The Pattern

When do I stupid, impulsive, compulsive things, I get tunnel vision. Harsh thoughts corral my perception into a narrow beam and I do things like call a salon at noon and schedule a hair appointment  for 7:30 PM. Between that call and my appointment I stumble along in a haze, high on the fact that I’m doing something stupid and rash and, perhaps more disturbingly, a little happy I’m doing something I don’t think I want to do. 

This is not a new pattern. It’s one I’ve plotted and followed before. It’s a way to combat the berating that begins slowly in the back of my mind and creeps from decibel to higher decibel until I suddenly become aware of it. It takes hours, sometimes days of acidic, disparaging thoughts before I realize I’ve been subjecting myself to the constant tone of my own abuse. By then, the damage is done and the only escape from the mental prison is to act against myself in a way that will top it–if I can cause myself more pain than the insidious creep of thoughts I’m barely aware of, I win. Or that’s how it’s worked historically. It’s why I have a history of self-harm: brief stints with cutting, self-induced vomiting, actually beating my abdomen and thighs in particularly unhinged moments.

That paragraph reads as “crazy, unstable, general WTF.” And it is. But it’s a part of my history and I know I’m among many who find or have found solace from a voice in their head that they cannot escape by trying to outdo its damage.

Perhaps you’re asking why I’m discussing this on what is supposed to be a powerlifting blog. It’s not a powerlifting blog. Powerlifting is only a vehicle–it’s the easy part, but dealing with the truths it reveals is much harder. And yesterday I cut off a sizable amount of my hair because I succumbed to the accumulation of days of self-abuse I didn’t know had been ringing in my head until I stared into the bathroom mirror in my childhood home at significantly shorter hair.

It’s not a secret on this blog and on other parts of the internet I use to discuss my lifting experience that I’ve chosen to put on a sizable amount of weight since May of last year. Putting on close to thirty pounds at 5’2″ is no small shift. I’ve already written and talked about why I’ve chosen to do this. And I accomplished what I set out to do–I generated more muscle mass by lifting and eating. I also increased my body fat percentage appreciably as well as worked up to a weight I’ve never weighed in my life.

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Illustration of above points. And then probably about five more pounds.

Something snapped a few days ago. Coming into Madison, my birthplace as well as the city in which I earned my undergrad degree, I felt the pressure of younger experience and a prior body crushing against my psyche. I felt the discomfort of not recognizing my body in its current state pushing down on my self-perception, and I felt it hard. One morning I woke up with the deep conviction that I could not stand being in this body anymore. It was a light-switch-flipped moment.  It was like coming out of a long, restive sleep. And it sent me into the cycle of growing mental self-destruction described earlier. And I cut my hair off.

I wish I could present you with a blog post celebrating my own physique, of standing with the “lift big eat big” enthusiasts, of positive thoughts and promising outlooks, of championing a focus on lifting, not looks. I can’t because It wouldn’t be my truth or my experience at this point in time. But I can say that I think I’m closer to identifying the pattern of my own self-destruction. Closer to understanding how stop it before it starts.

This is not really about the stupid hair. It’s about feeling defeated and understanding how to cradle and soothe myself after the violence exacted by a slippery, dark little part of mind. So, you know, here’s to that.

It's very Dita Von Teese-ish, so I guess that's cool.

It’s very Dita Von Teese-ish, so I guess that’s cool. Also, this is deceiving, it looks shorter than this. WTF camera.

Old and Not Old: Changing Eights

I’m not sure I’m actually going to publish this. I’m typing and I know I’m going to be opening up about things that are deeply personal–about things that I’m still trying to work through. About loss, about grieving for things that both are and are not gone. About things that I have and appreciate.

I turn 28 in almost exactly two months. I often look at women that my 18 year-old self would deem “not so young anymore” and wonder how close the age my body has begun to accumulate approximates the years marking the faces that look back at me. I wonder if my metabolism is slowing, whether there are grey hairs waiting beneath the red dye that now saturates my hair. And, of course, I think about where I am in my life and what it means to be nearly-28 in that place. Yes, I know there are those who are reading this with a dismissive amusement at the idea that 28 is aging. It’s not 48. It’s not 68. But it’s not 18. And I know I will be a different, perhaps better woman at 48 than I will be at 28. I also would like to think that I’m a different, better woman now than I was ten years ago. One of my father’s favorite catch-alls for times when we used to muse over growing up and growing old and everything in between is that “everything is relative.” Sometimes it’s hard to parse out how something is relative to something else, particularly when you’re trying to parse out the present. That’s probably what this post is an attempt to do. And we’ll see if I publish it.

Physical change belies the mental--me in July 2012 and me again in February 2014

Physical change belies the mental–me in July 2012 and me again in February 2014

I don’t talk about, write of, or otherwise publicize my academic background to a great degree because it’s a background that has run into the ground. Running things into the ground, especially when those things took a considerable investment, does not fall under most people’s definition of success. The barest-bones explanation of my background for those of you who don’t know me from earlier points in my life is as follows: I completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin at Madison with a double major in art and English. I then went on to attain an MFA from The University of Iowa in painting and drawing with a minor in printmaking.

I don’t really know how to write about my three years spent getting the MFA. They were pivotal; they were volatile towards their beginning and blissful towards their end. I spent the first part of the MFA strung out on a deformed, corrupted and corroded former relationship that had me engaged in more self-abuse than I will ever admit to anyone. I was out of my mind with depression and self-contempt at the midpoint of my graduate studies, to the point that I considered taking a leave of absence. I didn’t, mostly because I’m stubborn and I’ve quit too many other things school and activity-related in my life to concede one more defeat. Even though things turned around for me mentally as I progressed towards the end of my academic career, defeat was something I ultimately embraced when I realized that no part of myself was in love with art anymore. Now, I write that with some reservation–I’m not sure if I’m no longer in love or if I’m so burned out and simply burned by the MFA experience that the desire to generate visual art has gone dormant somewhere in my psyche. I’m guessing the latter is actually the case, but the former is what feels real to me now.

An example of my work, completed in 2012

An example of my work, completed in 2012

You can’t pursue a career as an academic in art if the passion isn’t there. Just like I wouldn’t make strength training a priority if the passion for it was gone, I cannot force myself to try to obtain a teaching position in a supersaturated job market that will see through whatever facade I might be able to drum up for job application purposes. I do not relish lying. I do not relish dishonesty. And I have never run into more trouble than when I have been dishonest with myself–trying to justify severe eating disorders was proof, trying to keep a long-dead relationship alive was proof, trying to stay in an incredibly low weight class was proof, and most recently trying to live up to the expectations of others that I put on like an ill-fitting pair of shoes has been proof. I have made feeble attempts to find an art job. I didn’t make any art. I didn’t want to make any art. I tried to want to make art. I tried to tell myself that I wanted to try to make art. I stopped sleeping well. I spent a lot of depressed days feeling completely terrible about myself.

Let’s backtrack to that part about trying to live up to the expectations of others. And lets’ backtrack further to where I referenced the concept of “grief” in introducing this post. The “others” whose expectations I’ve fallen so short of are my parents, and my grief lies both in failing them and feeling that it is now necessary to distance myself from two people who value things about me that I can no longer make manifest. My passions lie in camps other than art now, and they are the impetus for what is essentially a rewrite of how I am going to live my life. There’s not a lot I can draw from the rubble of my academic career to support my future attempts at making a living–I can smile at an interviewer and rattle off the degrees I hold so that he or she knows I have been through the circus rings of academia. I currently work a simple job in sales, and I like it. Horror of horrors to those who laud the intellectual return one supposedly gets from pursuing something other than the 9 to 5, I would be thankful to hold such a pedestrian position if it meant I could honor what is most important to me.

Here is what is most important to me now–the man to whom I’m engaged and the partnership we share. A distant second to this in importance is training–but despite that distance, I will reiterate it is the second most important thing in my life. I will eschew a prestigious career because I will invest everything in the love I’m privileged to share in my partnership with Kyle and I will invest everything in caring for my body, which is ultimately what I’m doing when I engage in the level of training in which I now engage.

Prioritizing what you hold most important and acting on what you have made priority is the first step towards honoring your own truth. I hope that those who love me will ultimately be happy for the happiness that I have found and continue to nurture every day. I hope that they can be understanding as I attempt to redirect my career path in a way that is both sustainable and productive. And I hope that in time they will come to know, if they don’t know now, how much I appreciate the support they have offered through the good and the rough times leading up to my 28th year. I have always desired the happiness of those I love–almost to a fault, when those I have loved have not returned that love to me. It is deeply painful to feel that my interests lie at odds with what I feel I should do to make loved ones happy. But I will self-destruct if I live to please others, and I know what I will have to do if I must make certain choices now. There is the grief. And there is nothing more I can do than acknowledge it; I know it will likely grow and change in the coming months as much as I have to date.

Because this IS a lifting blog, I’ll go ahead and throw this bit of lifting content out there: I recently did a push-pull meet in Des Moines in which I benched a stupidly easy 145 and deadlifted 340 lbs. I’m working on easing my way back into competition, and this meet was a step in that direction. Huzzah.

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The Pants and the Identity Crisis

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F yeah deadlift deloads.

I like to lose. I can barely handle winning–in my world, where “wins” are having a gallery exhibit my work or doing very well at a powerlifting meet, crying after success is not unheard of. Losing feels comfortable to me, a safe zone, a place where I–

Alright, this is intensely depressing and I haven’t gotten past two sentences of it. You can perhaps see why I haven’t blogged in a while; I often feel that what I am inclined to write about is so negative or depressing that readers will recoil in disgust and/or–likely and–stop wanting to read my blog. The thing is, I don’t do particularly well with writing about who I’m not. I tend to write with a more liquid facility when I’m writing about my struggles (are we even allowed to use that phrase anymore? Every time I do it’s an automatic mental flash to a “Mien Kampf” book jacket with the mustached face glaring at me from a slightly angled head). 

There’s a lot of positivity in the sport for which I train. A lot of those little images with motivational slogans slapped across someone’s deadlift lockout or whatever are strewn all over the fitness image bank if you run a search on “strength training motivation.” “DON’T GIVE UP,” “YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF YOUR DESTINY” (this one, by the way, is oxymoronic. I am not a fan), “FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION,” “DO YOUR SOCKS SMELL LIKE COURAGE? THEY DAMN WELL BETTER,” etc. I hide from these like my snake attempts to hide from anyone and everything quite literally under a rock. At this point, I feel like I’ve turned into an anti-Yoda, which probably looks something like a mange-ridden female Chewbacca sitting at a bar ordering bad vodka and diet cokes because she can’t tell the difference between bad vodka and good vodka and no, there is nothing wrong with drinking vodka and diet. I did it all through undergrad.

I don’t drink anymore except for the times that I do, which I’d say are about once every three or four months, and only about two drinks max (usually one). I don’t do alcohol well, and I’m in favor of good training over mediocre drinking. I’m also in favor of keeping my head down right now and recoiling from the light of revealing too much about the darker aspects of my training life. That’s right, I said darker–melodramatic, but there it is. If you were to make a little bar graph of my lifting experience so far measuring clarity of purpose, the bars would be jumping up and down from month to month. One thing has remained consistent–I train. I go in and lift and it is part of my week. But I now find myself on the fringes of a sport for which I had very particula, very high ambitions. Before, I was enthused about being little and lifting big, but I have moved far away from that inclination. I believe I am heavier than I have ever been. While my lifts have all gone up appreciably, where once I was competitive enough to be ranked, now I am nowhere near it. My total from my meet in April 2012–611 at 105–currently holds the #7 ranking at that weight class in this country. My deadlift from that meet–a 304 pull at 105–is #5 in the nation. Hell, my squat from that meet is ranked somewhere in the top 20 too, but I’m too lazy to go and look it up. 

But looking at those numbers is kind of like looking over the accomplishments of another person at this point. I cut from 112 lbs to 105 in April. I now weigh about 132-134 or something–depends on the day–and this is weight I put on purposefully. I decided to put on that weight, but that 20 pounds has brought with it such conflicting issues that it has put me in a kind of double existence. One day I’ll be extremely happy with how lifting is going. The next, I’ll wear jeans that are now undeniably too small and end up in tears later on because I’ve felt the constant reminder of my corporeal expansion in restricted motion and the semi-impossibility of pealing off my jeans to pee all day. Should I just go buy new pants? Apparently, yes. But I’ve been slow to do so, slow to accept that I have another body that doesn’t fit the pants that I have literally been able to fit into–or that even have been too big for me–for over four years. 

And as I don’t really know or feel all that enthused towards the alien body I now inhabit, so too do I feel a sort of identity crisis in relation to how I feel I fit into powerlifting. If I’m slow to accept my pants size shift, I’m even slower to accept or really know myself at a higher weight class. 

I will cut this short, because I’m dancing around a downward slide towards communicating what the rhetoric REALLY sounds like in my head from day to day. And as much as I want want honesty and transparency in this blog, the language I use toward myself and my body internally right now is often corrosive, vile, deeply abusive shit. I’m highly aware of how damaging this kind of language is to myself; it is perhaps why I so fiercely defend people whose family and friends or strangers on the internet feel free to comment on their bodies in a negative (positive isn’t that great either, but that’s another story) manner. But I can’t just decide that the fat that comes with the muscle is beautiful–I can’t change my emotion, just limit the triggers that flick it into the “on” position. That said, seriously, my boobs are a lot bigger now. It’s really cool.

I’ve come a long way from the prison of anorexia. Really. But there is a spectrum upon which one’s relationship with one’s physical aesthetic sits. Hell, there are probably multiple spectrums stacked up on one another. I’ve been brave enough to put on mass to perform in a sport in which mass moves mass (although this is tempered by the fact that the sport holds relative strength as massively important). And yes, I said brave. Because weight gain hasn’t been easy, and it has major drawbacks to the strength gifts that come with it. I do what I am doing right now because I have faith that in three or four years it will pay off. YEARS. This is not your 30-day Squat Challenge. This is not your goddamn Victoria’s Secret Sexy-Up Workout. I want to be great, and I am willing to be uncomfortable to get there. 

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