How to Handle the Holidays When You’re an Athlete with an Appetite (Or, My Justification for Pie)

sleeping at gym

Exercise is good for you, and so is sleep. She is multi-tasking!

“I feel like Jake LaMotta when he’s all fat and out of shape and laughing at his own stupid jokes at the end of ‘Raging Bull.'”

I was leaning against the counter at my parents’ house, drinking a glass of wine and munching thoughtfully on a tortilla chip. As I’ve been coming off a serious back injury that brought my exercise routine to a screeching halt, I’ve been going into the holiday season, which means excuses to eat are everywhere. I haven’t exercised since the Friday before I hurt my back, and unlike the weeks before my black belt test, I’ve been eating a little more than my typical brown rice/roasted veggies/eggs/fruit diet.

So what to do when you’re an athlete in a demanding sport, but you also have a mother who puts Italian sausage in her Thanksgiving stuffing? (I know, awesome, right?) Here are my tips for staying semi-fit and fully sane during the next month of solid eating:

1. Choose Wisely
Unless you have some serious dietary restrictions, it’s OK to indulge. We only get one life, and that life should include carbs, sweets, and salt. It doesn’t mean you need to eat every salty, sweety, carby treat that’s in your sights. I can skip the store bought cookies at the office potluck, but the aforementioned sausage-infusted stuffing? NO. I’m eating it. If you’re going to indulge, choose wisely and really enjoy it, don’t just mindlessly shovel in crap that doesn’t even taste good.

2. Honor the Family Traditions
Is there a special dish that is significant in your family? Don’t deprive yourself!
This isn’t a holiday food per se, but I recently had the very last taste I’ll ever have of “lake fish,” which any family members reading this will understand. My grandparents owned a lake house for thirty years until selling it last year, and there is nothing better than finely filleted and fried crappie that was swimming happily (and organically, just FYI) until its untimely demise. No one cleans a fish like Grandpa, and no one fries fish like Dad. After my grandparents sold the house we all knew there was a dwindling supply of “lake fish” in the freezer, so every last bite was cherished.
Will I ever eat fried fish any where else? Gross, no. Other than “lake fish” prepared by Grandpa and Dad, I hate fish and refuse to eat it. I’m not going to waste my calories on some sub-par, disgusting, greasy fried catfish with bones sticking out everywhere and the skin still on it. (Cause y’all know that’s how most people fry fish. Amateurs.) The calories I spent on hand-cleaned and deep-fried Oklahoma crappie were calories well spent.

3. Keep Up the Exercise
I hate cold weather with a bloody passion and may have to resort to my cold weather inside routine if the ice storms hit. Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated when it’s gray and yucky outside. Feel like skipping the gym? Just remember how good it feels to get your body moving and feel those endorphins kick in. Even if you can’t do your regular workout a walk around the block or some push-ups while you’re watching a movie can keep the winter blues at bay.

4. Trim the Fat Elsewhere
I always try to lose a little weight before the holidays kick in because I know I’ll be indulging and will be hindered from  getting out as much as I’d like to by rain and cold weather. Maintaining a steady diet of whole grains, produce, and lean proteins will help you stay energized and feel light during a time when it’s so tempting to curl up under  a blanket and eat cookies. If I keep up my normal nutrition and exercise as much as I can I feel like I have more leeway to indulge at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

5. Cut Yourself Some Slack
Look, if you gain a pound or two over the holidays, is it really that big of a deal in the grander scheme of things? We put so much emphasis on things that don’t matter: getting all twisted over a project at work that really can wait until tomorrow, mindlessly scrolling through our phones while ignoring the other people in the room, agonizing over a bite of cake because deep down we feel ashamed of our own bodies. My grandparents are almost ninety. I would rather sit at the dinner table, linger over pie and coffee, and listen to them tell stories than go for a run outside by myself. The exercise and the diet opportunities will always be here. My family won’t.

I know I’ve gained a little weight, and going back to taekwondo class is going to be tough after a two-week break. I know taking the pounds off won’t be as easy or as fun as it was to put them on. Oh well, I’d rather be thankful for a healthy and fit body than make myself miserable when I have my moments of being a tad less fit. I can breathe, walk, move on my own, take care of myself without assistance, and feel that as far as being able wake up the next day, the odds are in my favor. Many people don’t have that reassurance. Be grateful for what your body can do.

No one will love you or respect you any less for that slice of pie, and if they do? F*ck them and their insecure, superficial, limited little minds.

6. Remember That Spring Will Come
Okay, so it’s sleeting outside and your aunt made her famous brownies that you don’t think you should eat, but you reaaaaally want to. The world is not going to end if you can’t make it to the gym or if you have that brownie. Practice moderation, remind yourself that you will soon be able to get back to your regular training, and remember to enjoy the precious moments with people you love, Italian sausage, brownies, and all.

And if you don’t like your family? Go outside for a run! Problem solved!

The Inevitable Slump

sad dog

“It’s January and February right now. Spring will come.”

My dad was offering me some words of comfort the other night as I sat curled up in my bed, sobbing and dredging up one ridiculous worry after another: regrets of things I did long ago, a reopened wound from a bitter breakup, letting go of pieces of me that I couldn’t get back. I felt lonely, vulnerable, and hopeless. I didn’t really have a rational reason to be upset, but it felt like the flood gates had been unleashed. Damnit, I was going to give myself something to cry about.

Dad suspected that I was feeling some post-black belt test depression, and he and Mom had even wondered before my black belt test if the crash was inevitable. Dad likened it to the depression some people feel after the hustle and bustle of Christmas is over: the excitement has died down, the fanfare has quieted, and now you’re back to life as usual in the suckiest months of the year. What’s the fun in that?

Apparently I am in a metaphorical January.

While I am thrilled to be a new black belt, I know I’ve lost some of my excitement, drive, and focus. Being waylaid by an injury hasn’t helped matters. Exercise always makes me feel better. I experienced that when I started to get a hint of the crash a few weeks ago, but an invigorating (and slightly insane) workout from a senior black belt student nipped that in the bud. Nothing like the sweet combination of exhaustion and endorphins to make you feel on top of the world.

I’ve been stuck at home recuperating for much of the week from severe back pain that struck last weekend. Other than some healing sessions with my physical therapist (it was almost worth hurting my back for all the lovely care and treatment), I haven’t moved around much, and I know my mood plummets whenever I become more sedentary. Obviously I hadn’t been able to go to taekwondo class, but I was also in too much pain to swim, do yoga, or my other normal actives. Even walking for long distances was difficult until yesterday.

It’s frustrating to feel this way and to have it possibly adversely affect my approach to taekwondo because life as a new black belt has hardly been ordinary—there’s no same old, same old as a newly minted Jyo Kyo Neem. I’ve barely learned one of the two (two!!) new forms I get to learn, and there is still so much to practice with hand-to-hand combat and defense against weapons. I’m not even used to seeing myself in my fancy new black-lapeled uniform and embroidered belt.

So what the hell?? I’m really not that upset about the back pain. I get injured all the time, and I know I always bounce back. I can handle physical pain. Emotional pain is a much stickier matter.

I really hope it’s a case of an emotional slump because I’ve been forced to be inactive and confined to my home (other than when I wasn’t at work or PT) and NOT due to a more elusive and dangerous habit I thought I had kicked: constant dissatisfaction. In the Bad Old Days, when I had low self-esteem, I was searching desperately for happiness in all the wrong places. I wanted other people, material possessions, work, academic achievements, and even my superficial looks to fill that void in my heart that I eventually learned to fill from within.

Nah, I’ve made it too far in my journey of self growth and kicking life’s ass to have gone back to my old destructive ways. I know I haven’t lost that little glimmer of inner peace, contentment, and newly found confidence. I’m just cranky that I can’t kick teenagers for a week or two.

This will pass.

 

Finding Balance in a World of Extremes: 3 Tips to Help Ground You

balance

When we think about finding balance in life, the concept of work-life balance often comes to mind, but the concept of balance is applicable to every aspect of our lives. It can feel like, though, we are living in a world that forces us to choose extremes: live the fast-paced urban lifestyle or be an anti-tech hermetic living in one of those innovative and super cute micro-houses. Be a minimalist or max out your credit cards. Be obese in a fast food nation or wear size 0 yoga pants on the gluten-free train. Be a stay-at-home mom or be completely devoted to your career.

Where is the middle ground? Where is the option to dabble and enjoy while remaining grounded and centered?

I am writing this while lying in bed with my feet propped on pillows and an ice pack on my lower back because somehow inexplicably I managed to throw my back out again. The last two times I’ve done it (once when I was moving stuff into a new home and the other time at the gym) I immediately felt the deep flash of pain across my lumbar area when I did the tiniest, most (seemingly) inconsequential movement. It stopped me in my tracks.

This time I have no idea how or when the initial injury happened. My back has been irritated but manageable all week but decided this afternoon it was going on strike. It stiffened up to the point that I resigned myself to making a nest of books, snacks, and my laptop in bed. Now I have to roll around like an upended bug to even sit up. On my last round of getting the ice pack from the freezer it was easier (and faster) to crawl on my hands and knees from my kitchen back to my bedroom.

So what is my body trying to tell me? My poor back is the subject of extremes. I’m either jumping, twisting, running, and moving vigorously in both taekwondo and my physical therapy sessions or I’m sitting stock still for hours at my very nice but unfortunately very sedentary day job (or doing my writing and research activities at home). Funny, just yesterday I read an article on the blog Yoga Dork titled “Sitting is the New Smoking.” Maybe I should have taken a walk and smoked a cigarette instead of sitting for most of the day.

I “balance” the extreme activity and the extreme stillness with gentle back-friendly movement like yoga and swimming, but apparently it wasn’t enough for my lower back to say, “Enough with the Jekyll and Hyde crap, lady! I’m calling it quits!” It’s a rare occurrence for me to just take a stroll down the street. I’m always go-go-go or at a compete stop. In a way I knew this was coming, but I’m grateful it didn’t happen the week of my black belt test.

What are some things you can do to find balance in your life?
1. Cut yourself some slack. Slow down. You can’t do it all, and that’s okay. Prioritize, focus on what is really important, and be proud of your accomplishments.

2. Practice gratitude. Sometimes we can be thrown off balance by the constant pursuit of something that we believe will make us “happy”–more money, a more prestigious title, a more attractive partner, a bigger house, a smaller waist size. Instead of drooling over that BMW in the next lane, be grateful for the transportation you do have. Instead of feeling self-conscious when a gazelle in stilettos walks by, appreciate the body you do have: the healthy lungs that breathe air, the able limbs that keep you mobile and independent, the hopefully healthy back that won’t keep you stuck in your bed like I am this Saturday night. When we are constantly in pursuit of the latest and greatest thing we have no time to appreciate what we already do have. Stop. Slow down. Be grateful.

3. Be present. Oh, so bandied about as the key to everything and oh, so hard to do sometimes. But it works! For me, taekwondo keeps me very focused and present. For others it may be knitting, petting a cat, reading a book, or simply looking out the window. Whatever keeps you from ruminating on the past or worrying about the future will keep you grounded and in turn, keep you balanced.

Now what?
Thanks to my brother’s recommendation, I use the meditation website Headspace. Ironically, I’d just started a new 30-day “pack” on finding balance. Apparently my back was in on the cosmic joke. I’ll be doing my little meditation session once I upload this blog post.

Be grounded, be balanced, and be well. I’d offer a virtual hug, but I’m in too much pain right now.

Learning Theory and Hook Kicks…or…Sweat and the 70/20/10 Principle

adult-learning-presentation-tips

Training is useless without application…and it looks like Hannibal Lecter found this guy before we did.

As I was leaving taekwondo practice Monday night I mentioned to my instructor that I liked the sparring drills he added at the end of class. Monday is typically cardio and conditioning night, but lately we’ve been doing some no contact sparring (i.e., we’re not wearing protective gear so we try not to kill each other), reaction drills, and fighting techniques during the latter half of the class. That night we had done a simple drill during which one partner attacked with a roundhouse kick, which is a very typical (and predictable) attack during free sparring, and the defending partner would counter with a low block and a hook kick to the chest. Fun, simple, but surprisingly difficult for some students to do intuitively.

My instructor’s concern was that students, myself included, hadn’t developed the habit of countering. We strike…hop around…wait for the other person to strike…then we strike again…hop around…and the cycle continues. Ideally a sparring match would be a continuous flow of attacks and counter-attacks from both partners. Sparring skill is a combination of training, technique, strategy, and intuition, and unless a student is naturally gifted, it requires a great deal of practice to master. It’s not like we weren’t practicing; maybe our problem was that we weren’t practicing “smart.”

As I walked out to my car I thought, “Wait a minute! This is theory and application! This is the same thing we’re trying to get our employees to do in the workplace!” I thought about that night’s drill. Hook kick is my favorite kick. It looks cool, it’s fun to do, but all I’ve ever really used it for in sparring is a stalling tactic: swiping a hook kick at someone’s face distracts them and keeps them at a distance, but I’ve never made contact. I wasn’t using it in any context. I do a hook kick just because I want to do a hook kick, but that doesn’t mean I was using it effectively. Incidentally, two days later in sparring class, I got a few good shots to my opponents’ chest with hook kicks because I was using it as a counter technique, not a “just because I want to” technique. Point!

My classmates and I have spent a lot of time practicing kicks and prescribed, memorized self-defense techniques, but we haven’t given as much effort to putting what we learn into practice other than a weekly free sparring class, which even then is restricted by the polite rules of engagement. It makes perfect sense in theory…but when it’s put into practice it’s evident that we need to spend a lot more time experimenting and applying what we’ve learned. We’re not making the connection between what we learn in theory and what we can put into practice when the opportunity presents itself.

In our weekend bo dan/black belt class we’ve been playing around with more freestyle fighting against weapons or each other’s hands. Last week one of my fellow new black belts and I found ourselves blinking dumbly at each other as we tried to wrap our little minds around some new twists on the hand-to-hand self-defense techniques we had learned as red belts. Some black belts we were! It made sense in theory…but was useless without practice and application. Mimicking our instructor is not enough. We taekwondo practitioners have to be able to think quickly and be able to use anything from our arsenal at any time.

Training of any kind, whether it’s taekwondo or those pesky grown-up professional skills such as having a difficult conversation or running an effective meeting, runs the risk of being futile if it does not include a method of application. The problem is that we often put so much weight and expectation onto the training itself to magically solve whatever issue we’re having without any effort or change on our part. In my professional life as an organizational development (OD) consultant I’ve heard many times from clients the complaint that they took a class on building an accountable culture or having a critical conversation or whatever the problem might be, but “it didn’t do anything.” Amazingly enough they were demanding that same class, as if somehow this time it would be different. “Training” always seems to be the first solution to a problem that is often times not even thoroughly defined.

The issue isn’t the training. It’s how it’s applied. The 70/20/10 model of learning, which has been attributed to the Center for Creative Leadership for pioneering, dictates that for learning to be effective it should follow this ration:
-10% of learning is from traditional education: reading, listening to a lecture, more “passive” learning.
-20% is from coaching and feedback, collaborative learning, mentoring.
-70% is from on-the-job (or in our case, in-the-dojang) application.

We often reverse this ratio and wonder why nothing changes. It’s not surprising since our first experience with learning as a child was being expected to sit quietly while we listened to a lecture from a teacher and would somehow magically absorb and regurgitate the information. For some people that works, but for most learners, especially as they get older, it doesn’t. My best and most memorable teachers in high school in college were the ones that encouraged experimenting, asking questions, working with partners, trial and error, and discovery. The ones who did straight lecture were ineffective and forgettable, although I’m grateful that my grad school finance teacher was so boring because I used his worthless class time to find my current condo on a home finder app. What, I was still practicing finance, it was just personal finance!!

Learners, most notably adult learners, benefit most from instruction that is centered on solving a problem (e.g., What do I do when someone punches at my head?), provides application and experience of what is being learned, allows the adult learner to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction, and is immediately relevant to the adult learner’s life….meaning, if I’m simply told what to do if someone punches at my head, it won’t sink in. I need to see it, kinesthetically experience it, receive feedback on my performance, ask questions, relate it to my current experience and situation, and repeatedly try it over and over.

The beauty of this principle is that it holds the learner accountable even though there is initial responsibility on the person training/coaching/mentoring/supervising the learner to provide information, feedback, and opportunity to practice. I can’t expect my taekwondo instructor to do my work for me any more than we can expect a corporate trainer in a workshop on having difficult conversations to do the work for the person attending the class. They are major influencers and help set the learner up for success, but ultimately the learner is responsible for their own performance. Whatever we’re learning, whether we’re kids in elementary school or adults in a university or a hospital or a corporation, we have to practice, seek feedback, take the initiative to make changes, and continuously evaluate and improve our performance.

My instructor is on to something. He’s been adding more reactionary (i.e., defending against an unpredicted punch or kick) and countering drills (i.e., fighting back when attacked rather than just blocking and waiting for the next thing to happen) to all our classes so we would be better prepared to defend ourselves against any situation in sparring class or in the worst case scenario, a real life attack.

Wednesday night during the advanced class I thought about the 70/20/10 principle as we practiced some more reaction and countering drills. In pairs, we were given simple instructions to attack with a punch and counter with a punch. That was the 10%. Pretty soon my partner and I were adding on more defenses and attacks, asking each other what we thought would work, trying different approaches, and getting feedback from our instructor on whether it was effective or not. That was the 20% (collaborative learning, coaching, and feedback) and a bit of the 70% (practical application). Had we had time to get into more “freestyle” fighting that would force us to think quickly and respond on-the-spot that would have been the 70%. It was the perfect opportunity to be introduced to a concept and experiment with it so we could become more effective taekwondo practitioners.

The moral of the story? Learning is not just listening, which is still the pervasive assumption in many aspects of training for both children and adults. Learning is practicing, experimenting, application, seeking feedback, and making incremental changes. That type of learning leads to mastery.

Five Things I Lost While Training for My Black Belt (Besides Five Pounds)

good riddance cake

I don’t want to even look at cake right now.

Training for my October black belt test did more than get me in good physical shape and help me hone the skills I needed to demonstrate to earn my new rank. It also helped me rid myself of some particularly damaging (and sticky) habits.

1. I lost my sweet tooth.
Remember how I was going on about craving Little Debbie oatmeal crème pies in the last few posts before my black belt test? I finally bought a box, eagerly ripped open the plastic packaging of the coveted treat, and….meh. They’re a lot smaller than I remember them being, and they don’t have that wonderful greasy mouthfeel they used to. Maybe all the trans fats and yummy stuff were removed. I won’t be buying another box.

Along with the sweet tooth I also seemed to have lost my tolerance for junk food in general. The week following my test I gave myself a pass to indulge and polish off the goodies I had when my family visited for the test: leftover pizza, chips, soda, sliced turkey and Swiss cheese, Halloween candy, and….meh. I had carb face and a processed food headache. I did make it to Whataburger, so thankfully I didn’t have to revoke my Native Texan card. When I finally ate an apple after eating all that crap I felt like I’d bitten into a juicy atomic bomb. I never thought I’d be so happy to see my boring staples of oatmeal, brown rice, roasted vegetables, fruit, and boiled eggs again.

2. I lost my taste for alcohol.
I’m sure a few of my oenophile friends are thinking, “WHYYYY?” I gave it up for seven months primarily due to some health problems I was having at the beginning of the year, and I decided to just keep going until I completed my black belt test. It was much easier to quit than I expected, and I didn’t miss it at all. I enjoyed the champagne and red wine I drank with my family after my test, and I do see a bottle of Single Barrel Jack in my future, but…meh. I don’t dislike alcohol now. I just don’t NEED it anymore, and THAT is a very good thing.

3. I lost my need for validation or approval from other people.
I’m still eager to please and like to put smiles on people’s faces, and of course, duh, I care about what my taekwondo instructors think of me (and yeah, my boss too since he helps me pay for those taekwondo classes), but I don’t care anymore whether people “like” me or not. I enjoy and appreciate compliments, but they’re icing on a cake that I’m not craving that much anymore. (That’s my metaphorical sweet tooth). I still strive to do better, but I don’t worry about how I look, how I sound, or how people perceive me.

I know that I’m a good person, and I accept myself for who I am, both in my personality and my physical looks. I know I can kick ass in a business meeting just as much as I can in the dojang. During my actual black belt test I had no worries or fear. I wasn’t second guessing myself or apologizing, and I nailed it. I was so calm I wondered if part of my brain had melted, but maybe it meant that I’m finally, FINALLY exercising that fabled confidence martial arts is known for bringing out in its practitioners. Less than a week after my black belt test, during a meeting with some tough business clients, I tapped into my newfound strength and wooed our tough clients into going with the plan that my boss and I were proposing. Whether I’m in heels and a suit or a black belt and bare feet I am strong, confident, and capable. I would’t have been able to say that before I began taekwondo.

4. I lost my total and utter feeling of disconnect with other human beings…well, some of the time.
I know I’m not a sociopath because I have a very present and very vocal conscience, but I’m not exactly Mother Theresa either. I can go a whole week not speaking a word to anyone and not caring at all. (Actually it would be nice to have a week like that, where I don’t speak to ANYONE).  One of the reasons why I got back into taekwondo was to get out of my house and more importantly, get out of my churning, depressed, self-loathing head. Taekwondo is a contact sport in many ways—obviously in the physical sense, but very much in the emotional and social sense. We’re a tribe, a family, a community. We rely on each other to learn and improve. I simply can’t get lost in a train of worrisome thoughts if I’m having to chase a nine-year-old across the mat with a kicking pad or help a teenager with tricky parts of their form.

Through my instructor’s encouragement, I have gained a lot of experience teaching and coaching, and that will be an even higher expectation now that I am a black belt. Turns out, I’m good at it, and more importantly, I enjoy it. It’s brought out the loving, giving, attentive parts of my personality that to this point in my life I’ve only been able to share with my family. I’m the doting, compassionate mother that I will forever refuse to be elsewhere, the leader I don’t strive to be professionally, and the funny, outgoing, loyal friend that I am unable to be in other parts of my life.

It still takes an extra effort for me to interact with people, but I’m doing it more frequently. Taekwondo forces me to actively and intensely engage with people six hours out of the week, which is more than I’ve done in the past. One of these days perhaps my “real” persona will bleed out of the dojang and into other parts of my life, but for now it’s nice to know that at least with some people I don’t feel the need to wear a mask.

5. I lost my need to be in a relationship to be “happy.”
This might be the most important loss (or gain?) of all. My partner of two years and I split up in early April, exactly a week after I successfully tested for bo dan, leaving me to travel the path to black belt alone. The relationship was already on thin ice, but we’d both held onto hopes that we could continue, until we simply couldn’t. For my entire adult life I thought that I needed a man’s love, or at the very least his attention, to be happy. I don’t believe in soul mates and hate the “you complete me” crap, but I still wrapped up a lot of my self-worth in what some dude thought of me. That was another reason why I re-entered the world of taekwondo: I had one dating disaster after another, and I was miserable. I needed to get away from myself before I messed up my life even further.

I don’t regret my most recent relationship at all. My partner and I loved each other very much and both agreed that we were able to be our true selves more with each other than either of us had been able to with previous partners. I think we both needed each other as support systems until we were able to function independently on our own. It was nice to have someone who loved me at most of my belt tests, especially the first one when I jumped from white to green, but by the time we split I figured out that I was able to continue the journey by myself.

I was heartbroken when it ended, but I wasn’t at a total loss of what to do, and more importantly, I didn’t blame/hate myself for the break up. I bounced back more quickly after what was my most serious relationship to-date than I had from one- or two-month flings. I didn’t have time to let a breakup crush me; I was training for my black belt! At first I thought the timing was terrible since I would be training for my black belt test “alone,” but in hindsight the timing was perfect. I learned  that I could rely entirely and singularly on myself to succeed.  I doubt I would have had that eerie sense of calm the day of the test if I were still subconsciously searching over and over for the validation that someone loved me, approved of me, and accepted me.

So will I start dating again now that I have my black belt? NOPE. SOOOO not interested, and SOOOO don’t care. One, it’s only been seven months, and I am simply not ready to consider anyone else as boyfriend material; it’s too weird and too soon. Two, and the more important reason, I haven’t been able to enjoy just being myself in…well…ever, so I’m going to bask in that for a while. I’m having way too much fun on my own. The way I feel about dating is the way I feel about sweets and alcohol and relying on other people to boost my self–esteem…nice, but….meh. Besides, whatever joker I finally decide to spend time with might as well start coming to taekwondo class with me or move along, because that’s where my heart really is.

The Best Remedy for the Inevitable Emotional Denouement: Crazy Cardio!

exercise t rex

There are two things I love about this time of year: the extra hour of sleep and Thanksgiving. That’s about it.

Sure, I love my scarves and knee-high boots, but I mostly love the idea of them, not the fact that I actually have to start wearing them to stay warm. We do really have four seasons in Texas. They just happen to be ice, tornadoes, a really long summer, and rain. Now we’re in that period of a few nice days that are ruined by torrential downpours and dangerous flooding. Thanks to the rain and the fact that, uh, it’s November it’s started to get a little cool. It’s also the time of year when I begin to get grumpy until about…oh…May.

I’m a native Texan and a summer baby. I like running out of the house in flip flops, sunscreen, and a sweaty ponytail. I get anxious and cranky when I have to start wearing layers. My mood plummets from annoyance at mild chilliness in November (for me, anything below 70 degrees is “cold”) to full-blown depression during the dismal, ice-storm-heavy days of January and February. It didn’t come as too much of a surprise when, right after the excitement of my black belt test died down, my mood dropped sharply along with the decreasing temperatures.

I was wondering when the inevitable post-black belt low was going to hit. Some people get depressed right after the holidays–the weather is abysmal, there’s nothing to look forward to other than Valentine’s Day candy, and people suddenly stop being so nice to each other. I wondered if the same phenomenon was hitting me now that the family has gone home and I’ve begun to break in my new belt and uniform.

It was easy to stay motivated and upbeat while I was training. A long day at work? No problem, I knew I’d sweat it off during an intense sparring class. A tough physical therapy session? No problem, the pain was worth it as I was healing and strengthening my body. I could just zone out, visualize my board breaking sequence, and I’d sail through the day. Now that it was all over what did I have to look forward to?

When I get down, I want to shut myself off from the world. I don’t want to talk to anybody (more than my usual introvert avoidance), think about anything, or interact with the world in general. Sometimes I do need a little break from constantly thinking, observing, interacting, etc. and like to veg out with Netflix, but if I’m not careful about it I can go into full isolation mode. Last night when I got home from work that feeling punched me in the stomach and shoved me up against the wall. I wanted to crawl under a blanket and steep myself in solitude. For whatever reason I felt dull, pouty, tired, and very tempted to call it a night.

“REALLY?” I thought, irritated. “I haven’t even had my black belt for a week and now I want to shut down and hibernate? What was all that flowery stuff I said about it being just the beginning or just a small stop along a lifelong journey?” 

“But,” I whined. “It’s daaaark outside and I wanna curl up on the couch and reeeeeaaaaaad.”

I rolled my eyes and paced around the living room. Maybe it wasn’t Black Belt Blues. Maybe it was because I’d felt dull and listless at work that day and my energy was low, or maybe it was because I was feeling mopey and sad, which I tend to do if I let myself ruminate on things (regrets, worries, personal issues) for too long. Or maybe I was just being lazy. No, I wasn’t about to give up this quickly.

“You JUST started learning a new form, and you were so excited about that, remember? And you’ve been sitting on your butt at work all day; exercise will do you some good. Now put on your gym clothes and go to class!” I countered before stomping into the spare room and shoving my new uniform with the tell-tale black lapel into my duffel bag.

Moving around seems to be the best remedy for a tired body and a tired brain. One of our second-degree black belts, a transfer from another school with a background in MMA, led the class. It was one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done in all my years of being a gym rat and a taekwondo student. He never screamed at us like a drill sergeant or an overly enthusiastic personal trainer. He just gave us our instructions with the expectation that we could (and would) do it, no questions asked. I think we all had too much morbid curiosity to not at least give it a try.

The class was fun the way riding the Titan roller coaster at Six Flags was fun: in the moment I just tried to keep focusing on what was directly in front of me without screaming, I questioned why the hell I was willingly putting myself through it, and the next day I woke up with a mild concussion and a feeling like I’d been smashed around in a washing machine. And in a sick way, although I swore I’d never do it again, I just might. (Well, not the roller coaster. NEVER AGAIN. I haven’t had a concussion after a taekwondo class….yet.)

For nearly an hour we did sadistic things like burpees, clock pushups (get into push up position and bounce around on the floor in a circle–fun, right?), and countless spin kicks in a row. With nearly every drill was the caveat, “Now, for the black belts, I want you to add THIS…” as he added something extra like finger-tip pushups or another jump spin kick. It didn’t seem like I was going to get a cooling off period, but rather a running start as a new black belt.

Any listlessness or creeping depression or loneliness had been thoroughly wrung out of my body, although at one point one of my classmates who had paramedic training began giving me a worried look. I just stared back with glassy eyes and a red face while swearing with an insane smile that I was fine. I was better than fine and so thankful that I’d pulled myself out of my Fortress of Solitude and went to class. And wouldn’t you know, my 360 roundhouse (tornado) kicks were looking pretty damn good.

This morning I dragged myself to physical therapy. It seemed like every part of my body EXCEPT my finicky right hamstring was exhausted. Even breathing too deeply sent cruel swaths of achiness across my upper back. I was hoping to get a nice long therapeutic massage, but my PT looked worse for the wear than I did. On Sunday he had competed in a half-marathon/obstacle course than involved running through mud, tumbling down hills while carrying bags of gravel, getting cut up by trees and cacti, and climbing ropes in the rain. Suddenly the clock pushups, burpees, and spin kicks I’d done on a smooth, pliable surface inside a well-lit air conditioned building didn’t seem so bad. He barely left his wheeled stool as he winced and scooted between patients.

“You’ll likely have delayed-onset muscle soreness, or what we call DOMS, which means it might be worse tomorrow. The best thing to do is some light movement to keep your muscles from stiffening up too much,” he advised while grimacing and readjusting himself on his stool. So today I have my classmate to thank for a reprieve from box jumps and kettle bell lifts: I did a low-key workout of gentle squats and lunges, the stationary bike, light kettle bell lifts, and some core work. An Epsom salt bath, some ibuprofen, and a good night’s sleep will have me ready and eager for tomorrow night’s class. As tired as I am today I was comforted to know that I have an antidote for the depression that I am never truly free from and the cold crappy weather that is just around the corner: go to class, go to class, go to class. (Well, let’s see how sore I am tomorrow.)