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Finding Second Gear

Current life status: rehabbing from total knee replacement surgery.

Current state of mind: trying to figure out how this will impact my life, my work, my workouts, my body, and my motivation in the future.

Current goal: seize this challenge as an opportunity to find a more balanced way of living.

The knee that’s been giving me a hard time for more than six years has finally demanded that I pay attention to it. In those six years, I’ve had arthroscopic surgery on it, had a variety of injections, worn braces, wraps, orthopedic shoe inserts, iced it, elevated it, ibuprofen’d it, yelled at it, cried over it, and prayed about it. And while I have known for 6+ years that a knee replacement was inevitable, I did little to moderate my behavior.

Then, last spring, all of that changed.

While prepping for my second round of bodybuilding competitions in the spring of 2017 (my first having been the previous fall), I torqued my knee something fierce at a bodybuilding bootcamp one Saturday morning. We’d been running stairs outside (already difficult for me with no cartilage in my right knee), and when we got back to the gym, I knew immediately that something was horribly wrong. There was no denying it at that point: I could barely walk. Somehow, through sheer force of will, I managed to stay on track with my grueling workouts (one hour of weightlifting, plus two 45-minute cardio workouts per day, 7 days per week) so that I could compete a few weeks later.

Though I made it through my spring competitions, afterwards my body screamed STOP! My knee was toast, my willpower was shot, and my tank was completely empty.

The self-discipline that got me across the finish line was now MIA, and I started to eat. And eat. And eat. Within six weeks I’d gained 35 pounds.

I didn’t even know that was possible.

I seemed incapable of controlling my eating behavior, which felt eerily like the way I used to eat back in the days when I was morbidly obese, prior to losing 120 pounds. I felt out-of-control, yet also weirdly “entitled” after being so severely depleted for so long. I sank into a depressed state, continuing to gain weight and binge.

As my weight continued to climb I began to worry that I was not going to be able to pull myself together. Could I be headed to 265+ pounds again???

I saw a therapist, I started taking anti-depressants, I started a new job, I maintained my workouts (as best I could), I meditated, I prayed, and I spent a lot of time asking myself wtf was wrong with me.

Over the years, I’ve had several doctors chastise me for pushing myself too hard, yet there was always this undercurrent of admiration – from both doctors and people in general – for what I have accomplished.

And you can bet that my ego loves that validation.

But in the months since that Saturday morning bootcamp, one of those doctors surprised me when he described my pattern as having only two speeds: full throttle … and full stop. “You need to find second gear,” he said.

“Second gear,” I thought. What on earth would that look like?

“I don’t do moderation,” I told him. And it’s true. When I’m in, I’m all in. 110%.

There have been many times when this drive (or stubbornness, if you want to call it that) has served me very well. I lost 100+ pounds in my mid-40s, after having been fat most of my life. I trained myself to become a marathon runner. And I took home trophies every single time I competed in bodybuilding.

I like extreme challenges, and I’ve always felt that I do my best when the goal in front of me seems just out of reach. And if I’m 100% honest, I like doing things that other people won’t do because they’re too hard. (There’s that ego again.)

But my doctor’s words hit home for me. He’s right; I need to find second gear.

For all of my success in being so driven, the still-raw surgical scar on my knee exposes that I have also paid a high price for that unrelenting ambition. I drove myself beyond what my body could tolerate, eschewing pain and all other signals that I was pushing too hard.

As I sit here today – leg elevated, recovering from surgery – I wonder how much of my relentless pursuit of my goals was driven by a desire to succeed and how much was driven by fear of not being good enough. How much do I rely on those medals, ribbons, trophies and tiaras to tell me that I am successful? Would I have pushed myself as hard if there were no photos to post on social media afterwards?

Finding second gear seems like a perfectly reasonable course of action, but I’ll admit that this type of moderation pushes all my buttons. It seems ordinary and dull, small and mundane.

“Why just do when you can overdo,” has long been my mantra.

It’s good for a laugh, but in truth, perhaps I have mistaken bull-headed for bold.

And truthfully, for too long I have used unrelenting exercise and restrictive dieting as a way to “control” my binge eating.

As I move into 2018, hopefully recovering and healing, I will seek balance.

Balance between pushing myself and respecting my limitations. Balance between striving to improve and appreciating myself for where I am right now. Balance between discipline and playing hooky on my goals every once in a while. Balance between effort and surrender.

Though it may not have the highs of living full throttle, I’m hoping that living a more balanced life will help me find happiness and joy in second gear.


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