Self care is not selfish

The one lesson I seem to have to keep learning, over and over and over and over again: If I don’t take care of myself, I can’t be there to take care of other people. It’s not a crime to take time for myself. A thousand other variations on a theme: Self care is not selfish.

It took thirty freaking years for me to start realizing this, and it has really only sunk in over the past year. I most certainly did not arrive here on my own – the friends who are closest to me (those single-name-in-the-cell-phone friends, the OG ride or die team) have been trying to hammer this through my thick skull for years now.

Apparently I haven’t learned my lesson yet.

I won’t get into details here, but it’s been a real fucker of a week. 99% of the time I feel pretty at peace with the universe, and then a week like this happens, and I just have to take a hot second to shake my fist at the sky and wonder if the powers that be are deliberately malicious jerk-faces, or if someone’s just drunk at the wheel. My constant refrain when things like this happen – and they seem to keep happening, again and again and again, with unfair frequency to the people I care most about in this world. We’re told, in trying times, that God only gives us what we can handle. Well, universe, I either need God to have a little less faith in me, or the dude needs to reevaluate his definition of “handling it.” 

Frankly, y’all, for the past week, I haven’t been handling shit.

I had to send my check in to my trainer today, and I almost skipped it, because I have been a trainwreck for the past nine days. I got some bad news, and then a little more piled on top of that, and then just a bit more for good measure, and all that translated to skipping workouts, eating like shit, sleeping terribly, and letting things slide.

And the thing is, I don’t feel any better. Eating cookies and drinking wine after getting shitty news just translates to a shitty workout the next day. Skipping time at the gym just robs me of an hour that I can throw on some loud music, ignore texts and emails and voicemails, and just be with myself and without my thoughts. Nothing shuts up the voices in my head like heavy plates on the barbell for some back squats or deadlifts.

I am realizing that I need to create more space for myself. I need to give myself permission to indulge in the things that bring me joy and help me to remain centered. Those are the first things to go for me – when I drop everything to try to fix things, I just end up hurting myself in the process. And maybe I made a difference in the short term, but I’m perpetuating a terrible habit.

I want to be the best daughter and friend that I can be. And I can’t be that person if I’m not healthy, and strong, and mentally sound, and I can only be all of those things if I give myself permission to put myself first, at least once a day.

Self care isn’t selfish. If I keep learning the lesson whenever things go wrong – and history shows that things will go wrong, because history repeats itself, and my family doesn’t get a magical pass from that, this I guarantee – then maybe, someday, I’ll actually believe it and the lessons will pay off.

Pick your battles

I’ve tried a lot of fitness-y things over the past 3-4 years. One of my personal philosophies in life is that I’ll try anything twice, because one time is just not enough to conclusively decide that you hate something. It’s that second, third, and fourth attempt that pushes you further outside of your comfort zone, past the initial gut reaction to a place where you can actually assess if this is something you might grow to love. (For the record, I feel this way about pretty much everything in life – food, books, travel destinations. That first-time reaction only tells a very small part of the story, and you need to give everything at least a second shot before making a final decision.)

Sometimes this philosophy helps me out. For one example, consider my GHD panic, documented in my last post. I went from actual tears-in-my-eyes panic over the machine, to grudging respect, to now actually loving the equipment. I had a similar moment with handstands last night at Crossfit.

The Crossfit box I go to (Crossfit Iron Spider in Salem, MA – not remotely convenient to where I live or work, but I absolutely adore the coaches and the members, so I’m hooked and I tolerate the traffic. Seriously, it’s that good.) posts the WODs on their website the night before, and on Monday night, I saw that handstands were on the menu for Tuesday’s workout. Bear in mind this was my first day back at the gym after eight days off, so I was already a little skeptical about how the workout would go. Throw in handstands, and I started talking myself out of the workout before it had even started.

Turns out handstands aren’t terrible. Now, I didn’t actually manage a real handstand. I did the modified wall walk-up, which isn’t nearly as awful as it sounds, aside from the fact that I was walking up a whiteboard wall which doesn’t exactly have traction or grip. The problem, though, is that my upper body is my weakest area, and I’m not exactly a petite individual. Supporting my weight on my arms? It’s a tricky situation. I really struggled with getting my body up to near-vertical against the wall, because while I could walk my legs up without any trouble, when the time came to move my hands in closer, I just couldn’t do it. It’s partially a strength issue and partially a mental block – I’m convinced that the second I try to move one hand closer, thereby shifting all my weight to the other hand, I’m going to come crashing down face-first onto the floor. It needs work – a LOT of work. But I’m excited to keep working on it. I expected to hate everything about the handstands, but instead it has become another item to conquer as I keep working out at the box.

Every coin has a flip side, though, and that brings me to the item that I think I need to break up with once and for all: running.

Here’s the thing – when I say I hate running, it’s not because I’m slow, or because I’m not good at it. I genuinely hate everything about it. Nothing causes more knee pain than running. Last night’s WOD incorporated 100ft jogs in between activities, so I probably ran just around a quarter of a mile total over the course of the workout – and today I brought an ice pack to work to keep on my knees because they’re so angry with me. I also just can’t find the mental peace, the “runner’s high,” that so many people claim exists. Most of the time I find workouts almost therapeutic. I zone out, I find peace, I finally shut up all the voices in my head. Yoga class, spin class, alone at the squat rack – you name it, I will find it calming. Except for running. The entire time I’m running, the voices in my head scream at me. “We HATE this. This is TERRIBLE. This HURTS. WHY are you doing this?”

There’s this sense that everyone who wants to be fit should also be a runner. I caved to the pressure, too – witness the great half marathon debacle of 2015. I felt like distance running was something I HAD to do if I was going to legitimately call myself someone who’s interested in fitness.

Guess what? That’s just not true. I could put my running sneakers away and never touch them again and still be fit. I actually GAINED weight while I was training for my half marathon, because running left my body so sore and beat-up that I didn’t have the stamina to cross-train or do any of the things I really loved to do. Give me a Soul Cycle class where I’m actually enjoying pushing myself to improve. Throw me on an erg and let me row a 5K. I’ll happily do incline intervals on the treadmill as long as I don’t have to go over 3mph, and I’ll hike in the great outdoors all day long, as long as you give me a map and some bug spray. But running? Nah. I’m good.

So sorry, running, I’m just not that into you. I’ll have to check in with you from time to time when you end up in a WOD, but I’m not going to seek you out anytime soon. Life’s too short to waste time on something I hate, and there are too many other opportunities that I haven’t tried yet.

Conquering my GHD panic

One of the tools I’ve been using to stay positive over the past few weeks has been celebrating every improvement I can mark in my workouts. Whenever I feel like quitting or giving up during an especially intense session, I force those weaker voices to shut up, and instead I repeat to myself, “You couldn’t do this a year ago. You are getting stronger every day. You are improving and changing and that is awesome. Keep moving forward.”

It’s working. I haven’t quit on a workout. I’ve pushed myself and I’ve tried things. It’s pretty awesome. And in light of that, I’m going to try to be better about documenting these successes in blog format.

That brings me to today’s post. Meet the GHD:

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This piece of equipment, the Glute & Ham Developer (hence, GHD) was my nemesis. We use it for two things at Crossfit: sit ups and back extensions. The GHD sit up is pretty straightforward. You face the ceiling, with your feet in the foot rests, and your hips on the larger pads, and you extend as far back as you can. People with better core strength and back flexibility than I possess are able to extend all the way back and touch the floor before hinging up into a sit up. Right now, I’m just past parallel, but hoping to get better. The sit ups aren’t bad – they’re actually kind of fun once you get used to them! – and they really do get at your abs. We did 5 sets of 15 in Thursday’s WOD, and between that and Friday morning’s Soul Cycle class, it still hurts to laugh today.

Back extensions, however, are a WHOLE other story.

To do a back extension, you flip over. Feet are still in the grips, hips are still on the pads, but you’re facing the floor. You actually want your hip joins to be just past the pads, so that you can freely hinge down until your body is perpendicular to the GHD, and then you use your back muscles to pull yourself back up to parallel.

It. Is. Terrifying.

The first time we had GHD back extensions in a WOD, about 2 months ago, I had a full blown panic attack. I got onto the equipment, I looked down at the floor, and I literally felt all of the air leave my chest. I refused to let go of the handles and got off the machine as quickly as I could, while trying to hold back the tears that were threatening. I didn’t trust the equipment to hold me; over and over in my head I saw a loop of my face hitting the floor in some spectacular collapse. Logically I knew that wouldn’t happen, but I couldn’t get past that irrational fear. I begged the coach for a modification and I avoided looking directly at the equipment for weeks afterwards.

Saturday, after practicing snatches for the majority of the beginners’ olympic lifting course – a mandatory element to the beginners’ Crossfit program at my box, and one that I really appreciate, as it teaches form and ensures we don’t hurt ourselves in the WODs – there was one line of instructions on the board:

“Back extension, 3×10”

“Maybe there’s some other way of doing back extensions,” I thought. “It doesn’t say GHD… it must mean something else.” I ignored it as long as possible, but come the last 10 minutes of class, I had to face my fears. It was time. I needed to get on that equipment and force myself through those sets.

Turns out it’s not all that bad – it’s actually kind of fun once you get going. I’m not going to lie, it’s still a little freaky when I first get on the stupid thing, but I’ve gotten better at telling the voices in my head to STFU while I get through my workout. I was so stinking proud of myself after banging out those three sets, with nary a tear or a panic attack in sight.

Progress takes a lot of forms. This week, my progress came in the form of conquering that stupid equipment torture device.

Now, if only I could make the jump rope my bitch…