Swimming laps over the past few weeks has given me a lot of time to think, away from the constant distraction of preschoolers, work, and technology.
One thing I started thinking about was, “if I know that I still have movement options available to me, and I know that intense heavy lifting is not necessary for good heath, why am I so up in arms about having to take a break from heavy lifting?” I mean, aside from the abrupt changes in routine and hormones, there was another feeling there. What was it?
It was fear. Logically, I knew that I was going to be okay. What was so scary? This was about more than fear for my health. I knew my health would be fine.
One day I realized that the fear was about the need to “do something special.” Or to be seen as special by others. When I lift heavy weights, people tell me they are impressed with me. In an age of fitness on social media, people lifting heavy things are “badass” and “inspirational.”
I realized that I very strongly felt the need to be seen as doing something inspirational and special. That felt really profound. I decided to sit with that, and have some curiosity about it. What was behind that?
It took me a week or so of sitting with that self-awareness, and then I realized what was behind it.
I never felt like I met the cultural standard of beauty, in a culture that very much values physical beauty in women. From a young age I felt like an outsider. I didn’t fit in. My parents stressed about my weight and even though I know that they were concerned about my health (not my appearance), at the time, it added to all the noise and messages I received on a daily basis that I was not beautiful, and therefore, I was less valuable than other girls.
And so, in order to feel valuable, I had to be something else. I had to be smart. I had to be talented. I had to be the best at something. I had to do things that other girls weren’t doing. I had to be seen doing these things, so everyone could see those things as well as my fat. I couldn’t just BE, as a fat kid, a fat girl, a fat adult. I had to be fat and AWESOME at something, or I would disappear and be forgotten.
Looking back, I can see that this need to be seen as special and valuable drove a lot of things in my life. I was an accomplished musician with a conservatory music education, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore, and I felt lost. Why else would I, as a non-runner, decide to train for a marathon, instead of setting a goal to consistently run a mile 3 times per week, or to run 5ks consistently? I thought that by doing things other people didn’t do, I would be special…and therefore okay.
And so it didn’t seem like enough to just exercise like a normal human being. I had to do marathons 10 years ago, and in the past year and a half, I had to learn to lift as heavy as possible. To have a goal of a 300lb deadlift, and then be devastated when I learned it won’t be a good idea for me to pursue that particular goal this year.
Deep down in my subconscious, I believed it would be okay to be fat if I could also deadlift 300 pounds. I looked to Olympic athletes like Holley and Sarah as models. And I pursued those goals, rather than work on the belief that it is unconditionally okay for me to be fat. It is okay for me to be fat even if I don’t accomplish anything extraordinary or special or inspirational or badass while fat.
The reality is I have no idea what I want to do with myself and my time if I don’t spend time on something that makes me appear special or different or inspirational. I had this deep seated need for so long, because I felt like I wasn’t okay. But knowing and acknowledging that I have that fear driven need is helping me to move past it. I feel seen and understood, if only by myself. I feel better able to ask myself “what do I need to care for myself today” and have it be okay and enough to say “laps in the pool. However many I feel like.” I am able to differentiate between “things that will make me feel healthy” and “things that will make others see me as special /inspirational /valuable.”
So here I am, doing my thing, parenting my kid, working my job, rehabbing my injury, swimming my laps like the older people at the gym. Physically it feels quite satisfying. Mentally it is an adjustment. Having the awareness of why it is an adjustment is helping me settle in and enjoy it for what it is. It is taking some practice. Facing it head on, however, is helping me feel more peace about not being able to lift for a little while.
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