Post-Arnold

On the surface, my competitive experience over the weekend wasn't too bad at all. Given a training cycle with a QL injury of sorts, some of the best handlers that exist in Matt and Sioux-z Gary, and some decent progress on bench press, I was able to finish at the SBD Arnold Pro American with a 655 squat, a PR 491 lb. bench press, and a second attempt 744 deadlift. I was close to blacking out after the second deadlift and declined against taking a third. That was enough to give me a win in the 105kg class, and only 7.5 kilos on the total outside of coming home with third overall and some cash. 

I really was barely there though and I remember the entire competitive experience as a haze, and spent much of Sunday crying in bed alone for the following and other reasons. I wasn't looking forward to this competition as much as I've looked forward to previous competitions, and I felt very much separate and distant from others, and a sense of wondering what competition is all for. For me, I have routinely found joy in the struggles and triumphs of training, not competing. External validation of my efforts is cool, but I could do the same lifts in training and feel really happy about my efforts overall. As a referee for powerlifting myself, I don't need 3 judges to tell me if a lift was good enough to pass  on a platform, though of course one of the whole points of competing is that you are required to do the lifts on a stage, in succession, while others are doing the same. I have asked myself "why compete?" and not been able to come up with a worthwhile answer. Records or the will to win and assert my dominance over others does not drive me. In powerlifting especially, we engage in norm referencing, where we compare our efforts against the efforts of others. I don't feel a strong need to norm reference at the moment. I want training to feel free, honest, and immersed -- self-centered and for me. On the contrary, training often feels that it's for others, that I'm an object of attention and not an actual person in my own right. I am one who lifts at such and such a level first and foremost, and secondarily I'm Bryce Lewis, the person experiencing a complex and changing life. 

I love the hell out of powerlifting, but there are aspects I've come not to like. Maybe all of this is burnout, but it feel like more than just sport-related overtraining leading to burnout, especially if my training volume has anything to say about it. 

This has combined with a few other factors over recent months to form a particularly toxic-feeling recent weekend competing and seeing people. I have felt I'm on a roller coaster I can't get off with the schedule of either winning or seeking to win nationals, winning or seeking to win worlds, and ever-increasing total for people other than myself, displaying and showing efforts and accomplishing external rewards because I felt like it was the appropriate thing to do. As such, lifting has lost much of the love and innocent, light-hearted wonder it has once had. Where I dance between sets, where I don't commit so heavily to the process that I lose sight of why I'm doing things, that I allow myself the space to have bad sessions and bad reps without generalizing to an apocalyptic sense that I've failed myself, my coach, or my peers. 

I am generally a good lifter and a bad competitor. 

As such, I may jump off the perceived roller coaster and spend some time not competing in the near future, with (excitedly) no competition on the near horizon, no obligation, no pressure. At the same time, I feel a fear of a loss of identity. If I am not Bryce the athlete who is prepping for the next competition, Bryce the 105kg powerlifter, who am I? Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I have an urge not to feel forced into roles. I want to willingly engage to train, willingly engage to compete for my own sake and because it reflects the self-same goals that I've chosen I value. In fact my best lifts from an objective sense (a 700lb squat, a 495 bench, and an 805 deadlift) have been out of competition, on an unplanned training day, doing what I love. I think that's an important realization. 

Lately I've also been researching sports psychology, which, while wonderful has meant a certain self-analysis I want to be rid of. I've encountered this before when analyzing lifting technique (where one analyzes their own technique in light of what they've learned) or programming (where one analyzes one's own programming in light of new information). Separating self from study is a little easier when it comes to technique or programming, but it's been very hard for sport psychological concepts because you are the one experiencing things, and because it relates to thoughts themselves. I'd like to stop doing that, as it's caused me to realize problems I have, without realizing their solutions. 

Further, social media. I've felt a distaste for the fact that many high-level athletes, coaches, influencers, are narrating their life (or having someone else film them) and that they are the star of their own movie. I think that's a relatively recent phenomena, but the sensation that you are the star of the movie also means that you don't have that outlet to be you, the actor/actress. I an unable to feel free to post some things I think are worthy of people's attention, or to post a picture of myself without a caption just because I think it's a good picture, or to post my ass, my chest, etc, as a man, just because I'm proud of the work I've put in. Today, your goal is to weave a narrative of you as a person and the qualities that people are maximally able to relate to you with, combined with an outlet for directing that attention--either to a product, a service, or a website. The line between person and product I feel is blurred. Person becomes product. Person becomes larger than life, more than they actually are. I've felt a certain lack of authenticity and I fear that one of the only ways to correct the problem is not to engage at all. Simply being a social voyeur without posting exposes you to these same qualities in others, and as we imitate those we see, still bear some of those same aspects outward into broader life.

Especially at the Arnold this weekend, it was near impossible to distinguish someone's words from their intentions. Why are you offering this to me? Why are you talking to me? Why do you want a picture with me? I felt skeptical at many turns. It was not the place or the time for meaningful interaction. 

There is no need to narrate my life to a broader audience. There are things I would love sharing, but there is no need. There is no need to even have a social account, this thing we all willingly engage to participate in, and yet feel forced to display a certain type of content, frequency of interaction, consistency of lighthearted character. It's a choice, and if I have at times forgotten that, so have many others. 

Additionally, I've felt that I don't belong to the community of powerlifting and fitness, that there is a distance and a lack of love or care from many outside a closer group of friends. This is complex and I don't know the root, because the alienation is partly related to me not sharing myself more about how I am really feeling, but also about not having meaningful exchanges on a regular basis with people. Again I've felt an object, and I realize I don't have to feel that way. Instagram and Facebook are a huge way of how people connect though, and I remember the analogy that we are each armed with a megaphone all speaking as if on a hilltop to other people, instead of talking directly to someone else as an apt way to describe what social platforms can be. 

Partly because of this, because of the fact that I work from home, train alone much of the time, talk to few people, and really only know a small handful of people, I've felt quite alone lately. Especially when in my head I feel those relationships, the heat from that fire keeping me warm, is threatened. If I have warmth from a fire, I feel I can be a good and creative and amazing human. I must realize and reaffirm to myself that I am worthy of love, of life, of real and true support.

Anyway, this is how I feel at present and I'd like to experiment with some changes to see if I can feel and be better. I'd like to work with a sports psychologist and share my feelings with, change how I interact with people in the broader world, change my thoughts on training generally, and change my thoughts on competing specifically. I still do want real interactions, I crave them. I feel fragile and lost still at the risk of losing what I perceive is a part of my identity, and in changing many deeply ingrained habits. Thanks to the people who know they deserve it, as I strive to be a better version of myself always. 

Bryce Lewis