Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What To Say When The Time Comes

Me, fuming, barefoot--the setup was the same.

Second time, I'm in a dress. Or rather a short, flowing brown skirt, avocado blouse strung through with muscled, veined arms swinging.

I beat my chest. I actually beat my chest, but with just the one fist. The left one, nearest my heart and making my point.

Is this what they'll remember?

In a year filled with funerals of loved ones, I get to wondering what my kids would say about me if given the opportunity to summarize. Would the above stories of my confronting neighborhood sins be told, and would they appear in or out of context? As in, "My mom was crazy enough to stop a drug deal barefoot, and ended up holding hands with the perpetrator and crying?" Or, simply, "My mom was crazy"?

Kids, let me help you out here. (Greg, I'm trusting you to report on your package deal with accuracy.)

Children. I have encouraged your creativity, no? And not in the ways the parenting books suggest. Yes, I keep the house stocked with paper, pens and tape. I have allowed you to leave large cardboard creations throughout our living quarters. But I have also fed you New Yorker cartoons. I cultivate those wicked strains of humor running through you two to the point where you, Simon, figured I was playing a joke when I walked around Dad's work party with toilet paper hanging from my pants. You were sure I was being funny, so you didn't tell me. Hint: I am funny. But next time, please: Tell me.

And I have tried to turn you into respectable human beings. You've sat sandwiched between convicted murderers at Applebees, friends all, and I questioned this decision only when the steak knives came out. Also, as you know, each year of your schooling I have offered a child on the playground money to make fun of you if your zippers were down. He never had to, which was the point entirely.

And did I ever just say, "Take a shower"? No. I handed you deodorant and announced, "How To Win Friends and Influence People." There's a difference. Speak to that.

And maybe there won't be time, but please acknowledge that you confused me with a hunchbacked, muscled creature carrying an ax, as featured on the cover of one of your scary books. You said, "That looks like you, Mom, except for the ax."

Don't talk about this, but I don't have people over often enough. Which is probably why, when Simon was asked on a teen health questionnaire if he had friends, he said, "Pfffft." This is my fault. The introverted genes come from both your father and I, but I could do better at this.

And Theo, I don't need to remind you how I suffered on those field trips. I accepted the migraines and the kicks to the back of the seat as a way to show my love for you. Also, I complained a lot.

That's good for now. There will be more to say soon enough.

Some of it, though, you may want to keep to yourselves.








Sunday, September 7, 2014

How I Increased A Man's Bench by 55 Pounds in 7 Days--and why that matters

"This has got to go," I said, trading Katy Perry for Metallica at the stereo before loading on some plates. The music might be as important as the weight for this man, whom I had only spent an hour with prior, and way last week, so who knew? Motivation is not the same for everyone. But he had mentioned offhand his wish to bench 300 by a milestone birthday, which would occur on Sunday. This was Friday. I was planning to make it happen.

And I did. And I'm proud. But I'm a little embarrassed at how much so.

Some people I bragged to were impressed to the point of disbelief. 55 pounds? Yes, he hadn't ever lifted more than 245. He'd done it five times, but that doesn't necessarily equate to a higher 1RM. It'd be me who'd train those additional motor units to fire. Me who'd know which music to play and what to say.

And I did it. And some people don't care.

I noticed this morning that the pastor, like most, worked backward from his text, making meaning in reverse of Exodus's specific instructions on how to eat goat and what will happen to the firstborn. Here, I've got a similar but easier task: why was what happened worthwhile? How can I convince the uncaring to consider this feat important in the grand scheme of life?

The factors involved were these: a tall man whose muscle has come more from his job than the gym approached me for training. We met, and after hearing his routine and his wishes, I knew he needed to work on brute strength for a time. When 300 came up, I figured, Why not? I'd eventually work bench with him anyway. The mornings I woke up wondering why I was trying to do in a week what takes most trainers months, I told myself that this plan couldn't hurt.

(Insurance for the "couldn't hurt" portion of this plan included backup spotters. Anything over 255 I called in some troops and gave very specific instructions for them to STAY OUT OF MY WAY and DON'T MAKE YOURSELF KNOWN but help me and come near the bar ONLY IF I SAY SO.)

Because I wanted headspace for us both. Him, to prepare for a feat of strength, me, to prepare to help him achieve it. Though most videos of big men lifting include lots of preparatory yelling and chest beating, that doesn't work for everyone. And lots of people assume their role as spotter is to grab that bar at any sign of hesitation. But sensitivity and intuition will sometimes tell you otherwise.

I relied on both throughout this process, from hour 1, when I got him up to 255 with some well-placed advice, which was just as important as what I didn't say. You can't overload people with everything you're thinking, even if it's all reliably helpful. I'm getting old enough now to mostly know when to shut up. I made a suggestion, watched him incorporate it, saw him thrill at its success, saved my next tip for a later date.

We planned to meet again in a week. I prescribed a specific Tuesday workout and lots of rest and food. Eat, I said, then said it again.

The following Friday, he was ready but not well-rested, despite his best efforts. Life gets in the way of our plans, and I was willing to give up this one, but he wanted to try.

"If you think I can do it, I can do it," he said.

I've come to understand that when people trust me too much, they don't listen to what their bodies are trying to say. I'm viewed with the respect usually reserved for a doctor handing down a diagnosis, when really, I'm offering up an idea hoping they'll try it, give me feedback, and we can ditch it or pursue it together as necessary.

I thanked him for his confidence and reiterated what I say all the time to clients, which is this: Listen to your body. Don't be a hero. We began warming up at the bench.

255x3. 275x2. He was already benching 30 pounds above his heaviest weight, and a decision had to be made: go for 300 and possibly miss it, or risk hitting a lower set first that might steal the juice needed for the big one.

Motor units in mind, I decided on this: 285 for one. See how that went, then we can decide. In my thinking, it was just heavy enough to teach him what 300 will require, but wouldn't wear him out.

285x1. Easy. Get some water, massage the muscles. Have that other guy pull out his earbuds again and stand by. Let's do this.

300. He let out a low grunt when the weight settled in at the top. Midway, the bar started heading toward his neck. I guided it back without letting any weight settle, and up it went. 300.

"Happy Birthday," I said.

The steps that led to that moment, if I track them, would never line up with what you'd find in a book. I broke a lot of rules, but something told me it would all work out. Years of study and experience settled in and I knew what to say and do before, after, and in the moment, as well as what to have him work on without me. You'd think I was the one who benched 300, with all the credit I'm taking here. But in many ways, it was a team effort, and one that begged for closer inspection.

Strength is important in the upkeep of the human body, from youth on up. Beyond the physical necessity of maintaining muscle and fighting the natural atrophy process that comes with age, note the fascinating research (in my June posts) on the emotional protection and health a strong body provides.

Plus, it's just really cool that this guy can go around saying he benches 300. (315 is better, because it's a clean, impressive six-plate load, but there's always next week for that.)

The pastor concluded his sermon today by saying that the scripture was "not only meant to let Israel know who Yahweh is, but also to let the whole world know."

Do I need an apologetic of the bench? Not really. But this story teaches me to place a value not only on strength, but also on the intersection of education, experience and intuition. It's a powerful lesson.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Trainers, Be Trained (or, I Might Do A Cartwheel Some Day)

"I don't know if I'm up for this, Bobby. My triceps are fried."
"Good thing we're not using our arms, then, Amy: it's deadlift day."

Flip the speakers, and the exchange could have taken place between me and one of my personal training clients. With them, I'm kind but firm, finding their limits and pushing, pressing or pulling our way past them. Instead, Bobby was pushing mine, zeroing in with his trainer's eye on the gap between my work capacity and insecurities. It would go like this: he'd ask me to do something; I'd say no; he'd say yes you will too; I'd point to an old injury; he'd get in spotting position; I'd make a face; he'd say go; I'd do it. Seven sessions together, and this scenario played out each and every time.

A nice, inspiring end to this story would include success in these moves, but I'm here to say that some of my initial attempts--cartwheels, somersaults--were kind of ugly. And that's the point: I paid someone to help me find my limitations. I know my strengths, which are..is... just that: strength. I can pick up something really heavy one time and put it down. Bobby wants to make sure I can do some other stuff--eventually--and do it well.

I came into this profession in my late thirties a brand-new convert, with as much or more enthusiasm than the kids waving their exercise science degrees. Enthusiasm can go a long way, as can all the self-study and work experience I undertook, but it can't cover a missing history of participation in sports and the chance to observe a range of coaches. I'm proud of every hour of personal training I've led, but the more I know, the more I find I don't know.

Enter Bobby. I've been eating humble pie for a couple of weeks now, and it's made me think that every trainer should try this at least once. Anyone in any field, really; stepping under someone's tutelage can go a long way. But please...


...be humble. Don't be "the trainer'; drop your pro role and play the student. Bobby and the others know I work at another gym, but I rarely play this side. I did, however, mention my deadlift PR when asked, and this was forever held against me. Think a class of four women and one man, and guess who had to lift the same weight as the man?

And if you haven't guessed yet from all the gymnastics, let me make clear that I'm at a CrossFit gym. Did you flinch? Hater, be humble: drop your preconceptions on this exercise phenomenon and see what you can learn. I found myself dipping on rings, standing on my hands, and doing more deadlifts in seven minutes than I'd usually do in a hour. If you're at a solid gym, as I am, you've got something to learn. Those CrossFit injuries you read about come when people--or staff--aren't training smart. I am; Bobby makes sure of this.

...respect your skill set. All those nice comments aside, CrossFit programming demands quite a vast array of skills. I can stand on my hands, but walk? Cartwheel? Not yet, and maybe not ever. But I'm there to try, and later, to pick and choose which new skills I want to work on. I have no plans to compete in their games, so I will work on what's important and what I have time for. Planches are on the list, as you'll see in a minute. And I know I need to work on endurance and conditioning, which happens by default when I show up. But I don't need to be laid out for six weeks with an injury, so sometimes, despite that first paragraph, a no is a no.

And finally...

...step into your client's shoes. Found along the path of humility is a sense of what I ask of my clients. Those times when I bless them with a nuanced assessment of their mobility issues? They thought this: "I suck." I know this because I've now been there. Bobby knows I want all the facts, though, so he gives them to me; but with the general public, I realize, I need to keep things positive and challenging, minus the helplessness that can come with realizing, say, your right foot likes to turn out every time you squat deep. Point is, by being a student for a time, I can become a better teacher.


I'll head back to the gym later this week for another sweatfest and dose of reality. Meanwhile, in keeping with the humble theme, I present one of my many recent fails. But look out, straddle planche: some day, after much effort, you're mine.



video




Monday, July 14, 2014

End of June Project

Some of you have said that my June Project, now complete, inspired other creative ideas on how to teach the discipline of showing up.

That's the point. Of this blog. (To get you thinking.) But it's really wonderful when I actually hear about these things rather that y'all just stalking around.

And it was really great to watch this idea succeed right here at my house. Spoiler alert: both kids are still keeping up with their projects, though it's now July and no schedule is enforced. Simon is reading and blogging away, and you really should stop over there, comment, and make his day. Theo continues to write, though, true to his nature, a hundred new ideas have sidestepped him. That's okay; the drawings he's producing are worth the segue. I put my reading on somatic psychotherapy to the side for a time, though I did manage to strike up an email conversation with the author of the book I studied. Later, I found out that this is a pretty big deal, as she's well-known in the field. It pays to be naive and curious.

The June Project was three weeks of showing up for a half hour each day to work on a project of our choosing. We needed a ceremonial finish to such good and solid work, so on June 29, we gathered in the living room and made presentations to each other. Possibly we wore pajamas, though I'd like to think I tried to make this event seem worthy of clothes. Simon and I took turns describing our projects and what we learned, and Theo read an excerpt from his writing. (Somehow I managed to tear up while reporting on the amazing things I had learned.) I then took the opportunity to review what I hoped everyone had learned by doing: that sometimes showing up means staring out the window or picking your nose for a bit; that sometimes you have to throw away a day or two's worth of work, but you need to clear that out of you before the good stuff could break through. And finally, that perseverance pays off, and is even a little addicting. Thank you, June Project, for rewarding your apprentices.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pump Class, Advanced

Extended bolus, square waves, IOB... today's pump class was a vocabulary lesson, somewhat of a review and yet revelatory, too, as we've been with pump for just over a month. Life with the t:slim is comfortable enough for Theo to program in a meal with one hand--the other holding down the page of a book he's caught up in--and yet breathtakingly stunning on a regular basis, like the saturated red of a sunset on Lake Michigan. The decimal points astound me daily; the pump, unlike injections, can deliver .0X units of insulin. Previously, meals needed to be rounded up with a goldfish cracker, say, or half an ounce of milk, to meet the insulin pen's half to whole unit requirements, along with scores of mathematical equations. Now, no longer: whatever Theo will eat, the pump will count up, divide and deliver. At any time. And whatever amount he needs to bring down a high, the pump will give, when we ask it to. Like this morning, when I was determined to sleep in: I armed Simon with granola bars, measurements for milk, and permission to approve the pump's calculation to bring down a 172. At 9am, this had fully kicked in, and I, rested for once, could begin breakfast. (In the past, I would have had to get up at the first sign of a low or a high.)

Thank you, Jesus, for the pump.

Our pump class today on advanced features was attended by pump users with varying experiences, from our five weeks to one young man's eight years. A woman attended with her daughter; both have type 1. The room was full of beeping people, I noticed at one point--we're used to regular messages from our little machine, and now here were apparatuses everywhere, making themselves known. The woman and her daughter tested their blood glucose levels as a team. We followed the powerpoint and asked questions. The teacher is a diabetes educator I feel an intimacy with, as she has coached me through complex questions and hard times. She is just the right balance of dry and caring that I need; she's my favorite.

The teen girl behind us was the most talkative, ending most of her serious inquiries with a nervous giggle. Good for her, though, that she's thinking through the effects of her soccer practice, fighting ketones, seeing the trends. At one point when I was writing a note, Theo had raised a hand, and the educator called on him by name without fanfare, though he was the only kid to make his presence known.

"Is it okay to sleep on the infusion site, and the pump?" he asked. God, what a great question, and one that only he knew to ask. She answered affirmatively, noting that kinks could occur, but would make themselves known.

As the class wrapped up, the class became comfortable with speaking up in a way they hadn't before.

The teen girl asked a question.

"Um, yeah, I was wondering? I watch Survivor kind of shows, and I was wondering, like, would I even survive something like that? I mean, it would be really cool, but I would probably, like, die, right?!?!"

Some laughed along with her; to me, the room started spinning. Was this how Theo would be introduced to what the school labels as his disability? That "without the mediating factor of insulin," he would die? it's what gets us special attention at school, but the wording in our 504 plan offers no subtlety.

"Probably you'd only last a short while on a protein-based diet," the educator said, kindly.

"I could scrounge for some berries!" the girl giggled.

Theo looked down. I know this look. He's processing something big, and he doesn't want to talk about it. I didn't ask. Rather, I opened the door in the car: "Any questions?" We marveled at the parallel universe feel of being in a room full of diabetics. It's a bit disconcerting, though I can't exactly figure out why. We drove away and to the grocery store, where they offer free cookies at the bakery counter. 21g, we guessed; Theo entered the numbers, and took a bite.




Thursday, June 19, 2014

June Project: Day 11: Body Awareness

Identifying traumatic triggers is one of the great challenges of trauma therapy. Stimuli from the environment can inadvertently set off a traumatic reaction in a client. Often the client is left with the reaction but has no idea what caused it. Tracing the reaction back to the source, the trigger, can be an important task. To that end, body awareness can be a useful assistant.

---from The Body Remembers, by Babette Rothschild.

In a chapter titled "The Body As Resource," Rothschild tells of a client with chronic hip pain, which had come on a year after her husband's death. Their time together in therapy typically focused on the woman's grief, but one day, in attempt to address the pain, Rothschild employed techniques to develop body awareness. As the woman focussed on her hip pain, her heart rate soared, and she became fearful and anxious. Rothschild asked her to sit with her emotions for a bit, notice them, and as she did so her right foot pressed solidly into the floor.

"It wasn't long before she took a huge breath and began to sob, 'I drove as fast as I could. I floored the accelerator. It was an old car and I just couldn't get it to go faster!'"

The woman's husband had had a heart attack in the car she was driving, and she had been unable to get him to the hospital before he died. The memory showed itself in her gas pedal foot, which ultimately caused her chronic pain.

The body remembers, indeed. But does it also look for its own solutions?

I'd like to flip Rothschild's technique around to ask if we can find other signals to show what the body remembers, or needs. To use myself as an example, I take note of what kind of physical outlet I'm looking for, and when. My exercise preferences lend themselves to the heavy and violent, but I'll save boxing for another post. Weightlifting: I like it. I simply like to pick up heavy things and put them down, as the joke puts it. But there are some days when I need something else. It's a very specific sensory need, and as it happened to come around this week--it doesn't too often--I figured I'd analyze it.

Two of the basic functional movements the body performs include the "push" and the "pull." In brief, push requires the chest and triceps, while pulling asks more of the back and biceps.

I have noticed that this specific feeling I get requires the push. Now, you can achieve the push through any chest exercise, really--bench press, dips, pushups--but those rarely cut it for me, because there is only so much weight I can hold on to and lift. That should be enough--lifting as heavy as I can--but it's not. Somehow, I need to feel the sensation of pushing against something large and virtually unmoveable. Think a car. I have done this, in these times--hauled the family into the car to push it. The other day, when this wasn't possible, I rigged a machine in my Y and pushed more weight than I should have been able to.

Theo had been sitting in the hallway with a blood sugar low. "Theo," I said when I emerged from the room, "I just used a machine in a way that was not intended."

"Did you pick the whole thing up, Mom?" he asked. He's a stinker.

I have to guess that just as memories can surface in the body in specific ways, memories--or needs--ask the body to perform in certain ways, too. My need for "push" is so specific that I have to believe it's telling me something. Am I trying to move a metaphorical obstacle, large and heavy, out of my way? I don't know. But reading Rothschild's work, I have to believe that when the body speaks, it's telling us something.




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

June Project: Day 10: Stress Response

Now I have a name for what I did when a knife was held to my face, and when a man thrashed at my rental car and no one else was around: dissociation.

"It is possible that dissociation is the mind's attempt to flee when flight is not possible," writes Babette Rothschild in The Body Remembers, which, you'll remember, is a book I'm studying throughout the month of June. Fight, flight, or freeze are the autonomic nervous system's responses to perceived threat. Whereas those bunnies I mentioned in an earlier post run when the dogs walk by, the mind, during dissociation, finds its own method of getting away.

The process of dissociation involves a partial or total separation of aspects of the traumatic experience... One person might become anesthetized and feel no pain. Another might cut off feeling emotions. Someone else might lose consciousness or feel as if he had become disembodied. (page 65 in The Body Remembers)

Taken to an extreme, this separation can result in identity disorder. But perhaps worst of all, dissociation can reappear after the traumatic incident, compounding the already debilitating effects of anxiety. Rothschild believes the symptoms of PTSD can likely be traced back to some form of dissociation.

It's the P in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that's the most disturbing, then. The person has experienced effects such as dissociation during the traumatic incident, and then continues in an unsustainable state of hyperarousal. There is no actual fear stimulus, and yet this constant state of anxiety makes everything seem a threat. Sadly, because their built-in warning systems aren't functioning properly, "it is typical for those with PTSD to repeatedly fall prey to dangerous situations" (page 62).

Back to the knife and the rental car: I shut down. I became calm, and where my male friend ran when he saw the knife, I stayed. In both cases, though I wouldn't recommend this to others, I saw it through and was able to diffuse the situation.

But reading about trauma brings back another memory where my stress response surprised me. You could say that the situation was a safe one, and yet certain aspects triggered memories and, also, fear. The details are personal, but I will describe my response, which was first to plot out an escape route. Think Sherlock Holmes narrating each detail of what he sees: my mind went to each door, and to where my children were, and then, Holmes-like, plotted a route to grab them and get out. This took maybe three seconds.

But then my tongue went numb, so my flight response, I guess, was paralyzed. I sat with my flight plan ready but unable to be executed. I thought it was all the weirdest thing until I started reading Rothschild's books.

Had I completely frozen, which is a real response, one way to recover is to just move a finger, according to Rothschild. Just telling your body that you can actually move helps get it on its way. Body awareness is a big part of recovery, and I'll get into that more tomorrow.