Originally written March 9, 2018.
Is this how it ends? Is this REALLY how it ends?
How did I get here?
Let me tell you…
It’s Winter break at Penn State. The town is quiet, students are away. Rec Hall (my haven) is closed, but I’m walking up to the front doors just the same.
I’m extremely stressed, anxious and dangerously restless. I have a strange energy and need to move, to seriously PUSH myself. Physical exertion is my only escape.
The doors are locked, so I squeeze between the poles of a locked gate, walk down an alley, and find a double door, closed, with no outside handles.
But one of the doors protrudes ever so slightly. Gripping the edge with my fingertips, I’m able to pry it open, and I’m IN! What a rush!
I jog down the hallway toward the South Gym, the whole building is dead quiet with only the emergency lights on. I’m feeling better already.
Next thing I know, my coat is off and I’m running suicides in the stale air of my favorite gym. I’m home.
10 yards, plant, and sprint back, 20 yards and back, 30 yards and back…all the way to 60.
Full tilt, ZERO restraint. Nothing to lose, nothing to save.
I pant and wheeze for a minute, then go again.
This time it takes me longer to recover – something’s off – but I don’t wait long before starting again.
Every subsequent round I feel worse, which shames me into inflicting another round upon myself. I do 6 rounds? 10 rounds? I truly have no idea. Too many.
At some point, I remember lying face-down on the court, gasping in the sweaty, dusty, waxy stench.
My heart beat faster and harder into my head and my throat, ready to explode, which I’d felt before. My breathing was uncontrolled and chaotic. The room was closing in. I’d been there before too. No biggie.
But they didn’t slow down. After a few minutes I still had no control, and panic set in. I strained to lift my head just enough to see the dark, empty hallway through the window. I listened, hearing no one and nothing except for my own violent breaths…
I begged my limbs, pleaded with them to move me. Just one foot. One INCH. They wouldn’t listen. Had I ever really listened to their cries? Hadn’t they given me plenty of chances?
My remaining energy leaked steadily out with each passing second.
In hindsight, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine not being able to muster the strength to move AT ALL. It seems impossible. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t felt it. But there I was…
Is this how it ends?
They won’t open the building for 10 more days. What will they say about me? I suppose it’s a fitting way to go.
This wasn’t just me blowing things out of proportion in the moment (I don’t think). I had pushed my physical limits consistently (and recklessly) my whole life. It was my identity, what I most valued about myself.
I was accustomed to severe exertional discomfort, I nearly killed myself BEFORE from exercise and exposure…this felt similar, but different. It was worse.
But somehow, at some point – 5 minutes later? 30 minutes later? – I found myself inching toward the hallway. Was I even controlling it?
I rolled, crawled, pulled, and slid my way through the doors and to the water fountain, as the floor screamed against my clammy skin.
I climbed clumsily up to the spout, struggling to breathe through a few small gulps of water. After plopping down to rest for a minute, I scavenged a few more gulps. It hardly seemed to help at the time, but I suppose it was just enough.
So I made it (duh!). The adventure wasn’t over, but the long exhausting journey down the hall, down the stairs, out the door, and back to my apartment isn’t terribly interesting. I don't have any idea how long it took me to return home.
But why did this happen? What did I learn? Or, rather, what SHOULD I have learned?
1. Listen to yourself. Listen to your body.
Our bodies have an amazing ability to communicate deeply with us. And an amazing capacity to heal and self-correct.
But often we (maybe not, maybe just me) think we know better. Or we just don’t care.
Or perhaps we’ve conditioned ourselves to cut off our body’s voice. But it’s still there somewhere.
Listen closely – your body will tell you if something’s wrong. It even gives you a cushion, and often suffers your insults for quite some time without so much as a peep.
But when it finally speaks up, listen! Something has to change.
With practice, we can learn to hear before our body has to shout, before the damage has been done.
When this happened I think I was 22. I’d been in the compulsive habit of testing my physical limits…always. It’s what I thought I needed – so I consistently ignored my body’s clear signals that something was wrong.
I ignored the intuitive voice warning me of my excessive and dangerous compulsions.
I cut off communications because I didn’t like the truths they told me.
2. Be aware of your stress!
Stress is stress, it accumulates from all sources. I doesn’t matter if it’s physical, emotional, or mental. If you don’t address your issues and develop strategies, too much will accumulate.
There will be consequences, eventually. And you better hope your coping mechanisms don’t create even more stress!
Developing a greater awareness of your stress, and appropriate outlets for it, is essential to your long term health.
3. Address your issues and grow in all facets: mind, body, heart/soul. Express yourself truly.
I was very good at expressing myself physically. Not so much emotionally, personally, or sexually.
I let it all out physically, and bottled up the rest. Then boxed up the bottles, liberally applied masking tape, and shipped them to the moon.
I didn’t VALUE myself enough to express my needs, desires, or emotions. I couldn’t even admit or express that stuff to myself!
I used a single means to express everything inside me. My self-worth hinged upon a single facet of my being: the physical ability to perform and grind through my limits.
When I felt stressed, overwhelmed, or “off,” intense exercise was my only respite. I treated excessive mental/emotional stress with excessive physical stress.
Think about that for a moment. Read it again.
Is it any wonder I broke down, or that it all became a vicious cycle of psychological and physical injury?
As potent as they may have been, I didn’t learn my lessons right away. It has taken many years – and I’ve made the biggest strides in this past year.
What’s changed? Self expression. It has helped me tap into my other facets of life. Helped me face my fears and be willing to be vulnerable.
I’m still working at it, but I’m so much better at expressing myself truly, in ways that actually feel GOOD. I’ve developed constructive and healthy outlets – if you don’t do them already, I highly encourage you to try some of what’s below:
Writing: journaling, poetry, EMAILS, blog posts
Reading: for pleasure and entertainment, not just fitness/wellness stuff!
Sharing myself: social media videos, emails, deep personal discussions, public speaking: presentations, workshops, guest lectures, group fitness.
Movement: gentle play, intelligent strength, aerobic, and MOBILITY training. Methods that are kind to my mind and body.
Meditation: walking with no destination, running because it feels good, quiet time alone, guided meditation, deep breathing, drawing.
The more ways I find to truly express myself, the better I feel, and the easier it becomes. When I value myself enough to express ME truly in one context, I find I’m better able to express myself in other contexts.
Example: Expressing myself physically – unrestrained, joyful and feel-good activity – makes me more creative with my writing, and more willing to share it. And vice versa. A new, healthy cycle has been created!
One final sentence to summarize:
Be kind to yourself, and express yourself truly in as many ways as you can.
If you don’t know what that means for you, quiet down a bit and listen.
Thank you so much for reading! Please feel free to reach out with any feedback, reactions, and/or experiences of your own :)