Saturday.

Saturdays have this strange, roller-coaster quality. I can go to the garage and lift! Yea! I have to go to class. Boo! Saturday is squat day! Boo. My squat is getting better! Yea! Equanimity is still a goal state for me. I spend a lot of my time on the various roller-coasters in the amusement park that is my life right now.

And I feel angry. Really angry. It has something to do with the end of the semester and graduation and life pressures. That’s fair. What wasn’t fair was throwing the barbell after a few sets of terrible squats. Nothing felt right. My knees were creaky, the squat wasn’t deep enough, the shelf wasn’t supporting my upper body and a warm-up weight was kicking my ass. It felt so wrong, I picked the bar up off my back, hoisted it overhead, and threw it into the J-hooks from about three feet, and yelled “No!”

The garage is supposed to be my happy place, where the weight makes it all go away. I don’t have to share it with my family or the people at school. The garage is my place, where I have space and excellence and effort, and the barbarians tore down the gate. Like most people, I resorted to blame. It’s their fault, those people. Those people who are not me. They stole one of the happiest hours of my week.

If you live for a few hours in the week, you’re doing something wrong.

I am doing something wrong. First, the expectation of equanimity is bullshit, at least for now. Second, what’s creating the base conflict is an uncertainty surrounding what I’ll be doing after graduation. Third, fueling the base conflict is a reflexive checking with the voices in my head for direction. They are not helpful, and never have been. I should fire them. A few quiet moments to check in with a good friend is what was desperately needed, and wasn’t happening. These last two weeks are filled with other people’s business. Class is for professors. Field is for patients. Home is for homework. The garage is for me and I couldn’t keep the barbarians out. My coach is not my therapist. We have a relationship, but not that kind of relationship, and my barbarians are my business.

What did we learn? We confirmed performance is linked more to joy than to sleep. I’ve staggered into Saturday mornings, happy to be there, on four hours of sleep and a previous day’s diet I wouldn’t confess to my macro counter, and lifted well and easily. Yesterday’s shit show followed three straight nights with seven hours of sleep and good nutrition. It’s all about me and my head space.

Self-compassion is the way out. It’s understandable to feel angry right now, and I’m sorry I’m going through this. It’s hard and it sucks. I’m good at what I do, what I have to offer is valuable. I don’t have to be at the top of my game everyday and I’m proud of myself for sticking with it, loading the bar and working through what I could.

The barbarians can suck it.

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Do not do.

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We are almost there. Five weeks left of graduate school. This week the dumpster fire flared. Thursday I came home and sat on the porch and did nothing.

For at least 90 seconds, I sat quietly without the expectation I should be doing something else. It’s been two years since I was able to come home and not have some impending obligation. Even time taken “off,” isn’t anything but shoving assignments to the side of the desk for the night. There has been no “off.” Those 90 seconds were exhilarating until the running to-do list sensed the open space and “off” ended. It was just as well. In the next hour, the clutch would go out on the car while my son was out picking up his birthday pizza and arrangements for transport of dead car, live son, and paid-for-pizza would need to be made.

In this interview, John McGinley talks about people who share their dumpster fires, he says they are being like the Peanuts character, Pigpen. When we talk about our dumpster fires, we think we are excusing poor behavior or communicating how busy and important we are. Nah, we just sound ridiculous. Some people walk into a room spreading what he termed “Elvis Dust”. Elvis Dust is that aura of preparation and appropriateness some people wear like a perfectly tailored coat. There is something defensive in wandering the world like Pigpen. No one expects anything of Pigpen, he isn’t threatening, no one cares, no one notices.

The bulk of my work for the semester is done. There are two large projects left to finish up or push to a intermediate rest point. The trouble is letting go of this oppressive sense of busy-ness whose time has passed. The dumpster fire doesn’t exist anymore. There is no good reason life doesn’t resemble life in the gym, no good reason to not have those moments of “off”. The trouble is with me and my aversion to letting go. It’s time to suck it up, finish this off and move on. This is a termination issue and terminations aren’t my strong suit. By maintaining the dumpster fire talk and running to-do list, I maintain the illusion graduate school lasts forever.

In five weeks, it’s over. Licensure. Employment. Nap. Evenings. Play.

Wisdom from my Dad

There is a set of family aphorisms, distilled from my father’s stories. We are a family of storytellers and complainers, and I still am apt to make a point by telling the story and expecting the listener to distill my meaning and salient points. It’s rude and can be annoying for people in a hurry, so if you’re in a hurry it won’t bother me if you need to leave.

Always take the final. Dad went to Indiana State University a long time ago, when it was still Indiana Teacher’s College and they still required every graduate to demonstrate competence with English composition and spelling. For a variety of reasons, my father didn’t learn to spell until Wheel of Fortune was well into syndication. He had failed this course already a number of times. This semester was the last semester it would be offered. The college was changing curriculum. If he failed again, he would have to graduate under an entirely new catalogue and likely never graduate. He failed every spelling test of the semester, under the syllabus he could not pass the class and he was not alone. There were three other students who were poised to fail and the instructor gathered the young men in her office. She asked each of them in turn, “Are you going to take the final?” and waited for an answer. Dad realized there was a purpose to the question and somehow divined the “No” was not the answer to give. He took the final and was gifted his “D”. He didn’t graduate from ISU, but those are other stories.

Everyone has different objectives, and the people who give you your goals may have their own goals which are directly opposed to yours. Pay attention. After my parents started having children, Dad decided to settle into a career and became a sales rep for an OEM manufacturer. His job was to sell as much product as he could, and he was evaluated and compensated on the number of widgets sold. In order to travel to see clients, he had to purchase airline tickets and rent cars, or purchase gas for his company car. The person who could authorize those expenditures was rewarded for keeping expenses low and would refuse to let Dad leave town to meet with clients. Sometimes, when Dad would make an especially large, long-term contract he would aggravate the person in charge of the plant where the widgets were made, because the sale meant incurring expenses to add a line or a shift of employees. It isn’t personal, they are looking out for their bread-and-butter just like  you.

You can’t park at the front door until you drive to the front door. Dad meant this one literally. In a crowded parking lot, go ahead and drive by the building entrance because there just might be a spot available. Over time, I’ve expanded this one to something more metaphysical about asking for what I need. I can’t have it until I ask for it. People tell me no often, and sometimes they tell me yes.

Right now, my mind feels like a dumpster fire and there’s no way out, except through. The dumpster fire has me looking for small comforts, like chocolate and pizza and a Netflix binge. There are a thousand small things which need my attention and the extra mental burden of eating well and moving more seems like too much, like I permission to NOT attend to something. The trouble with not attending to eating well and moving more is feeling awful after, not in a guilt-ridden-emotional way but physically awful.

Tomorrow I’ll go lift early, get some tea and breakfast, and settle in to the mound of things to be read and written. Somewhere in there, I’ll take a break and call my dad.

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