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Lifting with a "Life Event"

Posted: Wed Aug 28, 2013 9:29 pm
by KenDowns
I'm writing this post in the hopes that it may be helpful to somebody someday. Also, there are some here that I would count as friends should we ever meet in person and I'd like to catch people up, since I have been posting very little for a few months.

I am experiencing what they call a "life event." In my case it is divorce, but there are many such as family illnesses, major career crashes, and so on. Perhaps some of this experience will apply, perhaps not. This post is not about my personal situation, I will include only enough detail for the story to make sense. The post is about lifting, what happened before, during, and after.

The You-Know-Its-Coming Stage
I began lifting 3 years ago almost exactly, and for the first 2 1/2 years I was in the you-know-its-coming stage of the life event. Something bad was on the horizon, but daily normal was, well, normal. I was able to go from zero to a 455# competition deadlift at age 47 in 2 1/2 years. The solid foundation I built from advice given here, from my trainer, and from guys at the gym was all built knowing the most fundamental relationship in my life could not last.

I have no editorial comment on this, most of this story is take it as it is. That's what happened.

The Beginning-of-the-End Stage
In January we agreed to wrap it up. Now the crazy thing here is that my numbers continued to improve, and I set a few post-comp PR's after the normal post-comp crash (bench, squat AND press!). This lasted from January to June, about 6 months. Oh, so I guess that first stage was not quite 2 1/2 years, otherwise the numbers don't add up. Oh well.

The odd thing here is that the new normal became, "Ken's leaving, but not yet." So in a lot of ways it was the same as the old. Daily routine was the same, and so my lifting was the same.

During those first two stages I had made amazing health improvements. I learned to cook and what good food was, quit smoking, got regular sleep, and even refined my diet to the point where i was getting stronger and losing my gut gradually but steadily. So when the next stage hit I was probably healthier than at any time in my life.

Today is the Day
It finally came time to find an apartment and that's when I crashed. What specifically happened was that I lost my appetite, and could not sleep. Considering how often we are told here "Eat and Sleep!" you can imagine what happened.

Two weeks later, when I moved out, the crash was in full swing. I could barely pull 405 and had no heart for it. It was all loss of appetite and messed up sleep, for reasons that I hope are obvious.

Now here is the important part. I was ok with the crash because I knew "this too shall pass", and I told my trainer that given a choice between mental, emotional, and physical collapse, I was perfectly happy with physical. He laughed and said basically I didn't know what I was talking about and all three would crash. This came as permission as it were from a trusted friend, and so all 3 went for about 4 days.

If 4 days seems short to you then you can probably guess how happy I was as a married man, and how glad I was to be out of it.

The Bottom
So two or three weeks after that advice, I was still moping about in the gym, with no heart for it. Each day I could lift less than I had the week before, and I even took a whole week off, even though I hardly needed the rest. I did not even enjoy the resting.

That next session with my trainer it was all I could do to pull some doubles at 315, and me having maxed at 455! Oh the shame, the shame!

Then the next really important thing happened. My trainer again came to my rescue and said something like this, "Ken, you love to lift, it brings you joy. Forget the numbers and enjoy the feeling. If you can only come in and squat the empty bar then why deny yourself that? What else are you going to do, stay home and sulk about your maxes?"

I'm pretty sure that was three weeks ago because i've done 3 weeks of 5/3/1 since then.

Another major event here regarding the divorce itself was applying some very good advice from friends about how to terminate lingering and very unhealthy aspects of the relationship even after I had moved out. Those actions all started to become effective the day I did those 315 double and my trainer gave me that advice. However, since the internet is forever and this is a public forum, I'm not going to go into that, but you can PM me if you must know.

Keeping it Simple
With that advice from my trainer about a dozen lights went off in my head. I focused only on the joy of going in and putting in some effort, no matter what it was, and feeling the bar on my back, feeling the bar come off the floor, pressing to lockout and so on. Whatever I could lift I could lift and the numbers were now so far out of my control I could not delude myself about it. Just lift.

Another big light that went off was to keep it simple. I knew 5/3/1 would do the trick, I knew I'm a 4-day/week guy. I started stuffing food into myself whether I was hungry or not, and going to bed even if I knew I would stare at the ceiling for 3 hours. I must say having to get up and go to work and being tired all day took care of that in about 3 days.

After about two weeks of a very simple program of 3 moves per day, abs twice/week, and complementary accessories, which is squat accessory on deadlift day and vice-versa, same for bench and press, I began to feel the old fire come back.

It is important to point out here again that during this time the negative and unhealthy aspects of the relationship that had continued were terminated effectively and were no longer plaguing me. I think that cannot go without saying. If something is robbing you of your appetite, you have to take care of it, it will not take care of itself.

This past Saturday I pulled two triples at 385. Yesterday I squatted 280 for six which is, believe it or not, a PR. All from keeping it simple, forgetting about the numbers and just doing it for the joy.

I'll add one more thing about my trainer. He once said something just before I attempted a max effort. He said, "OK, let's get what you came for." I find now before a top set when I need to get my mind right (cue Cool Hand Luke) I will just say to myself, "Let's get what we came for, this is why I got in my car this morning and drove over here." Does wonders. Clears the mind.

Some Details
I started smoking cigars again. Yuck. It ain't gonna be five years this time, I'm already at the "wanting to want to quit" stage and I hope to move rapidly.

The emotional aspect of the life event is over, though we have some, ahem, paperwork to get through. Is this naive? I don't think so, but perhaps I will be humbled in the weeks and months to come. With these kinds of situations you cannot always trust your own judgment, so it's good to have friends to lean on. They'll tell you, "you sound awful, did something happen today?" Or they will say, "You sound so much better, what's going on in your mind? What are you doing?" A series of bad days becomes a few good days and bad days, then mostly good days with bad moments. Then a few good days in a row with no bad moments, and you realize the new normal is here.

And you're glad, and you like it. And you rip the bar off the floor and feels great.

Re: Lifting with a "Life Event"

Posted: Wed Sep 04, 2013 5:04 am
by KPj
Only just seen this, and glad I read it and can really relate to it. Thanks for posting.

Also, I really like your trainer.


Re: Lifting with a "Life Event"

Posted: Wed Oct 02, 2013 9:52 am
by KenDowns
Kenny, thanks.

Another thing my trainer warned me about: wild swings in performance. He said expect to be very inconsistent. Last month its deadlifting 3 triples @ 385 and this past saturday after some international travel and 3 weeks off its a single at 365.

But the high and low here are the same, neither is quite "real" and neither will appear consistently. It seems as if the real tell-tale will not be some crazy PR or some horrible crash day, but a return to steady work capacity and fairly steady numbers.

Oh by the way, I've probably lost 15# of muscle. I've lost 20 pounds and I really really don't think I had that much to lose around the belly, I think a lot of it came of my legs and back. So not likely to see another PR but as I said I'm now looking to restore consistency.

Re: Lifting with a "Life Event"

Posted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 8:36 am
by Proper Knob
I've only just seen this. I've not gone through a divorce, in fact I've never been married Ken, so there are no words of wisdom from me relating to your situation. Only, keep on moving forward.

Re: Lifting with a "Life Event"

Posted: Fri Oct 25, 2013 7:09 pm
by Jungledoc
Ken--I'm also slow. Just seeing this today for the first time. As I've mentioned elsewhere, we are now paying for internet one MB at a time, so the days (and nights) of unlimited browsing are over. I've only logged on here a couple of times per week, and then just usually hit "general" and "random crap" and my journal.

Anyway, sorry for your pain, happy that lifting was a way to help you get through it. I haven't had a "life event" of this magnitude since I started lifting, but a few smaller ones, and when they are in process, lifting is the one thing that helps me clear my mind and cope.

I too have no words of wisdom for you. Well, actually, I have lots, but I'm sure that you already know anything I would say, so I won't insult you by going through them! I will pray for you, your wife and the kids. Especially the kids.