All Posts By

James

Mental Health

On Failure

Fear of failure is paralysing. It is like a neurotoxin that infects ideas and inspiration and turns them into frustration. Starting somewhere in my brain manifesting as a thought in the back of my mind. It grows rapidly infecting every part of my body with sickening writhing tendrils spreading panic until finally everything freezes.
 
The fear of failure can become so great that it feels easier to simple not attempt anything. For me this means my camera gathers dust on a shelf, my paint brushes sit dry, my guitars lay silent and my pages remain blank. I am so avoidant of this feeling I often give up at even the slightest flickr of the rising sensation. 

 
Last night I learned to fail.
 
At the gym my fear of failure is intensely physical. Within moments of the thought being born in my mind my body reacts, my breathing becomes irregular and I feel the overwhelming urge to flee. A heartbeat of doubt can become a panic attack. Legions of thoughts break through the barriers of my mind simultaneously – “I’m weak”, “I’ll disappoint coach”, “This is pathetic”, “I should quit”. When this happens I usually finish the set as best I can and take some time to compose myself afterwards.
 
Last night I went to the gym after missing a session due to illness. I was tired and probably functioning at about 60% but I knew I needed the session to feel better. I had spent the day locked in my head and I needed to get out into my body. I told coach I had limited capacity and after warming up we heading to the squat rack.
 
I felt calm as I set up on the bar. No other thoughts entered my mind. I knew how to hold and move my body to make the bar do what I needed it to do. I accepted my limited capacity and did my best taking on board coach’s form adjustments and advice. It was physically challenging, my body not yet fully recovered from a virus but my head was clear. 

As we increased the weight I knew my energy was running low. My form began to falter towards the end of the sets yet I remained calm. This was usually the point where doubt would creep into my mind, panic would rise and spread through my limbs and I would put myself through unnecessary torture. 


 
And then I failed.
 


I set up well and started the squat. As I reached the bottom I paused for less than a heartbeat and I knew I wasn’t coming back up. Instead of panicking I accepted the failure. The bar caught calmly in the safety and I walked away. Coach smiled, he knew it was past time I learned to fail. I had failed safely, with coach watching on and the supports having done their jobs.
 
This failure taught me something about my squat but more importantly it taught me that with right people around us and the right supports in place it is ok to fail. To fail once is not to fail forever. There is no shame in failure, only a lesson to be learned and pride to be had for making the attempt. 

I left the gym stronger than I walked in last night. I’d call that a success.
Mental Health

The Bar

Before you roll your eyes and sigh at me for going all ‘gym zen’ remember I have always shared with you the ups and downs and the things that have helped me on my wellness journey.

On the 14th November 2014 I made a confession to you. I told you that anxiety was a massive part of my life and I explained how it affected me. Seven months later, just as things were getting too much, I reached out for help.

I started medication, meditation and mindfulness. I learned about gratitude, and giving and I decided to live with kindness.

With your love and support my mind became stronger, I started to forge a core built on simple values and I found a way to live. I learned to sit with thoughts and feelings and to find peace away from anxiety.

I learned to drive without fear, to answer the phone, to try new things and to live.

I’ve come such a long way but something has been holding me back. The effort I have put into my mind has not been put into my body. We have talked about my struggle with my weight before. I’ve tried to eat mindfully and to take the emotion out of food but the kgs have been sneaking on and on.

In the same way avoidance leads to anxiety in my mental health I have been avoiding being present in my body. I can meditate to be mentally present in any moment BUT I still hide from myself physically.

Remembering that I had to reach out for help at the beginning of my journey about two months again I did it again.

I found a trainer and I started lifting weights. This is what I have learned so far…

The Bar

A loaded bar has no politics, no ego, no agenda. It wants nothing from you, it isn’t selfish, it doesn’t demand, it just is.

You step up to the bar with the pure intent to move it and it either moves or it doesn’t. There are no excuses, no other factors besides you and the bar.

To move the bar you have to be present. You have to be in that moment in your mind and fully occupying your body.

It’s the most simple and simultaneously the most complex thing. Lifting is the ultimate mindful practice. If you overthink or bring ego or less than your full intent it will fail.

Learning to occupy my body has been hard because I am ashamed of it. Fortunately the bar doesn’t care about my shame and to move the bar I have to let it go of my shame.

As I couldn’t hide from my mental anxieties I can no longer hide from my physical self, the bar won’t let me.

I almost faltered in my intentions, I started googling how heavy the bar ‘should’ be for my weight and height and age. I started worrying about the numbers. If I take that nonsense with me my relationship with the bar will become complex when it should be simple.

So friends, here is to the next step in this ongoing journey. Mind and body present and focussed. Leaning into the discomfort of shame and being vulnerable and courageous enough to keep stepping up to the bar.

(Massive thanks to Nicholas for being my mentor, coach and friend in this stage of my journey and The Bar Brisbane for being welcoming and awesome).

2016, Mental Health

An Uncomfortable Paralysis

I got up from this chair and walked around the apartment 7 or 8 times before finally settling down to write. Even now as I type I can feel the discomfort brewing. Building up, trying to take away my focus and scuttle my intention.
 
It starts as a churning deep in my stomach. A thousand butterflies swarming. Within moments it manifests as an anxious throb. Heart pounding an elevated rhythm. Hands tingling. Blood pumping and thumping in my ears. I’m agitated and unfocused. Thinking is making it worse, fueling the squirming, wriggling dread.

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