Didn’t He Say “Ease Off”??

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I should have taken my yoga teacher’s advice. I’m burned out.

I really knew I was burned out when in a matter of days I suddenly felt disgusted by three things I enjoy very much: Greek yogurt, eye makeup, and taekwondo sparring.

I could barely swallow the last few bites of the yogurt I was eating for my snack yesterday. Everything about Greek yogurt made me sick–the gloppy texture filling my mouth, the icky sweetness, how I had to kind of half-chew and half-swallow at the same time because that’s how you have to eat yogurt. I was completely grossed out.

As for eye makeup–I didn’t wear any last Tuesday for personal reasons and amazingly made it through the day without hearing “You look tired.” Everything about eye makeup made me sick–the way my eyes water and burn by the end of the work day, the dry mascara flecks on my cheeks, the infuriating way it seems to take days to wash off the last vestiges of it before I have to start all over again. When the shock of seeing my two bare blue eyes squinting back at me wore off I thought I might try it again. I worked my way down from eye shadow and liquid liner to just eyeliner pencil and by the end of today I was so annoyed at how sloppy the half-melted eyeliner looked that I rubbed that off my otherwise bare lids.

Sparring was something I learned to love as an adult. Just as I challenged myself to enjoy “The Scarlet Letter” in college after hating it in high school (try reading it again; it is a delightful, twisted, voyeuristic melodrama) I decided to embrace sparring after hating and dreading it so much as a child. Sparring brings out the best and the worst in the taekwondo practitioner. It is a true test of skills and literally thinking on your feet. Everything we learn is applicable to sparring and by extension, ‘real life.” Sparring is as authentic and raw as you can get in the dojang.

Just as I seemed to get worse with my side kicks on Monday, my sparring was abysmal tonight. I just couldn’t move. I was so unmotivated. My brain understood everything I was supposed to be doing, but my body shut down. It just wouldn’t do it. Whenever I’ve learned something very physically demanding (dance, classical guitar,  &$%# spin kick) there’s always about a 6 month delay between what I’m being directed to do and what my body actually does. I was so frustrated with myself that I froze completely.

When my sparring deteriorates (it’s not great to begin with), the healthy aggression I feel towards my opponent turns inward to a more sinister, poisonous self-directed aggression. I become very frustrated with myself and spend the rest of the match just defending myself as best I can (which isn’t much) and praying for it to be over. Here’s a rough transcript of the ticker tape that started flowing across my brain: “Failure. Fraud. Liar. Why did I tell my family and friends and coworkers that I’m training for my black belt? I fight like a white belt. I’m embarrassing myself. I look so clumsy and stupid. All I’m doing is scooting around taking on kicks full-force. I keep making the same mistakes! I don’t even deserve the rank I have–why did they give it to me?? Now I’m going to look like a huge idiot who was all talk and no action. You should walk out of the class and never come back.”

Here’s what I can do well: I can kick the air, perform a memorized set of pre-determined moves, and break stuff. I can think of no better response than this:
Matt-Foley-Motivational-SpeakerThat’s like bragging about having an advanced vocabulary of Spanish words but when put to the test you can’t carry on the simplest of conversations or even halfway keep up with any telenovelas, which aren’t known for their rich and eloquent dialogue. Yeah, I really deserve a black belt. Ha.

I considered going home and skipping the second class. Why let my negativity spoil everyone else’s evening? If I couldn’t give my all could I give anything? I didn’t want to do that to my instructors or classmates. They have no idea what taekwondo and by extension they have done for me. I owe them my life. I was falling apart at the seams two years ago, and if you’ve read other blog posts (and you HAVE, RIGHT??) you know the amazing life lessons I’ve gleaned from taekwondo. It was a group effort. There is so much love and support in that dojang it seems a little ironic that we willingly (and for the most part joyfully) beat the crap out of each other on a regular basis.

On the other hand, the second class is always small. What if only one or two students decided to stay? It wasn’t fair to ditch them like that. I’m glad I stayed. I ended up having a very pleasant evening working with a new red belt on his form and one steps although I don’t think he was having as good a time as I was. Learning how to teach is a part of black belt training, so my instructor would give me some guidance and then walk away, leaving me to try it out on a live victim. I work with adult learners, so I forget that giving feedback like, “I’m not really seeing the transition between your stances” to a blinking, frowning ten-year-old doesn’t do much good.

After I got home and closed my front door I rested my head against it for a moment and sighed. While my terrible performance really did upset me I felt a nagging unease about the underlying cause. This was just a symptom. There is still a tiny burrowing part of me who is a self-loathing perfectionist who doesn’t believe I’m “worth it,” whatever that means. That was tough to swallow after all the hard work I’ve done and exponential growth I’ve experienced over the past few years.

I don’t know if I can handle going to sparring class next week. I feel like I’m getting worse and worse. I think I need to follow my own advice and listen to my body and mind’s needs. They are saying, “CHILL! REST! Listen to us or you will burn out for good! Didn’t you read your own last damn blog post??” I am so sick of my one-steps and hand-to-hand techniques. Instead of going to bed early I am spending my evening nursing surprisingly painful welts on my elbow that will likely get a few snotty side-eyes at a black tie event I’m attending next week (but I’ll look smoking in my dress so who cares). I want a quiet evening to myself again.  I had to cut a big chunk out of the ball of my foot thanks to a ripped callus that is growing deeper and bloodier. I’m sad that something I love has become more trying that it is enjoyable.

There’s hope though. Whenever I take a break from swimming I come back stronger, more vigorous, smoother, and more powerful. Maybe the same will happen with taekwondo. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do next week. Whether I show up or not my love and dedication to taekwondo remains the same. If I’m absent it doesn’t mean I’m not coming back or that I don’t care. It means I need to do right by it and by me by giving us both a rest.

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