Nobody Reads But That’s Okay

Enlight3

I stopped writing because I thought that people had stopped reading. That was my excuse. I might be right. I’m not sure. I wrote at the beginning of my journey with lifting because I thought I could capitalize on my engagement in strength training being a little odd, and as this was almost six years ago in an age where Instagram was something people didn’t really get or sniffed at with distaste and where Youtube still ruled the lifting world, the landscape of powerlifting was such that women were less involved with it than they are today. And so it was perhaps easier back then to garner a little following, to feel important, to feel unique, to feel as if I had something to say. I remember the women I followed in that early time period, and I can still access the beginner’s sense of incredulity at what they were doing; that incredulity matured and grew as the role of women in the sport did too. And so for the first several years of my time powerlifting I wrote of my experience and wove through that writing the thread of an eating disordered past that colored what I was trying to do in the present. I think people responded to the presence of that thread more than anything else I did or expressed. I stayed in the shallow, safe end of the pool of sharing. Look everyone, I said, look how I triumphed over this thing I had stamped out very well as I went from lonely, misguided commercial gym lifter to avid powerlifting competitor. The pain and ugliness of experiencing the disorders’ symptoms were easily talked about because they were past. The pain and ugliness that GENERATED the symptoms, however–that doesn’t leave because one finds a way to redirect the behaviors associated with addiction.

And here’s something that I want to touch on before you assume that you’re reading the sentences of an unstable, perpetually agonized individual. I am not dealing with accumulated pain and trauma that is significantly worse than that which most people stumble through as they go from childhood to adulthood. If we had to quantify the things that dog me and then generate some graphs showing where my Shit I’ve Gone Through number falls in comparison to others, I am probably somewhere in the middle of the curve. Everyone has a story, I’ve just been willing to tell mine.

To a point. I have found it infinitely easier to tell a story when some of the chapters have finite endings, triumphant or satisfying resolutions. To speak of pain and to offer hope for its management, to describe discomfort and illustrate a way I navigated it. At times during my blogging career it was even relatively easy to discuss the present, because many things felt like they were going well and because I was doing well at controlling many things so they would go well. Eventually, a tendon in my arm tore in half, and I wrote a bit about that, but that was the point at which I began to withdraw from the act of telling my story in quite as revelatory, naked way as I once had. It is one thing to say “I HAVE had pain, I’ve navigated, here is what I’m doing now.” It is entirely, completely another to encounter obstacle and not know how to navigate it and to write about it as you are navigating it because now everyone can see that you don’t know how to navigate it, and that is highly vulnerable and uncomfortable and perhaps most of all UNATTRACTIVE. Because here’s something I’ve learned about what humans like to do when they are representing themselves–and we represent ourselves on social media. We present ourselves, reconfigured to our liking, redone into a form in which we are still able to be encountered as strong and largely unflawed and somehow safely aligned with or championed because of those traits. Those who say something so blunt as “my life is currently fucked” are met with caution. There’s instability there, discomfort–the mirror the person who’s telling their story to you holds up for you is not one you want to see yourself reflected in, is it?

I busted and healed my arm. I deadlifted my way to another world record, which I still hold. But I had stopped writing because I had entered a period in my life that brought with it the slow flamelicks of unrest, discomfort, uncertainty, and perhaps above all loneliness I had not felt in a decade, if not more. And so generally I was more quiet, because I didn’t know how to storytell in a way that would snuff out a fire that might threaten to burn hotter, and I didn’t know how to speak around the crackle of that fire when it swelled because I had to concentrate too hard on putting it out. I initiated a divorce, one of those top-five-most-stressful-things-on-some-official-mental-health-grade-system-somewhere. In doing so, I actively ripped apart the fabric of a particular life I had woven so confidently when I began powerlifting. And the one thread I couldn’t hope to not include in that fabric lay in the remains I sifted through as I moved from one living space to another, as I watched people around me turn away from me in discomfort or disgust and as I turned away from them in shame or mistrust. And there have been many times in months past where I have been forced to acknowledge the thread of past pain, eating disorders not so controlled, self-hate not so conquered, and just try to go on.

Now, that said, through all of this I lifted, and the thread stayed largely out of the way for that. I posted on social media. I shared things. I was not completely silent. But in essentially ripping my own well-made carpet from beneath my feet, I made it very difficult to continue to believe that I was not alone in the fall that resulted. It’s not easy to fall on your ass and speak to the people around you high above you because they are still standing on their own carpets.

Except I no longer believe, as I never really believed before, that anyone else is really standing so far above me on whatever little pillar they’ve constructed for themselves. I don’t even know that anyone’s really standing, honestly. There are a lot of people out there who have themselves really cleverly propped up. So I guess I’m going to start speaking again. Because I can.

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Be Like Madonna And Redefine Yourself 80 Times: Bicep Edition 

“I don’t feel anything,” I said to the questioning eyes of yet another person asking me if I can “feel it” in my bicep when I perform a given exercise. As much as I wish I was speaking that sentence in reference to ever having to feel emotions–because emotions are annoying as shit–I say it as an affirmation of what has been my policy throughout my arm’s rehabilitation to never do anything with it that I “feel.” This policy has gotten me from benching ten pound dumbbells to sets with 185 pounds. It has had me deadlifting reps with 400 pounds less than half a year after surgery. It has been a policy of strictness, honesty, and above all discipline. And it has been my focus.

My focus–to the point where it has replaced things that had previously preoccupied me. I have stopped writing as much, not because I have any less to say, or that I have lost the guts to speak, but because I have felt conflict at moving away from what was previously my “schtick.” If I am no longer as preoccupied with my struggles with body image–and I’m just not–what is my message? I certainly am interested in ongoing discussions of femininity as it relates to women’s participation in sports, body image concerns conflicting with performance demands, and other topics. Periodically, something rises above the constant tide of Stuff in my social media feeds that relates to physical self-concept that smacks me in the emotional face–again, is there a way to just get rid of emotions? Damn, man–and makes me say “there is work at a collective subcultural level still yet to be done. A lot of women in strength sports really struggle with what the hell to do with their relationships with their bodies.” And I mean that, and I will continue to participate in that discussion. 

But here’s my unpopular opinion–or story, because remember that thing up there about me questioning what my message is now? My message has always been my story, as I don’t believe in fabricating some empty series of tenets based on nothing that sound good that I can repeat over and over as message. Just like I basically got myself out of anorexia mode by deciding that I didn’t want to be that anymore, a continuation with this self-emancipation from ED land manifests in my deciding I don’t want to feel stuck and immersed in a barrage of media that talks about how to heal one’s relationship with one’s body. Furthermore, I have decided I am not interested in being defined as an athlete who does something AND IS A WOMAN, because holy god isn’t it novel that A WOMAN is doing a thing that changes how her body looks and what do we do with that because NO WAY is it a minor detail that this athlete who IS A WOMAN we are talking about right now looks a certain way, it’s such a big deal guys, let’s break this down and talk about how novel it still is that women are doing things that ask their bodies to adapt physically to what they’re doing. See how long and convoluted that shit was? That is what discussion of body image and women’s sports basically looks like. I want to be thought of as an athlete. Period. 

oh god the days of the brace. Kill me now.

The strength of this desire did not dim when my arm sort of tried to snap off when I locked out a rep with 460 pounds. It grew. My psyche became absorbed not with whether or not my thighs fit the ideal aesthetic for a female powerlifter–and dear god is that such an oxymoron in some circles, and it also doesn’t actually exist, but hey, let’s focus on not focusing on body image shit, guys–but with how the HELL I was going to keep. Fucking. Training. That was it. All the time. Engineer things for this muscle group so I don’t have to grab things with my hands and subsequently use the bicep for pulling motions. Restore range of motion as fast as possible. Destroy scar tissue. That was it. EVERY DAY. And only recently have I arrived at a point where that isn’t the case. And that leaves me looking around, blinking in the glare of being back on the same plane as able-bodied people, trying to figure out what I am now. Because like with most traumatic events, when you go through it, you do not come out the same person. Whatever the size of the trauma, you probably changed. 

I have had conversations with many people about this idea of trauma-change phases over the last few months. If it was a conversation with someone who had just met me, even though it would start out about the omnipresent arm, I would sometimes hear things about my past discussions of eating disorder experiences or ongoing body image navigation. And this constantly has bothered me, because my self-concept is more fiercely aligned with the emphasis on athlete first, every other aspect of my identity second than ever before. Very simply, when something you hold extremely valuable is threatened, nothing else fucking matters anymore. You don’t forget the fear and the frustration or what feels like suffocation, this complete inability to escape a reality you never wanted. Unless you drink some vodka. yeah…. I like to think that there’s this small divide between people in this sport who have had to have surgery for it and people who haven’t–and I mean specifically surgeries that arise because of lifting. They cause shifts, and those shifts look different from person to person, but they are shifts. 

So I only know that when I go into the gym, I go into it with a body that basically works right, and that is how I understand my body right now. When I pick up a 25 with my right arm and toss it up to my bar as I warm up for squatting, the idea that I was incapable of doing so a few months ago flickers through my head EVERY SINGLE TIME. When I go to pick up 45 pound dumbbells to do some accessory work and do it with both arms, recognition of regained ability is instant and constant. When I carry freaking GROCERIES with my right arm or open a DOOR I remember. I didn’t choose to stop being preoccupied with self-image–my arm stopped it for me. It replaced that preoccupation with something a little more productive, for the moment anyway. Replacement works, whether self-induced or as the result of outside circumstances. Am I saying I don’t have awareness of my aesthetic “faults?” That I can’t pick myself apart into 50+ unacceptable pieces if pressed–and hey, nobody presses me on that one so that’s nice–or that I don’t decide not to wear something because ehhhhhh not flattering? No. But there’s this fluid scale of how much is too much, of how much is background noise and how much is emotionally crippling. I don’t spend entire days feeling vague horror and embarrassment at how I look anymore. I just don’t. And yes, I actually did, that’s not exaggeration. Maybe one of the eight thousand lessons of Armgate thus far has been to replace, not negate. I don’t know. Let’s go with it.   

bicep is looking pretty functional again here. Also dear god I look hot. Sarcasm, guys.

Whole 30 Misadventures, Or Never Follow A Diet That Has A Name

Over the last three months–almost to the day, because today is October 11th, and my bicep tendon decided to blow apart back on July 10th–a lot has happened to my body. Most of it has been stressful. Some of it has been painful. Some of that pain has been by choice and some of it has been by necessity. You hear the phrase “everything can change in an instant” thrown around so casually that it almost never had meaning in the first place, but my entire life for three straight months has looked like someone decided I needed to know the import of those six words put together in that specific way, and goddamn if it wasn’t going to have to take a long time to just really jam it into my psyche so it sticks. 

So, being held captive by what is probably a deserved karmatic circumstance designed to teach me that I should not count on anything in my life, however small, and probably that I should be grateful for a bunch of shit that I’m too stubborn to really be grateful for, I have woken up for about 90 days in a row thinking some variant of “yep, the arm is still busted, and that’s probably going to shake out today roughly like it did yesterday. YES. Let’s DO IT.” This reality has slowly evolved from running around with my arm splinted up to in a brace to free but really screwed up to free but can function roughly how you’d expect the average 90 year-old’s arm to function to free but is still pretty weak and crotchety and atrophied-looking: 70 year-old woman edition. This reality has brought with it a bunch of questions from people I don’t really know about my arm, a bunch of pitying stares, people I know at a medium level of intimacy not really knowing what to say to me, a bunch more questions from people I don’t really know, at all, again, concerning my arm, like “is it ok now that there is no brace on it? Like are you all healed up now?”
Nope. A tendon that fully tears in half and then gets pulled through a hole someone drills through your bone and then stapled permanently there and now the bicep attached to it is too short and the tendon is too short until everything just sort of lengthens out again over time doesn’t “heal up” quickly. Like, just because it doesn’t look like something is seriously fucked up about me or my body–because my head is also really fucked up by the way, you just don’t see that part either–doesn’t mean everything is all good. In fact, despite the fact that I am two and a half months post-surgery, ish, I don’t really feel a lot better than when the event itself occurred. Sometimes when I go to sleep at night I just sort of relive what it felt like to have shit in my arm rip apart. I don’t really want to, but that’s what my sick psyche seems to like to do. I feel like my subconscious is really into torture porn–I maintain that I’m not, but it appears that my base self, the kind that sends me the dreams I wake up from thinking “ok, we are NEVER telling anyone about that one” really is into the whole “bodies getting torn apart deal.” Gross. Stop. 

Salute, motherfuckers, I no longer have to wear this thing.

So maybe you’re thinking the following: okay Janis, stop BITCHING about your injury. Seriously. Do you ever shut up about this? Do you ever stop thinking about it? STOP, oh my god, just stop, you didn’t die. What about the Whole 30 reference in the title of this post? Did you just use a popular, fad diet name in that title to get readers sucked into reading about your interminable ability to feel sorry for yourself? Fuck, man, I have other things to do today and this is seriously bringing me down. I wanted to read about dieting because I, like basically everyone else, don’t really feel like I have the exact right answer as to how I should eat, what I should eat, how much, when, is dairy bad, what does that really cut dude eat, how many anabolics are in her system at one time, is HIIT really better than steady state–I WANT TO READ ABOUT THESE THINGS. 
Alright, alright. Here’s what happened to me when I got the aformentioned injury I’m no longer allowed to directly talk about: I got really depressed and lost a fair amount of weight, particularly for a strength athlete trying to preserve lean mass. I also dealt with A LOT of swelling and inflammation, and thought that hey, let’s do whatever we can to combat that–I have control of my eating, so why don’t I try eating in a way that might at least at some small level help to correct the inflammation situation. I need more produce. I need to not eat stuff that is inflammatory. Maybe I can bring my weight back up while doing it. What is this Whole 30 thing? 
Cast and abs: Former is gone, the latter are going.

So I looked over the Whole 30 diet and immediately was like screw some of this, this shit is kind of neurotic. Like we’re restricting some things in a way that’s looking like Pathways To Eating Disorders 101, so I’m not going to do all of this. I’m going to follow some of the parameters here to change what I’m eating towards way more produce, way more good fats, and we’ll see how that goes. Also, I want to be able to eat at chipotle so I’m going to do that and just not eat rice or beans or tortilla thingies. So I did. I didn’t really track my intake because I just figured I was eating more. Also, technically on Whole 30 you’re not supposed to track your intake. So guess what? My weight continued to plummet. I’m not blaming this on following the Whole 30 diet. But at that point, for me, I was getting into “if your weight keeps dropping you are going to lose even more usable lean mass than you have already lost, so STOP DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING YOU IDIOT” territory. So here are my critiques: 
1. I guess this whole thing makes sense for people who are legitimately attempting to isolate food allergy triggers. I also feel like if you are truly trying to do so, like if you truly think you have a food allergy, you should be probably working with a doctor and also running actual tests and shit. I mean maybe, I don’t know, I have an iron constitution and no food allergies, but I have known people who do and this is usually what it looks like when it’s a legitimate thing and not someone looking for a way to justify an eating disorder–and I HAVE had an eating disorder or five so I know what that looks like. So…if you suspect a food allergy call your freaking doctor and then maybe look into elimination diets that help you treat the whole thing like a science experiment with controls and variables. 
2. WTF there is like one complex carb source allowed, come on. I just can’t get behind that. A macro is a macro and whatnot but man, you mighhhhht hate your life if you struggle with one solid carb source. I don’t even like carbs THAT MUCH and this was some bullshit. Like I would also like to have oats please. 

3. Following the above, people really like to freak out about gluten and the overwhelming evidence I’ve seen about this is that there are very few ACTUAL gluten-sensitive people and the majority who claim this are basically justifying avoiding carb intake and hiding eating disordered eating patterns YES I SAID IT. Do you KNOW what actual celiac disease looks like? Like what it’s like to have that? That shit is NOT FUN. So calm the hell down about things like brown rice and oats and stuff that has a LOT OF GOOD STUFF IN IT FOR YOU. Damnnnnnnnnn. 

4. Ok, to be a little more serious and less argumentative, I feel like Whole 30 is restrictive to the point where anyone with any kind of history of eating issues is going to end up in a bad way at some point, somehow, because of it. That could manifest in different ways–a path into anorexia relapse, complete breakdown and binging because of perceived restriction, cycles between the two, etc–and perhaps more mild expressions of these two reactions. Because Whole 30 makes a LOT OF THINGS off limits. Off limits…does not tend to function well for people who psychologically struggle with food. It’s like taking a substance and telling a bunch of teenagers they can’t have it until they are 21. It’s SPECIAL BECAUSE IT’S OFF LIMITS GUYS, LET’S GO GET OUR OLDER SIBLING TO GO TO THE STORE FOR US. We’ve seen how that goes. Humans have the most interesting relationships with things they aren’t allowed to have, things that they might want. I mean relationships that end up making for really good movies and tv shows. So taking a diet where this is a main attribute of the diet…seems to me to be problematic. For many. 


Just like with training, the body would be easy if it was a robot one was exposing to variables and controls and changing with them. But the body is not a robot. Bodies contain minds. Whole 30 very likely works physiologically in very productive ways. I just…deeply caution people thinking about following it. Or anything else that is a fad–because yes, it’s a fad–paleo is a fad. Remember Atkins? That was/is a fad. Diets that are popular that have names end up looking like/being called fads 5 or so years after their mystique has died down. Question your intentions when you see something a lot of other people are doing and are inclined to try it out–just because a lot of people are doing it RIGHT NOW does not mean it is good. Duh, right? Right. I just figured you needed a reminder. 

Because when you’re desperate over something–when something in your life smacks you so hard in the face that nothing feels the same or in control anymore and you just want things to be DIFFERENT THAN THEY ARE, you look outside, around, everywhere but internally, for some way to feel differently–because it’s easier to do something different than feel different. Feelings can change by different actions, but generally they change if your beliefs change, and there’s only so much looking to the external is going to work for that without going back to searching for the real truth in the internal. That’s what trying to do the Whole 30 managed to illuminate, I guess. I mean my arm’s busted and I’m generally hanging on by a thread always so I would be careful about trusting anything my crazy self says, but I believe I might be right on this one. And I just like being able to eat oats again.