I’ve had a challenging year- not only as an athlete, but as a human. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve likely noticed- and been disappointed by- my irregular writing and intermittent social media presence in the past 12 months. During contest prep, I typically do more writing, more posting, more sharing, more how-to-ing, but this year, I sort of ghosted you.
But I can’t apologize.
I can’t apologize for taking a step back from this, from writing, nor for launching and ultimately failing to stay committed to a YouTube channel. I won’t apologize for cutting my first season as a professional bodybuilder in half, from four shows into just two. I won’t apologize for not following a strict reverse diet at the end of my season and putting on a considerable amount of weight. I won’t apologize for not immediately jumping into a powerlifting meet prep. I won’t post photos on social media apologizing for the current state of my body and call it pet names like “fluffy,” when objectively, I still appear athletic. I refuse to apologize for putting myself before “the internet,” or before “the fitness community.”
You see, while I am, as a professional athlete and a now-three-year writer in this space, a part of this community, fitness is not my world. Fitness is not how I make my living, it is not how I define myself. Hell, it’s not even my highest priority, if I’m entirely honest, at least not most of the time. And definitely not this past year. Don’t get me wrong- I love what I do on the stage, on the platform, in the gym, and in the kitchen. I love being strong, and testing my physical and mental limits is very important to me in many aspects of my life. These tests make me feel powerful, make me feel live and capable- sometimes almost superhuman. My sports allow me to challenge myself in ways that I haven’t found elsewhere. But fitness doesn’t own me, and this year, I started to feel a bit crushed by it.
This could have been my most exciting and rewarding contest year to date- and by all accounts it should have been. This was what I had worked for! A pro! This was going to be my year to move from being a big fish in a small pond to a new level of competition where I would be challenged, pushed harder than ever before. And yet, I dreaded every moment of my prep leading up to my first show of the season. This was my third consecutive season, with very little time off from dieting in between. I struggled to stick to my macros from the start of my diet- something I’ve not before struggled to do. I struggled to get myself to the gym and for the first time ever, began skipping gym time. I could no longer bribe myself to do cardio with episodes of Orange is the New Black after a while. And it was heartbreaking. I wanted to do it. I did. I wanted to do well. I wanted to have a successful season, I knew what I needed to do and I wanted to be able to do it all… but I couldn’t. I began to have incredible anxiety over it.
Way back when, I addressed a bit that I’ve had anxiety for my entire adult life and most of my adolescence. I’ve had it pretty well managed, even without medication, for several years now. So when it came at me full force, in ways I could not seem to control, I was unprepared for the deluge, the severity.
More than anything I love and take pride in my job, but through all of this, I was not my best professional self either. My anxiety at work (it’s never been a more challenging year to be the government teacher, let me tell you… while some people have the luxury of simply not reading the news, the news literally is my job, and I found myself focusing on it 24-7 until it permeated my every waking and sleeping thought) compounded my anxiety over this internal conflict I was having between wanting to do well and not wanting anything to do with the sport I love so much, and I found myself in a spiral of anxiety that I couldn’t seem to escape. I was having breakdown sobbing panic attacks nearly daily. I stopped sleeping because I dreamt about things like Donald Trump punching me in the face so hard that a section of my jaw flew off and I lay bleeding in my bed. My lessons were slipping in their caliber- I felt resentful about planning and teaching. In addition to my regular teaching duties, I had been elected or appointed to several leadership positions on my campus this year, all of which I had been very excited about. I found myself increasingly despising each role, resenting it. The worst part was that I saw and felt these things, I recognized these feelings as though I was looking at myself from another person’s perspective. I saw objectively that I was not up to par, and yet I felt helpless to do anything about it. I was watching myself fail.
I stopped sharing and writing because it felt like homework and I begrudged it. If I’m honest, I also didn’t want to admit quite yet the extent to which I was struggling. And that made me feel bad too! I’ve always shared when things were hard, when I failed, when I faced unforeseen challenges- I’ve always written in hopes that my struggles would help other people in a similar place. And yet, I couldn’t do it. And not doing, not wanting to do, all of these things that I’ve so loved, fed more into this anxiety loop that I had created for myself until I was essentially drowning in an abyss of wanting and failing and hating and feeling guilty and promising myself that tomorrow I would do the things and feel better and share and… then I’d let myself down again. AND THEN IT JUST KEPT GOING. And on top of it, I was trying not to drown in the standard issue stressors of a contest prep.
I wasn’t doing well at any of it. While I placed decently at my shows, even the judges noticed I was not on my game- as did spectators who had seen me compete in the previous year. And me, being honest with myself, I saw it too. I did not bring my best self to the stage, simply because I did not, and I could not, put my best self into my prep. You get out what you put in, and what I put in was… frankly a fucking mess.
After my second show, taking a second silver medal, I continued to prep for a third for the season, 5 weeks later. But it only got harder, when I anticipated that it should have gotten easier. I was hungry, I was tired, I was crying every single day having panic attacks. I had been fighting myself for six months at this point. I simply didn’t want to do it any longer. I chose to skip the show in August and focus on Worlds in November. I would take a little break to refocus myself before getting back to it. I started a YouTube channel (which, by the way, I don’t think I was very good at but I really enjoyed and mayyyyy come back to) and I renewed my energy. For a few weeks, I had regained everything I had missed. I was excited to prep! But it was short lived, and I realized at about 5 weeks out that I was not going to be able to see it through. For my health, as much mental as physical, I ended my season and began the process of picking up the pieces of my shattered self.
I was disappointed in myself. I was positive that I had disappointed everyone around me- the people who had supported me and cheered for me for the last three years. I was exhausted. I cried a lot. But I felt a little bit of relief.
I won’t bother to pretend I had a great recovery. I didn’t even bother to set up a reverse diet, or the recovery diet that I had planned. I simply didn’t have it in me. I closed all my spreadsheet tabs- my training program, my weekly macros, my measurements, everything. X-ed right out of all of them, closed the Google Sheets app on my phone. I couldn’t STAND to face those numbers anymore.
Instead, I went to the gym when I could manage it. I did some other stuff, non-gym stuff, to allow my brain to have a little bit of respite, and to remind myself that my body is MORE than the weight on the scale, or on the barbell. I hiked several mountains. I went rock climbing. I took more than one rest day at a time sometimes. I let myself prioritize other things. I tried to catch up on the things that I had deprioritized. I tried to remember what it was like to eat without tracking- and it was hard. I did it imperfectly. I binged, more than I’m proud of, but I was working HARD at remembering what it was like to not be in contest mode. Over three years I was in constant prep or pre-prep mode, and I wanted to remember what it was like to be a regular human.
I just needed a break. I needed to catch my breath, to get my priorities straight, to refocus.
So here I am. I had a long vacation in Europe where I ate my weight in cheese and bread and drank wine or beer nearly every day. I lifted only three times in that three week period- hotel gym “lifting,” and I was ok with that. I visited five countries and enjoyed the holidays with my husband, experiencing several new cultures, foods, traditions, and activities. I haven’t tracked my macros in at least 2 or 3 months.
As a result, I didn’t stay “lean”. This is strange new territory for me, because I’ve been quite lean- rarely more than 18% body fat, but usually hovering around 15%- for at least the last 5 years. I won’t pretend this was a healthy or sustainable way to live. Obviously. That shit caught up to me. I gained weight, gained fat, gained my social life, gained some relief from the constant pressure, gained a lot of life experience, gained my sense of control over myself one again. I’m 20 pounds up on the scale from my last stage weight, but 20 pounds lighter in the crushing weight of anxiety on my chest. And truthfully, probably 20 pounds lost on my squat and deadlift. But frankly, I needed this.
And here I am today. Refreshed. Feeling quite a bit more like myself again. I’m not having panic attacks anymore, which is such an incredible relief. I might not be all the way recovered from this challenging period, but I feel myself actively climbing out of it. I am ready to be back- writing, lifting, cooking, living, hiking, in 2018. I missed y’all. Thanks for hanging in there while I struggled, and for being here now, when I’m ready to talk about overcoming those struggles and move forward. I mean, I can only address the ones that are within myself- still nothing I can do about the results of the 2016 election and being the government teacher in the age of Trump, but, now that I’m able to get a hold over myself a bit better, I can start working towards bigger issues beyond myself, and also get back to improving myself and doing the things that I love- like writing. And searching for the perfect gifs. You know, Maslow’s hierarchy and all that.