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Is My Ego Brutal?

April 23, 2018

Admittedly, I toyed with the idea of quitting CrossFit, because I felt self-conscious.


It would be easier not to show up. Not to feel awkward, or behind, or less than. No one is telling me I am any of these things, but I felt this way. 


Several weeks ago, I was acutely aware of a vulnerable place in my body after a morning of back squats. I awoke the next day with a level 7 of lower back pain and it scared me back to Christmas 2003 when I threw my L5 out of alignment in an 8-seater rowing shell off the coast of Tampa, FL with the Novice Rowing Team at the University of Michigan. The old injury pain started subtly, and eventually became excruciating. My then-physical therapist and trainer would put my back into alignment before practice and I would row (on an ergometer, once back in the cold January north) until I was crying from the pain. I'd hop off the erg, and jog it out. I did this for weeks until my coach, trainer, and PT asked me to rest, remove myself from the team, and focus on healing. 


I would wake up, stand up, and lie back down, flat on the ground, fighting tears. I remember calling my dad crying, feeling unsure of my identity now not an athlete. From age 5-19 my every free hour was dedicated to sport (or music). Now what?


I fashioned the unfashionable back brace I was given under my Go Blue t-shirt and held my self upright despite feeling frumpy with this added fabric on the part of my body I felt the most self-conscious about - my stomach.


Of course, 15 years later, I have much gratitude for this time in my life. Without that injury, I likely would not have made time to volunteer with young people, connect with the social change work on campus, or start writing and performing spoken word poetry. 


Back to the Future


My recent pain was reminiscent of my rowing days. It scared me. The 7 decreased to a 3 the next day, then a 2, and has remained between a 0 and 2 since. Gratefully, I have a physical therapist who I trust who is reminding me what I learned all those years ago -I have to recruit my glutes, and my back is only as strong as my core.


I show up to CrossFit at 6:45am curious if I will be able to complete the day's workout without remediation, without modification, without humiliation. 


I feel the discomfort of a first day of school, or trying to impress a crush, or being up to a task beyond my skill set. My fear is I don't belong. I won't measure up. I won't heal. Others think I'm doing this for attention or I'm just plain weaksauce. Fuck.


Is It My Ego's Fault? 


I tell my two closest friends about my dilemma and hear myself echo my awareness that I want to let my pride get the best of me, I don't want to feel awkward. 


But awkward is the only way forward. If I don't go through awkward, I don't get strong. If I quit, I don't get support. I don't have the motivation to get up at 5:45am and meditate before  class. I don't feel amazing starting my workday, like some sort of purple-haired she-Hulk I dressed up as one Halloween in my twenties. 


My dear mentor is curious if this is part of my pattern to push. To in a way assume I need to be brutal in order to change. I walk with that. Down the still snowy mountain trail into a jog, resisting slowing down. Am I brutal? I thank her for "calling me out" on pushing myself enough to cause injury. I hear her sigh. It's compassion she is offering, not calling me out. It is her love that notices my pattern. Not her desire to scold.


I am startled by my own violent words, the idea that I need to be punished for hurting myself or not being as strong as I'd like.


I walk with this into the valley, and return to cross fit with a gentler approach. My sense of "I'm not good enough" lessens, though is still present. And I am able to approach each day, each minute, with the goal of getting what I'm paying for, meeting my goals to feel strong.


I Want To Feel Like She-Hulk