There was no reason for my heart rate to climb. My body was at rest, the room was quiet save for the wind whipping outside, and I had spoken to no one for at least 30 minutes. The hotel room was the biggest I’ve ever stayed in, but it felt restrictive. My neck craned at a strange angle as I looked down at the knitting lying untouched in my lap–a failed attempt to occupy myself with distracting stitches on a half-made scarf. I felt that angle pull at muscles further down my spine, and I felt that tightness echoed within the muscles of a body that should have been relaxed into the width of the armchair it occupied. I grew tighter, and I stared forward without seeing.
This is a picture of apprehension. Apprehension may not really be the right or the strongest word to describe the way I felt the night before I was to compete in my fourth meet. It is normal be be anxious before a meet. It is not as normal and it is certainly not desirable to have a full-blown panic attack the night before a meet, which I did 11 hours before I was scheduled to make my first squat attempt. I remember hysterically, uncontrollably sobbing into my boyfriend’s chest, both of us crouched on the floor a few feet from the door to the bathroom. I remember feeling like I was threatened beyond all reason, and like I had no way of protecting myself from the threat. My pulse rose and dropped, over and over. I had been nervous and physically tense the entire day leading up to that moment near the bathroom door–I was to compete on day two of a two-day meet, and day one’s events and circumstances left me feeling even more fearful and unhappy about my participation the next day. There were no positive signs leading up to this meet. While my numbers in training had been extremely strong and promising, my morale and psyche turned darker by the day. Misgiving and discomfort marked my thoughts in the days leading up to November 17th, but I drove myself towards my professed end point without respecting the many signs that told me I should turn from that path.
After I calmed down to a state of coherency and relieved Kyle’s chest of its caretaking duty, I slept for about six hours. I lay awake for an hour before my alarm went off, and a thick fear dragged at me more and more as I waited for its beeps to sound from the hotel nightstand. There is no reasoning with fear. Fear can act on you quickly or it can act on you slowly, and I had felt both speeds for days–weeks, actually–before feeling it rushing through me when my phone’s alarm sounded. When fear is fast, you can’t think. You move in strange, jerky ways, you feel like there is a lag between what you’re seeing and how your body responds to the commands issued from that stimulus. I got up and prepare to head to the meet and I did not feel what I was doing. Over and over, a desire to stop, to escape whispered through my mind. A resignation to do what I had declared myself determined to do overrode it. Momentum overrode it. Pride overrode it. And a complete cessation in perspective or rationality kept my steps dragging towards the end point.
I saw people around me in the warmup area and I felt like I wasn’t in the same room as them, or perhaps that we were occupying different planes. I was disconnected and could barely interact with anyone I saw with anything other than terse, acidic, blunt responses to whatever suggestions or questions or statements they were making. Every movement I made was because I asked the robot that my body had become to carry out tasks that it had carried out before–but the mind that guided and encouraged and analyzed those tasks was checked out, frozen by an invisible gun to a temple that couldn’t evade its cold pressure. I rolled out my IT bands, my glutes, my hamstrings, then my back extensors, my quads, my adductors. I did some mobility drills, clumsily flopping from movement to movement.
Things grew uglier when I actually began to warm up for the squat. Again, my brain asked my body to do movements without guidance. I desperately shut off the toxic, petrified landscape of my mind and tried to rely on muscle memory and motor pattern familiarity to respond to the increasing weights that rested on my back. I squatted 200 pounds for a solid triple very recently in training. I squatted a single at 175 in warm-ups that was as horrendously bad as the 155 before it predicted it would be. Later, Kyle told me that he moved behind me as I walked out that 175 because he didn’t know if I would make it. 175 is no longer a work set weight for me, and my boyfriend and training partner saw that at that moment I was possibly incapable of squatting it. Something was wrong, had been wrong, and it was becoming more and more obvious to everyone around me who happened to be near enough to watch my actions. The meet was moving fast, and my name echoed on the speaker system. I remember feeling shock that I had to go out on the stage–it was a feeling I had never felt in prior meets before my first attempt. Something inside of me was feebly trying to send out last signals that I shouldn’t have been doing what I was doing. I kept asking “was that my name? Why are they calling my name?”–questions that make little sense now, but at the time I was so bewildered and shutting down so fully that I did not understand how anyone could expect me to go and squat. It just didn’t make sense. My name was called again, and this time I was supposed to go on stage. I remember putting my body in front of the bar, and going through the motions for set-up and walkout. I took careful steps–the walkout was surprisingly unwavering and controlled. And then I squatted, and I did not really squat. I broke at the knees and hips and allowed the weight to crush me below it. Maybe part of me thought that it would end the fear, that putting 192 pounds on my back and just letting myself fall beneath it would release me from the pressure. Spotters picked me up lightly and set the loaded bar back into its pins. I walked off, somewhere, numb, staring around like a bird disoriented from its flight into a window. Kyle appeared, and I moved further off. I moved and moved until I was out of the room, stumbling across the entrance to the convention center towards no destination. Kyle rose up in front of me, and I told him “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I told him a hundred times. I told him without knowing I was telling him. I said it until I knew I was saying it, and then I said it again. And I was done.
I have been progressively less and less happy at the prospect of competing over recent months. The pressure I have placed on myself has been enormous and the standards I have measured myself to completely unrealistic. For weeks and weeks, I have ridden my pride faster and higher, feeding it with a sense of inadequacy and a desire to be validated, until I rode it straight off a cliff. I am proud of nothing now. I am not writing this account or concluding it with any promise of an inspiring takeaway. I have none to offer. I have resolved to not compete again in the foreseeable future, surely until I do not feel the level of fear by which I have been dogged for a while now. I love to train, and this love has been compromised and strained by fear. Yesterday morning, I was strained until I broke, and I write about it now and I share this now because I feel it is the best apology I can give to those who supported me and the best explanation I can give to those who have watched me. That said, I don’t owe anyone either of these things, and I’m at the point in my training and participation in this sport where I don’t feel I can continue to put myself in a position where I might feel that I do. I want to post this in order to share my story of what it is to find disappointment and failure in this sport, for these stories are not always or even usually shared.
All I can do now is train and keep my head low. I have declared victory over my own pride before, and I will not do that now. I feel no victory, and perhaps a true displacement of ego precludes one from being able to declare it. November 17th has passed, and I am at square one.