Mental health

The trouble with numbers

125

4

100

1200

125 pounds was the weight I thought was perfect for me.

4 was the size of pants I thought I should wear.

100 was how many calories I burned in one mile of running, approximately.

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1200 was the number of calories I thought I should eat in a day.

Those numbers have been burned onto my brain since I was in my early twenties - maybe earlier. 

We have relationships in every part of the fitness process - we have a relationship with exercise, we have a relationship with food and many of us, especially women, also have a relationship with the numbers. When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Jodi told me that if we multiplied our height, then that was our ideal weight. 

My ideal weight came from a friend who heard it from someone who read it somewhere and I thought that number was gospel.

At 5’5, my ideal weight was 125 pounds. Less was okay, and throughout high school I weighed 115 pounds. But when I went off to college and gained a little weight. I was ok as long as I weighed no more than 125 pounds. Though I didn't proclaim to anyone that I was on a diet, the minute my weight went over 125, I ate nothing but salads and was strict about staying below 1200 calories, which was another number I soaked up from somewhere I can't remember. I also knew that running burned roughly 100 calories per mile, so I'd run three or four miles. 

This was my unwritten rule for myself. 

That is the unwritten rule for so many of us. 

The rule of my ideal weight exploded in my face in my early thirties when I took up strength training. I was feeling stronger and enjoying the workouts but I wasn’t prepared for the scale to go in the opposite direction. Instead of going from 130 pounds to 125, I went to 135. Then to 140. 

Intellectually I knew what was going on - I knew that muscle weighed more than fat and blah, blah, blah, science. I knew that. 

But I still could not reconcile this new number. Because the old one, as bogus as it was in its foundation (shockingly, not everything I learned in high school locker rooms was true…) was absolutely seared into my brain. 

Seeing a number on the scale that was more than my ideal weight made me feel shameful. I felt bad about myself, despite what I knew intellectually.  

For many of us, certain numbers bring elicit memories and emotions. 

Maybe it was how much you weighed on your wedding day or when you graduated from college or some other positive time in your life. The ideal number in our head triggers positive memories or experiences. And that’s what we want.

For many others, there is a goal weight in mind - those who have struggled with weight all of their lives might have a number in mind as an end to the journey. 

Once I hit this weight….fill in the blank.

Once I hit this weight I’ll be happy. Once I hit this weight I can stop going to the gym seven times a week. Once I hit this weight….

And it’s not enough to intellectually understand that it’s ok if your weight goes up when your muscle mass goes up and your body fat goes down. Because sometimes you can tell yourself over and over again that it’s ok, but you never really buy what you’re trying to sell yourself. 

Developing a relationship with your body that doesn’t have numbers is so. hard. to. do. 

It is so hard. 

Because we sure as hell don't like the other feedback we rely on, which for most of us is mirrors. Just this morning I got up, took one look at myself in the mirror, and was thoroughly disappointed with what I saw. I haven't trained consistently because of injury, so I feel sluggish and quite frankly, didn't like what I saw in the mirror. 

I share that mostly because I know there are so many out there who feel the same way. 

So what do we do? With the numbers and the feedback?

We work on it. I know - that work is hard and complicated. But we create awareness where we can, we remind ourselves, at every opportunity, that we are more than a number. 

We ask for help. 

We offer help.

We remind each other that we're beautiful. 

We lift each other up. 

In the words of the ladies over at Girls Gone Strong - "strong women lift each other up."

Yes, this is anxiety and depression

I shared a post this morning from a friend’s facebook page that spoke about anxiety and depression.

It was an accurate, spot on description of the catch 22 that those afflictions present in my life. 

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In many of your lives as well. 

For me, I don’t think it’s the fear of failure, though I have some of that. My fear is that I will waste my life constantly wanting to do more but with no urge to be productive. 

That feeling tortures me. 

It’s wanting to get out of the bottom of a well but not having the strength to grab the rope someone is offering. The teaser is that the rope is often right in front of your face and you stare at it, trying to will yourself to reach out and grab it. 

Just reach out and take the rope, you think. It’s that simple. 

It’s that difficult. 

Then comes the self-judgement. Other people grab the rope. Other people never find themselves in the bottom of a dark and damp well. Other people seek light while I back away from it like a vampire in the desert sun. 

I’m preparing to release my first fitness product in April. I’ve filmed videos, written programming, hired a business coach and a life coach to help me see this product through to completion. I hired a designer to make it look pretty and have solicited the help of friends and clients. 

For the past two months I’ve ignored most social engagements, choosing instead to work - and for the most part that pursuit has felt good and satisfying. 

Finally, I thought. Finally I will see something through to completion. 

Then last weekend, as I began to close in on the final four week push - sending out more emails, advertising on Facebook, doing more Facebook live videos, I hit that familiar, frustrating but ever-present wall of self-doubt. 

And I’ve been paralyzed ever since. 

I don’t write this post asking for sympathy - far from it actually. 

I simply write it as my authentically honest truth right now. This is my journey. This is my world. This is my reality. 

That's ok. 

This is how we get through, you and me. 

We understand one another and hopefully, know that we are not alone no matter how lonely our struggles feel. 

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The things we carry

Note: Yes this title is a take on one of the best short stories of all time, Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." 

The day after I broke the school record for wins by a softball pitcher, I asked my teammate and good friend Aimee, who did the school tv news in the morning, if she would please not make a big deal about my achievement the next morning on the announcements.

I was proud, don’t get me wrong, but I absolutely melted in the face of attention.

She promised. 

The next morning, when her piece of the news was complete, I was relieved that she had mentioned the highlights of the game without making a big deal about the record. 

Then the camera panned to Andrew, a theatre major who was made for tv. Aimee hadn’t mentioned the record, but she gave Andrew full license to go on and on and on and on about it. He had a giant sign, maybe some streamers, and was shouting at the top of his lungs, Howard Cosell style. 

I was mortified.

 Actual photo from my 1995 yearbook, with apologies to all of my classmates who maybe didn't want their 1990's hairstyles on the interwebz. 

Actual photo from my 1995 yearbook, with apologies to all of my classmates who maybe didn't want their 1990's hairstyles on the interwebz. 

(Aimee is now a sports psychologist and director of player and team development for the New Jersey Devils, so presumably, she was doing her early work in exposure therapy). 

As my classmates trained their attention on me, I opened up my book bag and stuck my head inside.

Yes, I really did this. 

My reaction to attention, positive or negative, is visceral - my face turns crimson, I tug at my red hot ears; I can't make eye contact.

People get awkward just watching my awkwardness. 

But hey, the good news with being 41 years old is that I'm past that stuff, right?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah!

No.

Two months ago, my coworker Judy brought in her microphone headset for me to try out during a team training class. My voice doesn’t carry well and as our classes have gotten bigger, even my best outside voice loses the battle to the blaring music and hum of conversations. 

I knew I needed to at least try a microphone, but took one look at the headset in Judy's hands and was a teenager all over again, frantically looking for a book bag in which I could stick my head. 

Judy turned the headset on and talked into the microphone.

“See?” she said, talking into it. “No big deal.”

Right, I thought. Right. Totally. I’m an adult. No big deal. Nope, this is fine, totally fine. I’m basically on stage everyday when I coach. Yup, totally got this.

She put the headset on me and I walked over to the class of 20 people waiting for me.

It's like I'd been dropped into a Wonder Years' episode. 

I looked around for a moment before shaking my head and ripping off the microphone. 

“Sorry,” I said to everyone as I tried to pull my ear off of my head. “You’ll just have to listen closer.”

I’m 41-years old and comfortable in my skin.

But in that moment, I was 17. And the experience was completely unnerving. 

In retrospect, I'm grateful I was so completely triggered. 

Because I work in a field that is ripe for that kind of reaction. 

Middle school and high school are tough years for many of us. We're figuring ourselves out, finding what we like, who our friends are, what we're good at. And many of the people, women and men alike, who walk through our doors have had some sort of traumatic experience in a gym or fitness setting. 

I actually don't know how to swim. In high school when it was time to swim for gym class I would stay in the shallow end of the pool and tell Mrs. Pompa that a person could drown in as little as two inches of water and that it was abuse to make me wear a bathing suit.

But really I was humiliated that all of my friends were swimming laps and I was hanging out in the shallow end. 

We are hard wired to remember those feelings.

We don't forget what it felt like to be picked last for kickball, to sit on the bench during soccer or finish last in a relay race. We don't forget what it felt like to wear those horrific polyester gym uniform shorts that were only three inches long while Mrs. Pompa made us square dance (promenade!). 

Sometimes it's easy to forget what people carry when they come through our doors. Not just what they carry now, but what they carry from 30 years ago. The white hot scars that never go away. 

It's easy to look around, as coaches and fellow clients, and make assumptions about the people we see. We all carry our experiences, both old and new, and those experiences inform who we are and what we've become. 

I guess that's why my go-to saying and sign off is to be strong and be kind. 

Be kind. Be gentle. You never know what someone else carries.

I promise to do the same. 

Did you know I have a newsletter? It's true. I do. I send out weekly emails with tips and tricks in fitness and nutrition. Did you also know that I'm releasing my first fitness product in April? And that I'll be giving away a free copy to someone on my newsletter list? No, you didn't know that? Well, now you do. Sign up here.  No, I won't share you email. That's just not cool. 

Nevertheless she persisted

I love that quote. 

It stems from the story of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who stood up to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King as she opposed the nomination of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. As the story is written, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell tried to cut her speech short. 

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

 Cheryl has had her share of injuries. But rarely misses a day in the gym. 

Cheryl has had her share of injuries. But rarely misses a day in the gym. 

Politics aside, the moment became a rallying cry for women everywhere. There were memes and t-shirts and jewelry with the phrase. 

This is the quote that came to mind when someone asked me what to do when you hit a plateau in your training.

My best answer? 

You persist. 

I know. I write that like it's easy. It's not. 

I might re-write the phrase from above to “She was tired. She was frustrated. She couldn’t see the horizon, only the dusty, rocky ground beneath her feet. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

The fitness journey has peaks and valleys. Signs of progress at the beginning are often motivating. We start to feel better, move better, drop pant sizes and we actually feel like working out. We’ve got momentum and we don’t want to lose it. 

We feel the progress.

But what happens when we stop feeling that progress? 

We go two months without seeing or feeling any changes. 

Ah, now we lose patience. I might mention that along with persistence comes patience. I don't think you can have one without the other. 

We get frustrated. We doubt the process. We question our approach. We must be doing something wrong if change isn't happening. 

So what do we do?

We persist. 

Because the only way out is through. 

Even as I write this post this morning, I am drawing on my own patience and persistence. I get antsy when I write. As much as I enjoy writing, I don’t always enjoy the process. If I’m not thoughtful, I will write a sentence, think of something I need to do, and jump up to do it. I’ll send that email, check Facebook, remember to post to Instagram. 

If you want me to clean the house, ask me to write a blog post. Or give a presentation.  

What I’ve learned to do is set a timer and commit to the either/or strategy. I will either write, or do nothing, for 20 minutes. I’m allowed to not write. I’m allowed to look around the room. But I’m not allowed to do anything else. I can’t pick the dog up for a cuddle, I can’t open any other windows on my laptop. 

I can’t look at my phone. 

I can get another cup of coffee, because coffee. But nothing else.

Webster's dictionary defines persistence as such:

“Firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”

Obstinate continuance. I love that. I imagine that was what drove Thomas Edison to continue despite failing the first 9,999 times with the light bulb. 

He was determined to keep moving on.

Persistence is the running back whose legs keep churning upon running into a pile of lineman. 

You keep moving. 

I want to have profound advice. I want to stand up on a chair in front of all of you and deliver my best Knute Rockne impression. (Google him if you don't know him. Doug...)

But the best I can tell you is to keep moving. You're only reward might be the knowledge that you put forth a dogged effort, despite everything in your life pulling on you to call it quits. 

Satisfaction is in doing what you thought you couldn't. What you thought you wouldn't. 

If you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, find someone with a flashlight. Reach out and take a hand. 

Grab your tribe. Lean heavy on them. 

Keep your feet moving. 

Drive the pile.

It will feel hard. It will feel futile. It will feel like there is no point. 

Persist. 

And if you need help persisting, please don't hesitate to reach out and ask. 

Did you know I have a newsletter? It's true. I do. I send out weekly emails with tips and tricks in fitness and nutrition. Did you also know that I'm releasing my first fitness product in April? And that I'll be giving away a free copy to someone on my newsletter list? No, you didn't know that? Well, now you do. Sign up here.  No, I won't share you email. That's just not cool. 

Injuries suck

Originally this post was titled strategies for dealing with injuries. 

But I'm highly caffeinated and pissed off today. 

 Today's workout includes screaming with frustration, icing my foot, journaling, and a ton of upper body. No feet required for chin ups.

Today's workout includes screaming with frustration, icing my foot, journaling, and a ton of upper body. No feet required for chin ups.

On Sunday, I strapped my running shoes on and turned in my first long run on the way to training for the San Diego marathon. The marathon is my great white whale.*

Completing a marathon is on my bucket list and so in February I took the plunge and signed up to take a 26.2 mile foot tour of San Diego. I don’t run the way I did in my twenties and early thirties, when I logged 30, 40 and 50 miles per week and couldn’t be dragged into strength training.

In fact, I remember going into the weight room at Penn State Altoona with a friend of mine and struggling through two ugly reps of the bench press with a 45 pound bar. 

It practically pinned me.

I felt weak, inadequate, and completely out of my league. It would be another eight years before I went into a weight room and didn’t head straight for the treadmill.

Now that I include plenty of strength training in my workouts, I feel like I am better prepared to have a balanced approach to my marathon training.

(Meanwhile, back at Justice League headquarters...)

This past Sunday, I headed out on the country roads near my house and as I jogged past the farms and along the river I was reminded of why I fell in love with running in the first place. It’s meditative. It’s peaceful. It’s cathartic. 

I got home after 7 miles and felt great. My only goal with the marathon and training is to stay healthy. 

Less than 24 hours later, my right foot started to hurt. By Monday night I could barely put weight on it. By Tuesday I was limping around the gym floor spitting nails and cursing my body. 

I could have put my fist through a wall. 

I don’t know if the phrase is unique to Western Pennsylvania, but “I ain’t no spring chicken no more.” I get that. I’m not old. But I’m not young. And my body is coming to collect on every check I wrote in my teens, twenties and thirties. 

And every time I get a nagging injury my self-esteem takes a hit, I become petrified of re-injuring whatever body part has given up on me this time, and I get depressed. Exercise is my main form of managing my depression and when I can’t workout, it’s not good for me.

Not to mention we're running a challenge at the gym right now and I have a team full of clients I'm leading and I want to lead by example. My example is just going to have to be different for a few days. 

The great thing about aging though, is the wisdom that comes with it. As frustrated as I am right now, I have some go to strategies for getting me through. 

1. Writing

I write blogs now, but for years I journaled. Writing helps me process life events, make sense of how I feel and what I’m thinking and gives me a chance to really get my emotions out. Today’s journal entry looks something like this:

^%$%$*&^&$&*&*(%^%$%$#$^&^^$#^(*

Arrrrgggghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2. Workout around the injury

I don’t know how long I’ll be limping around on one foot, but I’m obviously not going to put in four miles today. I am, however, going to set a timer for 15 minutes and deadlift my face off. Almost without fail, there is something you can do to work out around an injury. And in the past few months, I’ve seen clients come in with a broken leg, sprained knee, and eight weeks out of a double hip replacement to get in a workout. 

I’ve also seen clients come in and workout while going through chemotherapy. 

There is always something you can do. 

3. Stay connected

We encourage all of our clients to continue coming to the gym despite injuries. Even if they only get on a foam roller or do some light stretching, the community connection can go a long way in keeping your spirits up. When I was a college coach, injured athletes were never excused from practice. Social connection is critical, especially at times when we really don’t feel like it. 

I know the word tribe gets thrown around a lot these days, but I can promise you, I’m leaning heavy on my tribe right now as I negotiate this injury.

I often tell new clients that we have very few truly healthy people with whom we work. Almost without fail, we have some nagging injury that crops up from time to time. That includes us coaches. And not just the ones over 30. We all deal with injury at some form or another. 

Lean on your tribe. Ask a coach what you can do. Let yourself be emotional. But don't give up on yourself. 

*Please tell me you all know the reference to the great white whale...