I had a bad night. There are always at least three things going on during heavy training: the physical battle, the mental battle, and the emotional battle. Sometimes there’s also some social conflict thrown in just for fun. On this night, I had a mix of all of these.
It goes something like this. You want to train, but you’re out of condition and training makes you sore, tired, sweaty, and uncomfortable. That’s the physical battle. You aren’t convinced that this activity is a good use of your time, money, or resources. That’s the mental battle. You feel like other people are judging you, that your body is your enemy, and that you’ll never get the results of those awesome people over there. That’s the emotional battle. Then maybe you have a naysayer who keeps trying to get you to quit, and that’s the social battle.
That’s not me, by the way. Well, the physical part is, but that’s honestly part of why I train in the first place. I don’t do anything at all unless I’m convinced that it’s a good use of my time. I couldn’t possibly care less if other people are judging my physical appearance, and I’m not particularly competitive. Naysayers just make me double down on my commitment, because their presence means I’m onto something. I recognize the mainstream battles around fitness. That helps me to shrug them off.
No, I have to go out and dig up my own special fitness issues.
I’m studying Krav Maga, a non-joke sport that is officially not for sissies. Mentally I am convinced that Krav is the best and most effective martial art and that I’m training at the best school in the region. I believe that the combination of bodyweight, impact, and HIIT exercises is the optimum and that it is more time-efficient than other workouts. I also have all the grit and persistence in the world.
Keep telling myself that.
My mental block is that I am usually the weak link in class - slowest on the uptake, slowest in speed, physically weakest, lowest stamina - and that it holds others back. I keep coming back to the idea that I should put my membership on hold for a few months and come back after I put on a few more pounds of muscle. It’s when my head isn’t completely in the game that I start having more emotional issues. When I’m 100% convinced of something, then nothing but nothing can stop me.
Finally, tonight, after a couple of hours of processing, I realized that this mindset problem is emotionally driven, and it’s compounded by my overall physicality.
Everyone has the occasional difficult moment. They come in flavors. Some people default to anger and “why do these idiots always.” Others default to depressive “this is pointless, why bother.” For some it’s the self-hating “ugly stupid.” Mine runs to helplessness, specifically feeling physically powerless.
My demons: night terrors, being susceptible to the common cold, this fainting issue I had in my mid-twenties, fear of Alzheimer’s disease, and, apparently, being pinned to the floor.
Objectively, plenty of people have far worse issues. I feel dumb even thinking about mine.
Thinking about it, it’s weird that I have no problems with certain things when I do with others. For instance, I’m not afraid of snakes, the IRS, public speaking, or being seen naked. In fact, I wouldn’t even be all that bothered by speaking nude at the IRS in front of some snakes.
What I’ve learned from martial arts is that I’m not particularly troubled by wrestling or being thrown to the ground. I’m relatively unphased by choke holds, being lifted off my feet, or being attacked with my eyes closed. I can shake off being hit in the mouth, nose, or eye and keep going. I’ve been throat-tagged and continued on without a pause. I’ve had small cuts that bled and had to get a bandage (DON’T BLEED ON THE MAT) and gotten right back to it. Hands taped together? Yay, cool. Pinned under a blanket? Okay, got it. Bag over the head? Not my favorite but hey, I’m here to train. Gun disarms, knife fighting? Bring it on!
I have two problems.
Okay, now how dumb is that? Ooh, yelling, help me officer. Out of all the dumb things to set someone off... At least the other one is more obvious and realistic.
It was processing my issues with being pinned that helped me finally understand why this is a demon-level emotional block in my world. It’s that “physically helpless” feeling. Like any emotional block, it’s a package deal. Another person’s self-loathing might lead to a variety of self-sabotaging behaviors, while someone else’s contempt and rage might lead to an entirely different type of self-limiting issues. Mine is this emotional trigger that I am somehow powerless.
It’s worth looking at where else I do and don’t feel powerless, or rather, where I do feel powerful and how I can bring that into the mat room. Powerful: bureaucratic red tape, foreign languages and writing systems, wilderness survival, panel interviews. Powerless: navigation, math.
I’m good at lots of things! I’m good at learning! I’m good at talking myself back into commitments!
Keep telling myself that.
Now that I’ve found my demons and given them names, I can deal with them. I can come up with some strategies to take their power away. It’s my life and my body and I can make choices that make me stronger.
Quitting, what would that do? Because certainly I have felt like quitting. The thought has crossed my mind so many times: “you don’t belong here, nobody wants to be your partner, nobody will judge you if you switch to CrossFit.” Those are emotion-driven and temporary distractions, irrelevant to my aims. 1. Be a quitter for life. 2. Lose all the many benefits of this training. 3. What, sit in a chair? Just start quitting things and become boring?
I have another emotional demon hidden in there, the “nobody wants you here anyway, nobody likes you” demon that is a remnant of childhood bullying. When I’m pinned and I can’t get out and the instructor starts shouting advice at me, this puny feeling starts up this story. “Nobody is coming, nobody will help you, nobody is on your side, nobody is looking out for you, friendless and alone.” Really that’s pretty solid evidence that studying Krav Maga is a terrific and practical plan!
Another person would ball up all that energy of being picked on, tricked, set up, and bullied and use that to fuel an intense and sacred flame of righteous fury. I mean, that’s one way. Some natural and biologically based reactions to being pinned would be aggression, an adrenalin surge, tenacity, and territorial instinct. GET OFF ME. My feeling of helplessness is contrary to survival; it’s not innate, it was learned - and that means it can be unlearned.
I know exactly what I need to do, and the insight came as I was lathering my poor bruised shoulders with gardenia-scented soap, proof that I am fine and I do have control over my world. I need to build upper-body strength. I need to keep training. I need to visualize the specific circumstance of being pinned every time I go to my gym, and use it to fuel a strong sense of AW HAIL NO.
I also need to tell the instructor that yelling triggers me, so she’ll yell at me more.
The whole point of this training is, like everything, to enter the arena and fight the fight. Life is an endless rain of trouble and strife that will never stop. Quitting won’t make it stop. Nothing will make it stop. Might as well figure out a way to carry on, or maybe even prevail. If there are demons to be wrassled, at least I’m going to hit one with a chair before I tap out.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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