I wrote this back in December 2013 for Basbarbell.com.
Ever see the movie Requiem for a Dream? Rough, choppy, and disturbing, but a great movie. The characters, all desperate for something, are troubled by thoughts that don’t match up with reality. Incredibly focused on something that screws them up in the end. Obsessive and addicted to drugs. They get high to escape reality.
I can relate to addiction. I am not addicted to drugs, I’m addicted to routine. Wanting to reach goals but not making all the right choices. Without a goal, I lose all focus and my thoughts screw me up. So many people talk and talk and talk. I listen. I listen so closely, that I can recall conversations almost verbatim. Not necessarily a bad thing, until my mind replays conversations over and over. More than one at a time. I overanalyze everything. Question everything. Always pessimistic. I drag myself down, until I shut off completely, unable to relate to others. I unintentionally hurt the people around me who care the most. Mentally detached. A shit storm of thoughts I don’t want and can’t get rid of until I eventually snap out of it.
Exercise is my escape. My mind stops racing; the obsessive thoughts are silenced by weights. It’s temporary. Without lifting I would be lost. While I can’t get things straight in my mind, I stop questioning when it’s time to train. Only four days of the week.
Cut off sweats and chucks. I waited for this all weekend. Everything seems calm. York Bar is loaded in the squat rack, warm-ups feel easy and it’s time for the work sets: 335 5×4. I always wonder how people interpret this volume. Are they thinking 5 sets is a lot? Is a set of 4 hard? 20 total reps? Or do they think, Man, that’s a lot with 335? I rarely consider the weight. I want it on my shoulders. I’m not a numbers person and always hated math. I count reps as words or letters that spell words. Strange, but I’ve done it for years and it’s become a habit. I welcome these repetitive thoughts. Letters and words as numbers. Different four letter words for each set. Not something I debate, it just comes to me and I count my reps. First set: E. A. S. Y. Second Set: F. A. S. T. Third Set: F. L. E. X. Fourth Set: L. E. G. S. Fifth set: F. U. C. K. My legs feel good. The pressure in my head feels bad in the best way. There is nothing like squatting. Workout’s over and my mind starts racing.
It’s funny that most people want a big chest. I realize this is a very broad generalization, but most guys want a big bench and most women want big breasts. I don’t care a whole lot about either, but my bench is decent and I like feeling strong. Since benching is a lift I could either take or leave, my mind is empty as I get ready to lift, and as I go through my warm-up sets. 135×6, 170×3, 190×2, 205×2, then 185xAMAP (as many as possible). Now it’s time for some fun. I get a number in my head. At least 10. One all out set. Bar is in my grip and I begin counting reps as words: The. Harder. You. Work. The. Harder. It. Is. To. Surrender. I get to my minimum of 10 then get 2 more…12 reps with 185. I smile. Finished with 4×15 incline machine presses and 40 total dips. Steel does a set, I do a set, back and forth, working fast through both exercises. Feels like air is pumped into my chest and triceps. Workout’s over and my mind starts racing.
I sleep in, take my time getting out the door for work, decide to drive and appreciate the short mile and a half ride. Instead of going to my office to check email and get organized, I stop and hang out in Cristi’s office. We talk about all kinds of things and then Cristi says, “Whatcha got today?” I answer and ask, “Shoulders, you?” It was her day off, but she wanted to do “Lots of cardio.” I hear that and feel a little sick. Her cardio is about as random as her cheat meal cravings for snacks like corn-nuts: She may sprint, do a circuit, walk, bike (pedals barely moving), box or do some skip knees and whatever else. Completely random. All I hear is cardio. Cardio. Cardio. Cardio. I go to check my email with visions of riding the recumbent bike swirling in my head. I know it’s going to be slow at work, so I plan to lift after 12 to balance the day. Long enough to miss the weights but not so long that I become irritable. It’s time. By myself, I lift facing the mirrors for front and behind the neck presses. Not thinking about much. Finish my 5×6, fill my empty 1/2 gallon of green tea with water and head for the dumbbells. Laterals 3×15 and DB Kirk’s superset with rear raises, 4×12 each. Dressed in old lacrosse sweats and a t-shirt, I put the weights back and picture myself in contest shape with striated shoulders. I miss the look—round muscles, tank tops, all of it, and feel relieved it’s winter. Cardio? I box for 5 rounds. Feels good to hit something. I bike, not because I want to but because I feel obligated to. Workout’s over and my thoughts aren’t as rapid.
White noise. The sound of the empty weight room is like a vacation. A break from all the chaos, especially my thoughts. I really want to sweat. Today’s lift is anticlimactic: Chins, lat pulls, Yates machine rows, pullovers, barbell curls and cable curls. For most of these exercises, I’m supposed to do 4 sets of 15. I never count straight through to 15 because I don’t like 15. I also associate numbers with jersey numbers—mostly of former teammates, some opponents. If I didn’t like a teammate as a person or if I didn’t respect her as a lacrosse player, I just hated the number. 15 wasn’t an athlete. So I count to 14 and 1, or I count letters, phrases, or quotes. The best part about sets of 15 or more, is the burning sensation where the last few reps are tough and probably ugly but I finish the set and feel completely satisfied. Since the exercises for today aren’t all that exciting (compared to squats or deadlift), my approach to it is—I work fast, start sweating, and by the end my back feels wide and my arms feel huge. I don’t mind. I enjoy lifting alone once in a while. Workout’s over and I start thinking, what’s next?
I thrive on routine and when I abandon it altogether I have irrational thoughts about everything except lifting. The same routine I can’t function without is a catalyst for self-destruction. I’m no good at hiding my emotions and when I get in a lull, lifting gives me something to look forward to. As for highs and lows, I’m too familiar with them both—physically and mentally. Heavy from eating, lean from dieting or even more lean when it’s close to a contest. Mentally solid when I’m busy, until I’m burnt out on everything and can’t turn my mind off. My thoughts, behaviors and reality all collide…
I think I have completely failed. I did not reach goals.
I think I let others down. I let myself down.
I think I look like shit. I am big and muscular but smooth.
I think I should set another goal. I need something but want nothing.
I think I should diet strictly. I measure meals one day and eat like shit the next.
I think I need to find a good book. I try reading but my thoughts distract me.
I think I should start more research. I can’t look at another abstract or citation.
I think I will call home. I don’t call to avoid small talk.
I think I have the answer. I fake a smile, stare and want something to say but all that comes out is a pathetic “I don’t know.”
I can’t express my thoughts clearly; there is nothing clear about them. I resort to “I don’t know” and it’s frustrating. It would be easy if someone else could articulate my thoughts. While I’m over-thinking every situation, I’m also more observant of my environment and the people in it and that only adds to the fog I’m in. Why? Because if you pay attention you’ll realize how superficial things and people are. It’s sad really. Can’t do anything about it except move on.
And then it is gone. I wake up one morning and I’m back. There’s usually a series of events that trigger my crazy thinking, and after so much time mulling over different situations, I just let it all go. When things return to normal in my mind, I systematically plan my day, always around when I’m going to workout.
Like the characters in Requiem for a Dream, I had been desperate to succeed and afraid to fail and the two don’t go together. I fell short of some goals, threw others away completely and missed out on other opportunities, but no matter what, I never missed a workout.