. Despite him not going anymore, I have built up strong negative associations with going to this gym and it’s affecting my workouts and everyday life as I continue to feel terrible about the gym and the idea of going to this gym. Looking for advice on how to fully overcome this.
Any and all suggestions or insight would be much appreciated. Sorry for such a long post, but I don’t know how to write any other way. Thank you.