Hating the Cusp

“Well, it’s kind of like I’m looking over the edge of a cliff a few seconds before going over that edge–that’s where I am right now.” My therapist’s eyes turned a little sharper than they had been thus far during our session. She shifted in her seat and drew her breath. “Have you been thinking about hurting yourself?” Alarmed that my description of the imagery that had been rising unbidden in my mind for the last few days was causing my therapist to break out the “do we need to bring in reinforcements?” checklist, I reassured her that no thoughts of self-harm had crossed my mind for quite some time.

But looking down the side of a cliff I’m about to jump off of is what things do feel like right now–I am so close to the major changes that are about to happen in my life that it’s like the time you would spend breathing a few breaths before jumping off the ledge. Those breaths will only give you a small window of time in which to get your bearings before everything goes nuts. Its the period before the big event–the night before the test, the seconds before the race starts, the breakfast before you lift in a meet–that I cannot stand. I have historically done some pretty stupid stuff during this period–wandering around target for an hour with a shopping cart I’m not filling, calling people I haven’t talked to in months or years on the phone, driving 45 minutes away from town to sit in the parking lot of a farm equipment company shuttered for the night. I hate the cusp. I hate it.

Right before deadlifting 350 x 2. I have been known to freeze up during this period--see every single meet video from my lifting career.
Right before deadlifting 350 x 2. I have been known to freeze up during the period before I go down to grab the bar–see every single meet video from my lifting career.

I haven’t written in this blog for several months now because I have been at a loss for what I really want to say here. I tend to treat this space on the internet as more of a place for my editorialization than as a diary, but I write more freely when I write in a diary so that is what I’ve finally chosen to do. Indeed, most of the time, I can’t figure out what to say about training, and because this blog is about my lifting, nothing gets written at all. But my lifting isn’t what’s hard, it’s not what REALLY challenges me, it is just the constant in a stream of changes. The thing about my lifting is that it forces me to confront what is going on in my “real” life; what’s going on there impacts what happens in the gym. Most of the time, this impact is limited to how I feel about myself: if I feel self-doubt, if my self-esteem is running low, the gym doesn’t go so well. Sometimes, larger events in my life trickle into my training. In a little under three weeks, I will start a new job. In one week, I will move to another city. Both of these events are landmarks on a path I didn’t think I’d be taking over the last year–a career change, giving up a major facet of my life that has been there since childhood, trying to understand myself and my identity when ways I had defined myself for years fell away.

I am not complaining. I am deeply lucky to have been given the opportunity to start a new career with financial stability in a good-size city in which I have more friends than I have had in a long time in one place. I am deeply lucky to have the support and patience of my fiancé, who has watched me stumble through this past year and held me when I couldn’t even manage to stumble. I make sure to think about what I do have right now, because it’s an excellent way to ward off the “scrambly moving freak-outs,” as I fondly term how I tend to react to moving.

Indeed, the stress of all this change coupled with an aggressive caloric deficit have impacted my training. My energy is not often on point, and sometimes it’s so below par that it’s a miracle I get through my work sets. While my numbers have steadily increased for months even as my weight drops, my gut tells me that I’m going to have to tread very carefully over the next two weeks when I do train. As much as I hate to admit defeat, the move and the career shift is creeping into my training. Continuing to pretend that nothing’s wrong when I have felt the impact of stress both in and out of the gym is stupid. Its a lot more stupid than pushing an empty cart around Target for an hour.

So the only thing I'm doing right these days is bringing my weight down. Former anorexic chick to the rescue!
So the only thing I’m doing right these days is bringing my weight down. Former anorexic chick to the rescue!

I’m not making excuses for why I’m not training, because I am training. No matter how poorly the training has gone some days recently or how stressed I am about things outside of it, I believe in what I’m doing so I find ways to do as much as I can within the limits of my current psyche and situation. It’s better than calling it off for a few weeks. It’s not perfect, but it is better. I tend to blog about my training in periods when it’s not ideal, when barriers prevent my carrying it out as well as I would like to carry it out. I have been very lucky for months now with my training and I have enough rep PRs as well as some new one rep maxes to show for it. I bow now to moderation and survival. Right after I drive for an hour to the nearest John Deere for no reason, anyway.

The John Deere's natural habitat. Those lines on the ground are related to complex mating rituals. Also, yay Iowa, I like all your open space.
The John Deere’s natural habitat. Those lines on the ground are related to its complex mating rituals. Also, yay Iowa, I like all your open space.
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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.