C’mon Muscles, I heard my trainer say as the barbell hovered a few inches off the ground.  I dropped it and shook my head.  That’s ok, take a few seconds and try it again. His patience amazes me sometimes. I don’t have that kind of patience for myself in that moment as I run through the lift in my head… had I not stepped up properly? Were my hands not placed right? Did I not bend deep enough into the initial pull?

Deadlifts. I have a love and love/hate relationship with them. Few things make me feel as strong as picking up a loaded barbell from the ground, feeling it graze my shins as the weight defies gravity at my bequest, and finally lays quietly screaming against my thighs as my shoulders pull back.

Okay, I say as I step back up to the bar. I run it through my head: it’s only 210 pounds, we’ve done this for a few reps multiple times before. Just pull it up, all the way. Just once.  I walk up to the bar. Position my feet, aligning them just under the bar. I make certain my heels are fully planted as I reach down for the bar and eye the spacing of my hands, then my fingers—deliberately and slowly wrapping them around the bar.  I bend my knees, flatten my back, straighten my legs once more before bending again with a deep breath. I start the pull. It’s heavier than it should be but it starts to move up, slowly, slowly. I hear my trainer telling me I got it.  Just keep pulling it up; don’t stop, I think to myself as the bar starts to stall. Just keep pulling, but the bar doesn’t move and I feel my grip weakening on the left side.  I’ve never failed a second attempt, I think as the bar hits the gym floor.

We move on to lighter reps and the rest of the day’s workout. I hit the rest of the volume just fine but the left side grip is still a problem. I blame that but wonder if my late night the previous evening and beer are finally more than a Thursday lift session can handle.  But in the back of my mind, I know that’s not the crux of the problem… I’ve been lifting heavy every Thursday following my Wednesday night outings for a long time. I get a fair share of personal records on a Thursday. Monday and Tuesday were also a struggle.

It’s Friday before I piece together the puzzle.  I’m on the treadmill but I already know shoulder and core day are going to be harder than they should—even after a full night of rest.  At first I try to convince myself that I’m pushing too hard when I should be deloading this week and that perhaps my plan to postpone the deload to use my upcoming Toronto work trip as a full rest week was a bad idea.

All the excuses rumbling around my head are valid; they likely play a part in the larger picture, but I know they are also conditions I train under on a regular basis.  Weight lifting is a humbling sport. It teaches you to be strong in a lot of ways other than lifting a barbell.  And, as I continued walking on the treadmill I had to face the real reason I failed that lift and generally had a lousy week at the gym.  I hadn’t been eating enough the last few weeks.

A few days later my therapist would ask if I was aware of what triggered this round in the eating disorder showdown.  I had already carefully considered this question because there wasn’t a clear answer this time; I’ve grown very adept at avoiding and managing the things I know are triggers. This time was different; I wasn’t as consciously aware I was falling into the pattern of not eating.  I knew I didn’t want to cook, I knew I had no appetite, I knew the apples sitting on the counter were making me anxious, but I just didn’t connect the dots as quickly because I wasn’t feeling the same biting anxiety and anger that usually accompanied a relapse.  I was indifferent this time and it scared me.

This is the point in the story where I’d rather insert a line from a Dylan song or something to avoid the reality but it doesn’t really work.  I’ve been here before—I created a menu plan that I knew I could do right now, I supplemented with things like protein drinks and granola bars, I acknowledged the challenge both to myself and the people to whom I needed.  My therapist gave me a mood journal as a new strategy to stay aware and mindful in the coming weeks.

There is little I look forward to about a week off from lifting, but I know it will be good for me. Friday was my last heavy lifting day. I deadlifted and they still weren’t great; my arms and shoulders were sore from the day before and stress had given me a nagging headache I felt down my back. I may not have hit anything over a few sets at 185 but I felt stronger.  I spent the better part of this weekend at home taking in some down time and getting a lot of sleep. Weight lifting doesn’t lie; the body needs to repair, and just as importantly, so does the mind.