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.


Compare and Despair and Instagram is My Self-Help Tool

Compare and despair. This is one of the more annoying phrases with which I was ever inculcated while in therapy, but I find myself unable to dismiss it on grounds of it smelling of overzealous positivity–it holds truth. I both follow and actively compete in powerlifting, and both the following and the competitive engagement are difficult to pull off without a social component. Indeed, it is the communal aspect of powerlifting that in part buoys my passion for it. I am generally a loner, and certainly an introvert, but powerlifting gives me the opportunity to have social exchange while still being able to train exactly as I want and compete in my own little self-defined bubble of progress.

Unfortunately, the latter, my “self-defined bubble of progress”, is a bubble that rarely gets through the day without my managing to pop it by comparing my progress to someone else’s via the vast social blanket that is the online lifting world. I am relatively certain this is not an issue isolated to my own experience. On the internet, the ability to an identity with a liberal sense of editing makes for an easy delivery of the best version of oneself. Shit, I do it. Do you see a lot of images of me showcasing how short and thick my torso is? Do you see images of me sitting in my chair, right now, with fuzzy “puffy princess hair,” no makeup, feeling bloated as possible, stubble on my legs, haven’t brushed my teeth yet and it’s 12:45 PM, not really accomplishing anything with my life after acquiring an MFA (hi Dad, I know you’re reading this, and I’d be concerned too. What am I supposed to do with an MFA? Huge mistake, that one. I mean, not as huge as a DUI, in my opinion, so you can’t fault me for at least getting the drugs and alcohol thing right, right?), indolence-inspired slumping shoulders. How much do I go online and write about how absolutely petulant I felt and acted during particular training sessions? If you follow my log in the two places I currently log, which, chances are, you don’t–although you can by clicking here–sometimes I make mention of the poor mindset accompanying certain training dates. I don’t usually go into much detail.


And I am sure as hell not getting on Facebook and trumpeting “I am a freaking baby! My volume squatting sessions aren’t even that damned difficult and I still pout like a four-year-old during at least two thirds of my work sets!” Instead, on my good days, I get on Facebook and post this:

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 12.51.14 PM

Granted, I didn’t go as self-congratulatory as I could here and note that I squatted 175 x 5 during this session, which, for me, is a pretty significant rep PR. I’m trying to keep this self-aggrandizing crap to a minimum on Facebook, I swear. But even if everyone’s trying to keep their ego in check, and they’re not, and at least half of those people who are not are probably just rocking really solid levels of self-confidence, which is awesome and I don’t have remotely as good a level of it, myself–even if they’re keeping the flow of “I’m awesome” posts down, if you’re friends with, say, 200 lifting-related individuals, you’re probably seeing a sizable amount of stuff in your Facebook feed about stuff those 200 people have managed to do well. And if you’re not among that percentage of people who have figured their shit out and have a pretty solid level of self-confidence, you’re probably doing the comparison thing.

Stop it. There is no greater threat to your lifting than your own mind, and when you’re consciously highlighting ways in which you perceive yourself to be falling short, you are spreading negativity through your psyche. In a sense, you’re poisoning yourself. So you’re probably going to say to me “yeah, but _____ is better than me. That’s truth. You can’t deny it, you hyper-positive freaking cheerleader” and I’ll respond with “yeah, you’re right. I think this way all the time. And then I realize I’m thinking about it, which is exactly what’s doing the poisoning. Only YOU can look at someone else’s lifts, body, manicure, beard, 5000-watt ring, dog, test score, whatever the hell, and rule that they are better than you for their given attribute or acquisition or achievement.” In other words, you take in the information “x just squatted my max for a set of seven” and you can either stop there or you can poison yourself.

It is that easy. And if your default is to poison yourself, then you are responsible for doing the work to make that stop. The easier thing–the self-toxicity–is not the best thing. Here’s a shot of part of my Instagram feed.

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 1.07.59 PM
notice there are two bicep flex poses going on here as well as a Frenchie. O, beautiful collection of beauteous beauty. 

This is a pretty typical scan of the content in my feed, and for a while, I considered just getting the hell off Instagram because I’d be going in there and being all “oh hell no, I’m like an elephant with no lean mass compared to that” and “why do you get to eat that? Do you get to eat that often? FML and weight classes” and “I just want a French Bulldog, why doesn’t anyone understand this and just give one to me and also have my landlord be okay with it?” And then I realized that I didn’t need to get off Instagram because I am in charge of how I feel in encountering its offerings. And now, I basically use Instagram as a way to work on feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and the gentle, cloying fear that I have basically turned into a bum post-graduation. Instagram is my self-help tool; lifting is my therapist.

As an end note, I guess I tend to focus on my flaws in this blog quite often. I feel like I do. This is perhaps another small rebellion, aside from bulking, I try to execute: I’m not going to present a fabricated self to the world as much as I’m capable of not doing so. I mean, seriously, no one wants me to document how gross my body actually is, or how my hair looks like the “before” stages in the Disney transformation movies unless I make an effort at it. Because if I documented that, it would just take up pages and I wouldn’t probably get solid lifting in. But I promise to continue to try not to be the “fuck yeah I’m awesome” girl unless I manage to do something truly awesome, which for me is generally breaking lift PRs. If I do that, damn straight I’m going to put it out there.

And Now For Something Cheery: I Hit a Squat PR and Then Did Another Rep With it

So I had a squat max of 187 for…too long. This is the top squat I made in my meet in October and then again in April (albeit after a weight cut, which DID have an impact on my strength). My workouts before the last meet suggested I should be able to squat more, then I failed an attempt at 192. Well, yesterday, after I had done two work sets with 170, Kyle told me to go out for a PR. I embraced this–just because I’m not that spontaneous a person does not mean I don’t enjoy spontaneity when the opportunity to experience it is presented to me. I loaded the bar for 190 pounds, took a little time to rest from my recent work set, and then it happened. I squatted a PR. And then Kyle told me to go for another rep with that PR. And I made it too. So now I know my 2-rep max. I am guessing, based on what happened yesterday, that my max may actually be closer to 200. Here’s the video (with the max test at 1:22):

So…not all is contemplation for me. Sometimes it’s just about getting shit done.