Fighting Yourself

As the title implies, this musing examines a personal obstacle, which probably applies to every breathing soul on this Earth, regardless of what you’re fighting yourself about. Here’s fair warning that comparing this to the severity of others’ struggles or pointing out my accomplishments relative to my self-perceived flaws will do no good. In Mrs. Clark’s immortal lyrics, let me be mad for a while.

Last fall, I began the long haul of trying to resume running on a regular basis, and MER is it hard! Used to be that I’d log 9-12 miles each week in barefeet and bike in between. On the first run after months off, I couldn’t make it a mile without needing a rest. Three times after that, I barely made it without stopping. My feet dragged, and there was a voice in my head chanting with every footstep “Stop.” I was consumed with frustrated tears at the end. I didn’t even want to talk, because that telltale well of pain in my throat would’ve choked out my words. My girlfriend, bless her soul, was supportive all through, shrugging off my negativity like prairie flowers handle a breeze. I remember specifically plotting out the goal after one such run to not cry after the next, and fatefully I was able to meet that. Only a mile and a half early morning run, chilly temps and a bitter drizzle, nearly strictly uphill for the first half of the course.

The hardest realization that hit me late one October night was that I’ve become the very thing against which I so passionately speak. I was afraid to try or push myself because of failure. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to get back into shape, but I just wanted it to be easy. I’d talk about what I used to do, the “good ol’ days,” and not what I was currently doing or aiming for. The admission was so strong that I couldn’t voice it that evening. Personal disappointment hounded me, and on top, the disappointment of those who take from my example. Too much. I was just a sham, and I couldn’t handle it.

Truth be told, it may have been that inevitable time of the month that heightened the emotions, yet I couldn’t deny I was out of shape, and here was stone cold evidence I had once again strayed from my goals and preferred lifestyle. I remembered the dozens of repetitions in my journals, exact same situation: make goals, conceive a plan, falter, get frustrated, deliver some well written inspiring crap, repeat. I have trouble holding myself accountable, have since highschool. And here I am—great friends, good work, stress-relieving hobbies, incredible girlfriend. Could I honestly blame anything else? What’s my core issue?

I am. I’m fighting myself. And it’s merring hard. Anyone knows that. Why? Because you know what excuses you can get away with. You’re familiar with your shortcuts, and with your greatest temptations. I’m my own worst enemy. And hey, just because it’s cliché doesn’t imply it’s not true.

One of the first things everyone suggests about getting in shape is doing it with a buddy, a partner. But holy cats, that’s just as difficult. Watching them do better, angry that I can’t keep up, flashing back to what I used to be able to do. In the same breath, though, I can’t knock it, because I ultimately began to question the true reasoning behind anytime I wanted to say no when she asked me to go running. Was I making an excuse? Was it a legitimate reason? Was I simply afraid of failure?

Now back up and see that this covers more than physical fitness. The more recent forays into my thoughts uncovered the fight within my writing. I’ve gotten tons of rejections, and little criticism on my works. What if I really don’t have what it takes to be a writer? In Dagorhir, I’m a mediocre fighter, a somewhat dedicated leader figure, and possess years-old cloth and materials for “someday” projects. Why am I not progressing? In scouts, I chaperone events, comment at meetings, help my mom move stuff, but what changes do I instill to make the ship more efficient? Prepare these girls for the real world? For coaching, how much are my two weekly practices and meets benefiting the team? Do jokes and asking about their lives help our athletes improve their times and distances?

When one thing goes wrong with my plan, in whatever facet that could apply, I let EVERYTHING pile up, and think about the mountain of things I can’t do. And it’s thick enough to blot out the accomplishments I’m proud of, and the baby steps I’ve made. Welcome to the Worst Enemy side of me. It’s not really daunting until you walk in my shoes (watch out, the left ankle is weak), but y’all are here to hear my resolution, right? Who’d honestly want to read an entire musing of non-constructive complaining?

Well, sadly, a lot of people DO read rants. And those do it too often don’t sit for long in my social circles.

It reached a boiling point this past week. A couple of jobs I had were mostly completed, and true to custom, I focused on the 15% of the task I didn’t/couldn’t finish, or the times I needed help, or couldn’t resolve it in the way the client wanted, instead of what I did correctly. Missing my girlfriend hit me staggeringly hard, plus the uncertainty of the future, another two agency rejections, and coming back to the house, wanting to get distracted and be lazy and not deal with anything. Yesterday’s run was to be a major turning point, the first three mile route I had run since last summer. I even kept up a better pace than the shorter course I took earlier in the week.

Two and a quarter miles in, I slip on some ice, roll my ankle, and tumble to the street. Warned you it was weak, didn’t I?

I yelled. OH did I yell! The majority of it was pain, and then 10 seconds later it was frustration. Yet. Again. I knew this would set me back in progress, from what I was already showing fragile promise in accomplishing. My throbbing tendons was one more thing that life seemed to shove in my face that I can’t change. The limp back to the house was my umpteenth round of angry tears, and wanting to give up altogether on getting my drive back. Obviously we know not to make permanent, important decisions when overcome with emotion. Still, the road out of this cycle seemed bleak.

I had such seething hatred on the brain, years of it crammed down and compressed in this moment, a span of three minutes while the pain was calming down enough so I could manage to shuffle the last three quarters of a mile. I had truly, utterly had it. I hated always getting knocked down, by myself or the uncontrollable. I couldn’t win. Why keep going when there seems to be something at EVERY turn that’s pushing against me?

As the storm passed and my pessimism began to recede, a story I had read the previous night solidified in the void of total exhaustion left behind. Where a borderline narcissistic highschooler had asked an elderly librarian point blank about his gut. “At what age do men just give up?” No, I’m not superficial, and no, I’m not even a small fan of what she values. But, her question felt like it was directed at me. I don’t want to grow up, no matter how old I get. Even scientific studies show people who don’t act their age stand to gain immense, unseen health benefits (except regarding pranks—those are usually seen). Giving in bit by bit like I have been doesn’t hurt. It’s the cumulative realization of what I’ve become that would be the hardest fall to handle. THE hardest. That image of willingly being without spirit, or youthful zeal, or not loving being active in the outdoors is a much harder future to accept, than one where I have four hundred more obstacles to conquer, is far worse. Killing my determination to me is the exact symbolic equivalent of killing my body, one of the paths I’ve sworn never to go down.

Unlike some of my other works, there’s no definitive happy conclusion to this, maybe even not a conclusion. I’m still frustrated that I can’t strengthen my ankle, that it’s always freak accidents that bring it around—seriously, at 2.25 miles when I had run on TONS of other ice patches, both up and downhill? I still don’t want to fail and disappoint those who look to me. I’m working toward improvement, but I’ve no idea if it’ll come out right. The only thing that’s gotten me through battling myself and my doubts is having sunk to what I consider the mental and emotional bottom of my mind, and finding the one hope to which I will always cling.

I don’t want to be a quitter. I want to be the person that I know will never give in. I feel like I have at times, and I hate myself for it, yet that just proves I’m giving it another go. It’s probably a poor mindset, granted. At least I know I will stand up every time I fall. The fact that I’m essentially shaming myself into continuing the fight will be enough to get me through, until I eventually enjoy the challenge again. Maybe this is the iron resolve I’ve always wanted. It seems so fragile to me—-I seem so fragile to me—-and still I persist, because the alternative is a much darker cage.

To those who are in the same situation, you find that one thing that you will never let go of, and hold tight for all you’re worth. Remind yourself of it every time you start to give way to your Worst Enemy. Repeat it over and over in your head, say it out loud, shout it. Keep it around you as often and as strongly as you need to for those times that you fall. Because if you play it smart and return to a level head, I can safely say three days and as many ice baths later, you’ll be on your way back to standing.