Choosing Hope

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” ~Nelson Mandela

About this time last year I was in the midst of an unexpected choice to leave the job I had held for 12 years. I hadn’t sought out this opportunity, but I couldn’t help but feel optimism and hope when the possibility was dangled in front of me. Such a decision could not be made lightly, no matter how sweet. As frustrated as I was in my job, there was still fear in leaving and losing all that was familiar and comfortable in my position there. I could have allowed that fear to paralyze me. I could have simply remained where I was, feeling stuck and frustrated, but I chose differently.

Although my official 1 year anniversary at my current job isn’t until September 1st, today is the anniversary of two out of three interviews. I remember the nervousness I felt going into each interview and the growing excitement I felt over the very real possibility of making a career change. There was a measure of anxiety and sadness mixed with the excitement knowing that I might need to give notice and disappoint my co-workers. Still, the hope and excitement outweighed the potential negatives, and I have never looked back.

I am definitely more comfortable in my “new” job after 11 months, but I am very much aware that there is still, and always, more to learn! Sometimes I feel frustrated that I don’t know everything by now…until I remember that I had 12 years to learn and grow comfortable in my previous job. It isn’t often that I walk into my old stomping grounds, but when I do I am quickly reminded of all of the reasons why leaving was so desirable and easy. I know that I made the right choice at the right time. Is my new job perfect? Of course not! However, I am happy to be where I am now, and I am proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone and fear to make a choice based on hope.

Exposure

At one point yesterday, I logged onto Facebook and received notification that I had been tagged in a post by my chiropractor/friend. I clicked on the notification to see what I had been tagged in and quickly found my eyes bugging out and my jaw dropped to the floor. My chiropractor had shared a blog post of mine and offered up a little commentary of his own to go with it. I was caught off guard, surprised, and instantly uncomfortable in the spotlight. Isn’t that a funny reaction! I’ve had a public blog for years, so why should I react in such a manner when someone else shares it?

I can answer that question easily enough. For all that I am perfectly okay with exposing myself on my blog, I still tend to assume that virtually no one reads it. The blog hosting site has tracking features which allow me to see how many people actually do read my blog and the countries they are from, so I know that any given day will have been seen by anywhere from 1 to 60+ people. What I don’t know is who these people actually are. Are they people I know in real life, or are they complete strangers? I think I can be confident in knowing that a viewer from Romania is NOT someone I know in real life; however, the typical bunch of American/Canadian viewers could potentially be people I know. I just never assume that they do. I’m not sure why I assume that. Maybe it’s just easier that way. Maybe I just don’t get a lot of feedback from those who do know me, so I assume they don’t read my blog. Whatever the case…it doesn’t matter. I don’t blog for the sole purpose of being read and commented on. I do this for myself, like a journal, one that just so happens to be laid out for others to read if they choose.

And yet, for all that I assume no one I know reads my blog, I still feel a moment of embarrassment or panic when I realize that someone I know actually has read it. This is what I experienced yesterday, when I realized that Ben had shared my post. Ben has far more Facebook friends than I do, which means that the potential exposure was slightly overwhelming. Ben is infinitely smarter and more educated than I am. Why would he ever share my little post? Quite honestly, when I shared my blog post with Ben, I wasn’t even sure that he would read it. He promptly disabused me of that belief, but I’m still half-surprised that he read it. My blog is not anything special. It is just me, revealing myself, trying to be honest and real in a world that isn’t fond of either quality.

This is not the first time that my chiropractor has done something similar to me. Indeed, nearly two years ago, he made a Facebook post congratulating me on my success at a competition and the journey I had made thus far to change myself. His post made me cry, and I appreciated his kind words. However, a day or two later I received a message from a local television station about being interviewed for a segment. That was both an intensely petrifying and oddly empowering experience, and I blame it all on Ben. But can I really blame him?

He might be more than a decade younger than me, but I’d be proud to grow up to be half the person he is! I admire him, because he is a real person. I am drawn to honest, real people like moths to a flame. I value realness. I want to be seen as a real person. Known as a real person. I’ve lived a lifetime wearing masks to make others happy and comfortable, all the while I’ve chafed under the mask and afraid of being revealed as a fraud. I am no longer content to be someone I am not. Becoming Angela means that I am striving to be myself without hiding behind masks. Sometimes I still hide behind a mask, for my own comfort or yours, but I am trying to keep the masks off.

“In a world where everyone wears a mask, it’s a privilege to see a soul.” ~?

Today, I am not freaked out about the fact my chiropractor shared my post. There’s been a small increase in viewings of that particular post, but so what. Why should I feel fear or embarrassment or anxiety over the fact that someone thought my blog post was worth sharing? Wouldn’t the more natural response be a measure of pride? Or at least a sense of validation or encouragement? Okay, so I won’t likely ever feel pride in such a situation, but there’s no reason for me to react negatively. I am just me. I can only be me!

The Undiscovered Country

The commercial gym…the final frontier. These are the voyages of Angela. Her mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out a new life, to boldly go where she has never gone before.

Okay, so I have been in commercial gyms before, but today was indeed an entirely new experience. I went to a commercial gym to train this morning, to weight train with free weights…all by myself! There were a couple of instances last year where I had to do some weight training at a commercial gym, but my husband was there to give me a spot and hand-offs when necessary. Eons ago, when I had a gym membership, I never touched the free weights. So training solo today in an unfamiliar gym was a step outside of my comfort zone. Thankfully, I wasn’t planning on attempting any maximal weights, so I felt reasonably confident that I’d be okay on my own.

One thing I do not like about commercial gyms is the equipment. Although I haven’t been to many gyms, my experience has been that commercial equipment is usually awkward to use. The squat racks are impossible to set at the ideal height for me, which means I either need to have an awkwardly low set up or difficulty unracking and re-racking the bar. The deadlift platform had a wicked slope to it, probably just old and worn out. The benches were too short. The markings on the bars were unfamiliar. There wasn’t enough knurling where I needed it. The collars sucked. The rubber plates for deadlifts were a pain to put on and off. No chalk. Too many mirrors. My experience today, however, was not all that bad. Yes, the equipment was unfamiliar and awkward, but I didn’t have to wait for a squat rack or a bench or a platform. No one hassled me. In fact, the only person to speak to me was a guy asking if I was finished with the deadlift platform after I put away all my plates. I was able to do what I needed to do, and the woman at the desk was really quite kind and pleasant. She didn’t charge me the drop-in fee and gave me a 10-day trial pass to use in the future, and she was rather interested in and proud of my powerlifting pursuits.

1a. squats-low bar, with sleeves

45 lbs x 8, 95 x 6

with belt: 135 x 3, 165 x 3

185 x 3 This set was a little bit ugly. I pitched forward coming out of the hole on the first rep and had to take a step forward to catch myself. Pretty sure I saw my life flash before my eyes, and I was seriously tempted to rack the bar; however, I took a couple extra breaths, gave myself a little pep talk, and finished off the set.

195 x 3, 195 x 3

The first set here felt a bit tough but not horrible. Yesterday as I was tentatively hashing out what I would do today, I had thought that I might try some triples at 200 or 205 pounds, depending on how 195 felt. Although the first set felt a bit tough, it wasn’t maximal effort. Still, I decided to do another set at the same weight and then possibly go up for the final set. The second set felt decent, I think, but I had some troubles unracking and re-racking the bar (commercial gym problem!). Getting the bar back on the rack required more effort this time and resulted in some awkward body movement, so I figured that adding more weight wasn’t going to be a good idea. Then I decided to scratch the third set for the same reason. The last thing I need right now is to hurt my shoulders or aggravate my disc or SI joints again.

1b. bench press-competition grip

45 lbs x 10, 65 x 6, 85 x 5, 95 x 3

I had wanted to do these lighter sets with my feet on the bench in an effort to minimize strain on my back, but the bench was too short for my feet to rest on it. Seriously? Why such short benches? So, I had my feet on the floor, used my leg drive, but tried to keep my arch as small as possible for the lighter sets.

105 x 3, 110 x 3, 115 x 3

I did use a full arch and leg drive for these sets. I didn’t film any of my bench sets, but I think the bar moved well and with decent speed. I even made sure to pause each rep. When I decided to scratch the last squat set, I also scratched doing another bench set at 115. I’m sure I could have done it, but I also didn’t want to end grinding any reps.

2. deadlifts-conventional

95 lbs x 8

with belt: 135 x 5, 165 x 5, 185 x 3

These sets felt good. It seems like every deadlift session feels a bit better than the previous, which is a good thing considering how very little I have deadlifted since January. My coach never actually gave me clear and precise instructions for today’s training (he’s on holidays this week), but he seemed to indicate that I could work up to 205 for deadlifts today. With how good 185 felt, I decided to be a tad more adventurous and try a couple of singles at 215.

215 x 1, 215 x 1

I’d say that those two singles felt pretty decent. Last week I did a single rep at 225 and it did not feel good at all. These singles felt much better than that, and this is a perfect example of how each deadlift session feels better than the one before. Yes, it is 10 pounds less than last week’s single, but it was faster, smoother, and felt better on the back. I’d say that’s progress.

Yesterday I asked my coach what he thinks my opening deadlift will be at Provincials, and I have to admit that I was crushed by his response. His feeling is that I will open with 205 pounds with my final attempt being 255 pounds. I know that I cannot and should not expect to deadlift a personal best this time around, but I felt instantly demoralized upon seeing my coach’s projections. His anticipated final attempt isn’t even as heavy as my opening attempt at any of my previous three competitions! I know I’ve not had the best training because of the back problems, and I’ve been mentally preparing myself for a mediocre performance…but, but, BUT I have to be able to do better than 255 pounds! Of course, everything is variable. It changes day by day, and the day of competition is always unique. The numbers aren’t set in stone, and we can make the final decisions on the day based on how the back feels and how my warm-ups move.

135 x 7

Since my chiropractor wants me to get more light reps in, I decided to do a drop down set at a weight that would be fairly light while still providing enough weight to require good technique. Then I called it a day!

I survived the commercial gym! It was as hot as Hades in there, so I was sweating buckets, but I did it.

Shoulder Selfies

shoulders

I do not enjoy having my picture taken, and I take terrible selfies. So why am I sharing a compilation of selfies showing off my pathetic looking arms? To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure. I know I have had this blog post percolating in my head since last night, but sometimes the idea splits into multiple ideas and I get a little lost trying to navigate my way to completion. I cringed while taking these photos, and I cringe every time I look at them now. Although my theme for this year is Powerfully Beautiful, I still struggle to see the beautiful when I look at a picture of myself. Perhaps that is why I felt the need to take these pictures and post them here…to remind myself of truth I am not comfortable believing and to reject the inner voice which says that there is something wrong with the image reflected back to me.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

I have never believed that phrase, because I have been hurt far more often and more deeply by words than I have ever been hurt physically. My body bears scars from injuries I’ve sustained over the years, but they pale in comparison to the scars inside that no one can ever see. Maybe some people can brush away hurtful words like crumbs on a lap. As someone who savours and values words, I tend to soak them all in, good or bad. Over the past few years, I have grown more capable of rejecting words that are false or harmful to my well-being. As I have grown more comfortable in my own skin and in self-confidence, I have found strength in knowing and being exactly who I am. The opinion of others began to matter less, but I realize now that I have also been sheltered in a way. I have changed and grown a lot over the past few years, and that has been amazing and wonderful and good; however, the people surrounding me have been supportive and encouraging and wonderful, too. That’s a good thing! But, aside from the odd comment from a complete stranger, I haven’t experienced much, if any, criticism or negativity in these recent years towards my nature, my character, or what I do. Until quite recently.

To be fair, my recent experience was actually quite mild. It’s not like the comments were spiteful or intentionally meant to be hurtful. I’m sure they weren’t even meant to be directed at me personally. In the grand scheme of things, the comments should have slid off my back like water off a duck, because I know it wasn’t personal or mean-spirited. Actually, I was caught off guard by how much I was bothered by the comments. I had some mopey time, cried a few tears, shared my feelings with a couple of trusted friends, and then shrugged it off.

I know who I am, and I like who I am becoming.

Lots of people comment on the fact that I do not look like I lift weights. I get it…I mean, look at my biceps! They aren’t bulging. But you know what? I’m not a bodybuilder. I am not training to achieve a specific physique. I am a powerlifter, and we come in all shapes and sizes. My shoulders are not as big as a swimmer’s, but I still have trouble finding shirts and jackets that aren’t too tight in the shoulder. Some might find that unattractive or unappealing. Again, I get it. I’m not too keen on the look of women with extremely massive bodybuilding figures, but I can accept that their perspective is different from my own. Sometimes I look at my shoulders and feel unsightly. Other times I look at my shoulders and feel strong and powerful. I suppose that explains, in part, why the recent words stung like they did. Those words latched onto the dark side of my psyche, the side that is critical of self and vulnerable to attack. No matter how strong and confident I become, I cannot completely eliminate that dark side. It is a part of who I am.

So, I suppose I am sharing these awful photos, because that is also a part of who I am. I am learning to laugh at myself, to step outside of my comfort zone now and then, and to see myself as beautiful. (Even here I want to make a sarcastic comment to downplay the ‘beautiful’ comment! Must resist!) I cannot isolate myself from people who might say hurtful things, intentional or not, but I can continue to surround myself with people who love, support, encourage and know me. Who knows? Maybe one day I will even look like I lift weights!

A Lesson in Sushi

sushi

I took this picture yesterday while on my break at work. I took the picture, because I was feeling proud of myself for stepping beyond my comfort zone. The photo was supposed to be a memento of shaking off the silly fear that has kept me from having sushi again more than 7 months after first trying it. For the record, I did like the sushi I had 7 months ago! While I wasn’t sure I would be able to eat all of the sushi, I did expect that I could eat a good portion of it.

My expectations were not my reality. I ate the first piece and found myself chewing just a tad longer than normal. I started on the second piece and felt a threatening tear sting the corner of my eye. My throat constricted, rebelled, and I fought against the urge to gag. I managed to finish the piece I was struggling with, but I ended up throwing the rest in the trash, feeling defeated and hungry.

Maybe I wasn’t fond of the crab, I thought. Sure, I’ve had crab before, even in the sushi that I had months ago, both real and imitation. The rice and cucumber seemed tasty enough, so perhaps I just wasn’t keen on the crab. Although it had been seven months, I do recall enjoying smoked salmon, yam, and veggie sushi over the crab.

What possessed me to pick up some sushi for my lunch yesterday anyway?

At the gym yesterday morning, my coach and I were talking about my nutrition and eating habits. This is something we talk about with some regularity. He is my coach and personal trainer, so it only makes sense that we talk about it. I’m in a food rut right now, which is also something that happens with regularity. I am uninspired & unmotivated to cook. My schedule demands that I be mentally prepared by planning ahead, and yet, as much as I am the sort of person who thrives on planning ahead, I am struggling to do so with meals. Michael made some suggestions, including sushi, to which I commented on the fact that I haven’t had sushi for many months and that I’ve been afraid to try it again.

I don’t even know why I have been afraid. The last time I had sushi was a positive experience. The days leading up to that sushi day were amazing, and I felt like I was on top of the world. Precious friends had given me a wonderful gift. I had just competed at my first Provincials, where I had broken a couple BCPA records. I was on an emotional high and feeling great. I spent an evening with my friend learning how to make sushi, and it was good. 

Since that night I have been reluctant to try sushi again. I have told myself that I lack experience with sushi, that I cannot simply walk into a restaurant and order sushi for lack of knowledge and experience. I figured that since my kids would never even give sushi a try, there was no point in trying to incorporate sushi consumption into my life. Mostly I was afraid that I wouldn’t like sushi the next time I tried it. What if that first and last experience was a fluke?

My lack of planning and current displeasure with food inspired me to give sushi a try yesterday. In all honesty, I have thought about having sushi several times over the past couple of months, but that slight twist of fear has always prevented me from doing so. I work next door to a sushi place. Sometimes they will bring over some sushi for us, and I’ve always left it for my co-workers to enjoy, never trying any myself. After the brief discussion with my coach yesterday, I realized just how strong this fear has been and that irritated me. It seemed silly to be afraid to try sushi again, especially when my previous experience was a good one. My character is stronger than that! Or I think it is. Should be. And so, I got sushi. Sushi that I couldn’t eat.

While I would still like to say that the crab was the culprit, the truth is likely a combination of factors which include the crab and also the events that took place the morning after that sushi making night. I don’t need to share the details here now, but I have never before been in such an emotionally upsetting and devastating situation. The tragedy was not personally mine, but I was there. I was emotionally affected, and that weighed on me far more than I have ever acknowledged or admitted. Would it honestly be that much of a stretch to think that there is a connection between my fear of having sushi again and the trauma that took place that morning?

I remember a moment during my first pregnancy, when I was sipping on a sparkling flavoured water. Clearly Canadian Wild Cherry. My favourite! Although I didn’t have morning sickness very much at all, on that day, as I sipped my beverage, my stomach rolled and I heaved it all into the toilet. I could never drink Clearly Canadian again.

Maybe this sushi thing is like that? Perhaps. Yet, I don’t know. Aside from the Clearly Canadian, I’ve never had a similar reaction to any food. Okay, so I’ve never had an experience quite like this either, but I still think that I ultimately do like sushi. There will be another time for me to try sushi…just maybe not crab.

 

The Message

A few days ago I received a message requesting I call this person at Shaw Television in regards to a little segment they had done on me in August 2015. I couldn’t imagine why they were wanting me to call, yet I found my insides fluttering with the same nervous energy that I experienced when I was originally contacted by Shaw. I am not overly fond of conversations on the telephone, especially with complete strangers and particularly when I am unable to mentally/emotionally prepare for the conversation. But I called. It turns out that a piece of paperwork was missed way back when, and I was being asked to fill out a form. I can do that!

The voice on the other end of the phone was very friendly and conversational. She asked if I was still competing and told me to keep in touch, to let them know what I’m up to in competition and so on, possibly for another segment. The entire conversation wasn’t nearly as nerve-wracking as I had thought it could be, although now I am looking at a form and wondering how I am supposed to fill out half of the page. The form isn’t quite what I expected either. Name, phone numbers, email and signature…no problem! Do I need to fill out the rest? The parts that sound like they are intended for potential stories. I thought I was just going to be signing a permission form or something.

Since receiving that message on Thursday, I have re-watched my Shaw segment a couple of times and shared it with my boss, which means that it was also seen by a co-worker. That’s okay. I really have no idea just how far that segment has gone since it was first aired, but I do know that it has traveled further than I could have ever anticipated. While I will likely never know the impact my little story will have, I have to believe that there is a reason why someone thought my story was worth telling in the first place. It doesn’t seem like much to me. Scratch that. To me, my story is incredibly important, but I never feel as if it is important or special in comparison to anyone else. When I look beyond my four walls, I feel small and insignificant and unworthy of attention.

From my current position, I have a perfect view of my powerlifting medals (all 7 of them), a trio of photos of me competing at Westerns last summer, my daughter’s artist’s statement placard from the sketch she did of me squatting which was displayed in the Art Gallery last spring, and the actual sketch itself. I am a sentimental softy, but I’m okay with it. They are also milestones. Visual reminders of the path I’ve already traveled and guideposts towards my future destinations. My Shaw segment is just another one of those milestones. I look at it and experience a moment of uncertainty…was that really me? How did I ever manage to speak in front of a television camera? Then my thoughts start to wander…just how far have I come since that was filmed? I’m not even quite the same person anymore. I’ve done more. I have grown more. I’d like to think that I am more. At least until the doubts creep back in!

If you haven’t seen the TV segment that I’m talking about, you can watch it here.

Your Own Beautiful

yourownbeautiful

I have long had a strong distaste for clothes shopping. When I was overweight and out of shape, shopping for clothes came with feelings of embarrassment, shame and stress. The dress that looked amazingly cute on the mannequin made me look like Mrs. Potatohead, complete with lumps in all the wrong places. The sharp skirt that caught my eye wouldn’t get past my hips, or, if it did get past the hips, then the waist gaped grotesquely. Cute tops would be too tight at the shoulders, too billowy for my bosom, and would make my belly bulges too blatant. The clothing that did fit seldom made me feel comfortable with myself, and every trip to a change room hacked away at my self-confidence.

Losing the weight and getting into shape didn’t completely change my opinion on change rooms and clothes shopping. While finding clothing that fit and looked reasonably decent on my body did become easier (mostly), the change rooms were still stressful and demoralizing places. Stripping down to your underwear in front of a full-length mirror in bad lighting isn’t flattering for most people, but especially not for a woman only starting to love herself.

Since I originally lost my excess weight and changed my body, I have seen the numbers on the scale go up and down over a 20 pound range. These changes have been mostly intentional, as my focus has changed to powerlifting, competing, and gaining strength. Most of the time I am okay with what the scale says, although I seldom step on the scale these days. I know where my focus is and what my body needs to achieve my goals, but there are still times when I feel lumpy, bumpy, fat and ugly. Sometimes I feel this way when I look at myself wearing little in the way of clothing and sometimes when I am wholly clothed. Is it any wonder that I still dread shopping for clothes?

I told my daughter that we could go to the mall today. Why I say things like that, I do not know, because I hate the mall and shopping, but I said it. We did it. I survived. I even bought myself four tops and a one-piece Wonder Woman outfit. Yes, I had moments of self-doubt and self-loathing. I was extremely reluctant to even venture into the change room (for the tops), and I’m kind of glad that there wasn’t even a change room option where I bought the Wonder Woman suit or I might never have bought it.

Two of the tops are more for work than anything else, but the other two were emotional purchases. One of the tops is in the photo above, and the other top is similar in colour but says, “She believed she could so she did!” With my theme for the year being Powerfully Beautiful, how could I not buy these shirts?!

A while ago a friend shared a link to an article, How I learned to love my body as a female athlete, that brought a tear to my eye and resonated within me. As a 45 year old mother of three whose previous, half-hearted athletic pursuits took place in junior high, calling myself an athlete feels ostentatious. How dare I call myself an athlete? I don’t always feel like an athlete, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am one. I train hard and with purpose, not only because I enjoy it but to compete against myself and others. I have Provincial and National records, but I want more. I have competed 7 times and will compete again, and I am chasing after bigger competitions on grander stages. I do not have a flat, ripped abdomen (and maybe never will), but there is strength beneath my skin and it’s growing. I have noticed changes in my body from training, and I am completely excited about them. How is it that I can be thrilled with what my body is becoming, while still struggling to accept the image I see in the mirror or the way my clothing fits. I am learning to love my body, but it requires swimming against the current of our culture.

Powerfully beautiful is my theme, and my challenge is to see my beauty, inside and out. I may not have the super lean and ripped body of a younger female athlete whose primary career is her sport, but I am building the body that works for me and my sport. My quads and butt are going to feel as if they’re set to burst out of my jeans. Most shirts and jackets are going to feel tight on my shoulders. I may always have that little bit of belly bulge. Some clothing, no matter how cute, will never look as flattering on my body, because I have a real body, not the lithe figure of a mannequin. Some days I will be frustrated by that realization, but I am learning to accept this body of mine. This is why I had to buy the pink shirts today. You are your own beautiful!