The art of picking things up has two parts

I wasn’t sure whether to write this or not, but ultimately decided to because this is a part of my journey and this blog is my travelogue, for better or worse. And if it helps someone else, so much the better.

I’ve gotten better at picking things up over the past year. I’ve practiced and analyzed and worked hard at training myself to get better at this. I use levers and stretch reflexes and positioning to put myself in the optimal situation to make a weight move upwards. I spend time figuring out how to make that weight go up fast and with confidence. I’ve got miles to go before I’d consider myself *really* good at this, but I’m getting there and that makes me feel pleased.

Lately I’ve been carrying a lot from different parts of Life, as well. Little things layered on bigger things wrapped in complicated things and all sitting on my shoulders, added one-by-one so that I barely noticed the weight creeping up as the weeks slipped by. Some was deliberately assumed; all marriages have divisions of labour and my job over the past few months has been to wear the mantle of certain worries so that John can focus on establishing himself in his new job. For the first couple of months, they weren’t too bad and I was coping pretty well. Then school and activities started for our daughter and my own career training and plans picked up pace. Powerlifting training levelled out, but a competition approaching has its own stresses and mental challenges. More things to be picked up and being lugged along. None of it is insurmountable, if done for sets and reps.

But I forgot how to do the last part of the eccentric portion of the lift. I forgot how to put things down and let go of the bar. Even in the gym, which in retrospect seems symbolic, my deadlifts have been touch-and-go, with the time-under-tension high and the eccentric controlled, with no release at the bottom.

When you don’t put things down, picking them up again gets harder and harder and harder and eventually impossible.

I’d stop resetting my days. Even when doing supposedly relaxing things, I was carrying worries and stresses. At the end of the day, I’d wind down, read an ordinary book from my list of before bed books, drift off to sleep and jolt awake again as John turned out the light, remembering something to be done. Then my brain would start ticking and I’d have to go through an array of mental gymnastics to wind down again, searching nightly through my thoughts for whatever would work that night as a safe and calming thought stream on which to drift off to sleep. When you’re tired, everything is harder and the little things that are completely manageable or actually not at all important become much larger than they deserve.

The other day someone posted something about there being a short time until the Eastern Canadian Championships and my endurance-sport husband jokingly commented, “Wait until a bunch of powerlifters show up and find out it’s a marathon and not a lifting comp.” I think I responded with something along the lines of. “As long as I’m not running the marathon while carrying 300lbs, I’ll give it a try.” I should have listened to my own words. I’ve been running and lifting and not putting down.

This past weekend I crumbled a bit. Okay, I crumbled a lot. It wasn’t fun and I am going to learn how not to let that happen again.

I had gotten so good at picking things up, I had forgotten the art of putting them down again at the end of the day. I’ve been running a marathon while carrying a 300lb deadlift. It’s not sustainable and frankly, really unhealthy. It’s also not a fun way to live and very hard on the people around you. The things that should make you really happy don’t and living in the moment feels unsatisfying precisely when you should be soaking up the available happiness and relaxing so as to be able to resume work.

hiking
Hiking The Cobbler Path on the East Coast Trail.

Yesterday John and I went for a hike to mentally and physically step outside of the norm and we got a chance to really talk. When you want to learn a bit about rebuffing stress over time, talk to a triathlete or runner. Or a professional who has a firm handle on occupational stress. I used to wonder what about those sports appealed to him and now I think I understand a bit more about him, that what he has learned about how to be a good lawyer is directly related to how he races and trains. There’s something about endurance sports that teaches how to pace yourself, makes you fully aware of the consequences of not doing so, and obligates you to both prepare, rest and fuel so as to avoid serious injury. If you don’t, you hit a wall. Like I did Saturday morning.

John is really good at putting things down. It’s a skill he has honed out of necessity by virtue of being a lawyer. There are a lot of lawyers who can’t do that and he decided a long time ago not to be one of those; he didn’t want to be a lonely guy with multiple divorces and addiction issues, dying of a heart attack by the age of 55. So he learned to put things down so well that when he leaves the office on a Friday, his brain shuts that door and he cannot remember what’s waiting for him on Monday morning. It has been so long since we talked about this and he does it so very well and instinctively, that I had forgotten that the person closest to me could teach me the very skill I most need right now.

So I told him the full extent of what I had been carrying lately (which I really should have done more explicitly before) and asked him how to put it down. And after we worked through the list of what was stuff that was actually mine to carry and what really wasn’t, after we sorted out how much of the list was legitimate, he gave me his coping strategy.

He told me that he writes down the stuff to be dealt with (he does this virtually, but since I need things out of my mind altogether, I decided that I’ll put literal pen to actual paper and remove the need to remember anything critical – a large part of my problem of late when juggling too many things).

He mentally puts the paper in a box. Then the box in a bigger box. Locking each one. And so on until he has enough boxes. Firmly locked.

He leaves the largest box containing all the other boxes and ultimately the list in his desk (with his ties – I often wondered if the leaving of the ties at work was symbolic) in his office. Then he mentally pictures himself locking the door to his office. He locks the main door to the office, walks out and gets into the car, and drives very far away, and leaving it all behind, safely there for when he can actually deal with it on Monday morning.

He then spends the weekend doing other things that refresh him such that when he goes back to the office, he is rested and restored, can put on a tie, open the boxes, look at his job, and actually enjoy it.

So last night I tried boxing stuff up and starting to teach my brain that between the hours of 8pm and 6am, nothing constructive can come of being mentally amped up. The boxing up of the first thought was the hardest part. It didn’t fit into a small box. It was like stuffing a greased elephant into a toilet paper tube. But I eventually managed it. Even the trunk. After that, putting boxes into boxes in my mind became kind of like counting sheep – the thing envisioned was no longer the original stressor, just a box.

And it worked. I had to redo this a few times in the night (greased elephants are slippery and Houdini-like), but I have started relearning the process of teaching my mind to behave more productively. I’m sure I’ll have to work at this pretty hard for the next while and I’ll have to come up with other tricks and tools along the way and I’m certain that I’ll spend a lot of time reminding myself to put thoughts away, but I’m going to work on dealing with things when they can be dealt with and not robbing the rest of my life of happiness by worrying about my to-do list.

And from now on, I’m resetting more deadlifts. Just for practice.

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