Even Black Belts Get Imposter Syndrome

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You know that time for a minute or so when I thought I didn’t deserve the big office that was offered to me when I relocated for my job? Yeah, I got over that fast, which you can read about in this post. Things at work could not be better. I am having a blast and sincerely love my job. I’m building lots of great relationships and am involved in some exciting projects. Even when I’m not sure what to do or feel like I didn’t give the best answer or flubbed up a presentation, I can still move forward with a smile, feeling confident and satisfied.

I don’t exactly feel that way in my personal life. I’m not isolated and broken hearted like I was two months ago, but in the dojang, for example, I still feel like I have some overinflated, false sense of authority and necessity. I feel like I’m a fraud and a joke who doesn’t deserve a black belt. I have had to miss several classes lately due to work obligations (thank you, awesome job!) and some personal things, but I also have a thought in the back of my mind that maybe I should stop going altogether. Maybe it’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” I don’t get the regular camaraderie and fun and see my incremental progress, so I lose sight of why I kept going.

Here’s how I feel about myself as a black belt, whether this is accurate or not: Why am I entrusted with anything? I’m just a clumsy first degree who makes more mistakes than progress. I teach some things the wrong way, and there are certain movements my aging, aching body refuses to do even when I know damn well how to do them, and they’re easy for lower ranking students but not for me. I’m really not that great at it and I feel like I’m an embarrassment and disappointment to my instructors. Sometimes I don’t even know why I have a black belt other than being good at hitting stuff with my hands. I’m pretty good at forms too, so I guess that counts for something.

And now my instructors will probably be mad at me for writing that. I never said those thoughts were based in reality. They’re just feelings that bubble up sometimes. I really want to test for second degree later this fall, but at times I’m tempted to not go back at all. Why bother if I’m so awful at it?

Sounds like I have a good old fashioned case of Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome, or Imposter Phenomenon, was first identified in the 1970s and is typically occurs among people who find it difficult to accept their successes and often question whether they will be found out as a fraud. In my case, I think I’m a crappy black belt, and I’m just making a fool of myself by continuing to show up at the dojang. It’s even more debilitating with my personal friendships and relationships and one of the reasons why I’ve lived a very isolated private life up to this point.

Imposter Syndrome is also typically seen among high achievers, so maybe I’m just a self-centered Alpha Female looking for reassurance. Maybe I’m just a big jerk.

I’ve never really had a real case of Imposter Syndrome in the workplace, which is stereotypically where it tends to manifest. I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve panicked because I didn’t know what to do or didn’t feel like I was up for a big task, but I found ways around them and kept going. I never let work anxieties affect how I felt about myself, and as a result, my confidence has grown as I’ve matured professionally, which I think has at least partially contributed to my continued success.

On the surface I keep up a good front of being seemingly put together with advanced education, career success, owning a home, and the added bonus of being physically attractive, at least by societal standards. I didn’t do any of those things to impress anyone, though. I wanted to build my own life and figured early on that I wouldn’t have any support so I charged ahead solo. Things fell into place by happenstance and hard work. I liked school. I liked to work. I liked to exercise and pick out stylish outfits and make myself look nice. Good stuff just happened to ensure from that. That front has helped me hide my true feelings, but in a way, they’ve trapped me into that image as well. I look very good on paper, but now I can’t let down the facade.

I think the difference between my work life and personal life is that with work, as much as I care about the people there and as much as I love my job, there’s a healthy sense of detachment. I could drop the mic, walk away, never talk to any of them again, and never give a thought to that part of my life again and be totally fine. I’d still be me and feel just fine about myself. I’ve always felt that way when it comes to my jobs, and as a weird result, good fortune seems to follow. It’s effortless.

Here’s a good example of Imposter Syndrome creeping into my personal life: shortly before I went back to taekwondo I briefly dated a guy who seemed like a great catch. He was handsome, fit, charming, funny, and owned a business. He seemed to have it all together…on paper anyway. The sad thing was I could never relax and be myself around him. I always questioned how I looked or what I said. I wondered why a guy like him was with me. When was he going to become disappointed in me and ultimately reject me? Why did he even want to date me in the first place?

I didn’t think I was good enough for him, and that is still difficult to admit. It makes me sad that I thought so little of myself. I’m sure he saw a lot of good qualities in me, but I was too mired in self-doubt to see what he saw. I ended up blowing it by overreacting over something minor, and I sabotaged the relationship as quickly as it began. In retrospect it was what needed to happen, and I couldn’t care less about that guy now, but I do remember the lesson I learned. The best thing that came from that failed relationship is that it catapulted me into the best thing that’s ever happened to me even though I kind of have a love/hate relationship with taekwondo right now.

While professionally I’m open to opportunities and possibilities and actually think I deserve them or at least have earned them, I don’t allow myself to relax and enjoy the ones I experience personally. Deep down I’ve never felt like I was good enough. I knew I was capable of being loved, but in the back of my mind I didn’t think anyone would want to stick it out with me for the long haul, whether it was a friendship or a romantic relationship. Guess what happened? As a believer in the Law of Attraction, I set myself up for failure.

The people I care about probably don’t know that I struggle frequently with old harmful emotional habits such as defensiveness and fearing rejection (well, until now. Oops. Hi, y’all.)…or maybe I wear my heart on my sleeve and they’ve known all along. This is so frustrating–as much work as I’ve done on myself over the past seven years, I still catch myself wondering if their fondness for me is conditional and temporary. My mind latches onto every thing said or unsaid (it loves to dig it claws into the unsaid) and analyzes the crap out of them and keeps me up at night with its silly notions and heartache-inducing, trouble making nonsense. Those bad habits have caused me so many problems in the past that I inwardly work overtime to control them.

Just as I am tempted to shy away from taekwondo so I am not faced with my own failure (at least in my skewed perception), I am tempted to shy away from the very people I care about. Why bother? They’re going to find out that I’m not that great and come to the conclusion that I’m not worth hanging around, right?

I know I am a good person and worthy of love and friendship, but old deeply ingrained habits die hard. I don’t want to burden the people I care about with these thoughts and feelings mostly because they aren’t real. They are lies and fears cooked up by the parts of my mind that I haven’t yet gotten under control. They’re not even fully formulated thoughts. A lot of it is good old fashioned, reactionary anxious garbage that doesn’t need to be dragged out in front of company.

Disclaimer: I didn’t write this for sympathy or reassurance.

I know a lot of stuff that flows through my head is bullshit that makes my life unnecessarily difficult. I’m simply admitting what I’ve figured out.
Carry on…

When does self-consciousness morph into self-centeredness? Am I a decent person currently plagued by doubts but sincerely trying to overcome them or am I an egotistical maniac just dismayed that I’m not being adored and worshipped? Did my self-consciousness make me inadvertently shoot myself in the foot and sabotage those relationships I supposedly cared about?

Did I just out myself to the people I truly care about? What if they find out that I really don’t have it all together? What if they don’t care and still love me anyway, but I’m too blind and selfish to recognize it? If I really loved the people I claim to care about, I would trust them to love me back, and even if they didn’t, I’d still be okay with who I am.

My mentor has told me more than once that what other people think about me is none of my business. Whether they love me, hate me, or simply don’t care about me isn’t a reflection on who I am or the qualities I have. Easier said than done, but I try to keep that in mind. It seems to work in my professional life, and as a result of being detached, confident, and carefree, my work life has been on an upward slope since my early twenties. I’m reaping rewards without seemingly trying at all.

One of these days I’ll feel that way about my personal life too. I won’t question whether someone cares about me. I won’t doubt myself in the dojang. The scary truth that just occurred to me is that to be totally free and happy in my personal life I need to be able to drop the mic, walk away at any moment (from friends, taekwondo, whatever), and still feel whole and satisfied and confident in myself even if I lose what I think I love the most. Even if I’m found out.

But you know what? I’m awesome, no matter what anyone thinks or doesn’t think.

I’m ready to drop the mic.

 

Can I Live Without Taekwondo?

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I haven’t been to taekwondo class in over a week. Not by choice–a sinus infection thanks to Texas allergies knocked me back pretty hard. I was thankfully able to attend a lovely banquet for the U.S. Taekwondo Grandmasters Society in Dallas last Saturday, but other than that my participation in the taekwondo world has been nil.

I haven’t done any forms at home, I haven’t mentally worked through my self defense techniques, I haven’t watched any training videos. My uniforms are all washed and neatly folded in a drawer, and my belt is coiled in my duffel bag, waiting for me. I didn’t do anything related to my practice. It seems like I can live without taekwondo. Or so I thought.

I talked to some of my classmates and instructors off and on for a few days, getting the gossip and funny stories about things that happened in class. By the end of the week communication dwindled to a trickle and finally to nothing. Having been burned several times in the past by giving my heart too freely, I’m pretty gun shy about pursuing communication with people who don’t appear to be very communicative. So I didn’t bother. I was too stubborn to reach out. Maybe I should have been the one to call, text, or even stop by, but I was too afraid of being rejected. Decades of hurt and mistrust overtook me and poisoned the relationships with people I love. Apparently they can live without me too.

Boredom set in, then an aching loneliness, then depression. I have cabin fever. Other than a ballet barre class yesterday I’ve been too tired and congested to exercise. I’ve hidden in my office during most of the workweek. I’ve been reading voraciously during all my time at home, taking full advantage of having a well-stocked library in my house. I’ve written in my journal a lot. I began mixing substances just to get the night over with, not really caring what effects they’d have on me.

To my horror I’m tempted to wrap my protective cocoon around me tighter and mutter, “Fuck all of you, I’m done,” when what I need the most is my familiar dojang and friends. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go back at all. I’m safe at home with my books and my mood-altering substances. I’ve whittled myself down to 110 pounds and feel especially elated every time I step on the scale. I could get used to this. I’ve sunken into isolation before, and I’m very good at staying there. Maybe the relationships I thought were solid are just as superficial as all my other ones. Hiding in plain sight is easier than it sounds. Taekwondo is just an addiction that’s been masking my other addictions.

I’ve made the cruel discovery that not even taekwondo, what I thought was my saving grace, can fulfill whatever it is my heart is looking for. I was just clinging to it, like I had to other things or people, to make myself “happy.” I have to generate that within myself.

I can live without taekwondo, and taekwondo can certainly live without me. How arrogant of me to think that I’m an essential part of the school, part of the gang, one of the boys. I’m only a first degree black belt, just a student who plays dress up as teacher once in a while.

But I don’t like how I feel without taekwondo. I still need it. I’m heartbroken without it, yet I don’t like that I feel so vulnerable to admit it. I see how rapidly I declined without it in only a week. I’m angry that it has such a hold on me that I fall apart without its constant presence in my life. Will the spell be broken once I’m back in class?

Little Black Belt is Three! My Favorite Posts From the Past Year

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Hello readers! Today celebrates THREE YEARS of my blog! Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and supporting me on my continued taekwondo journey. During the past year I cut my teeth coaching at a few more tournaments, proudly saw fellow students test for and receive their black belts, wrote several guest posts for the martial arts travel website BookMartialArts.com, and I even had two guest writers contribute to my blog!

To celebrate my blog’s third birthday, here are my favorite posts from April 2016-April 2017:

1. Getting Fat Shamed as a Size Four (April 2016) One of the most popular posts of my blog and one of the most difficult for me to write. I didn’t let a humiliating insult keep me down.
2. 10 Signs You’re Dating a Female Martial Artist (June 2016) This one always shows up in my blog stats for some reason. People keep reading it. If and when I’m ready to date again maybe I’ll refer them to this post.
3. You Can Rest on Your Laurels, But Don’t Stay There Too Long (July 2016) A lesson I learned from my musician brother. 
4. Why I Like Mean Girls (August 2016) My instructor has a knack for turning his female students into mean girls, and it’s awesome. This post explains why.
5. When Life Takes a Swing at You (September 2016) Shit went down in my personal life, and I maneuvered through it like a black belt.
6. Turning Lemons Into Limoncello (October 2016) The second worst yoga class of my life taught me a valuable lesson in self-reliance.
7. Teaching Means You’re Learning for Two (December 2016) The most meaningful part of being a black belt is sharing what I love with others.
8. In Defense of Complacency: When Good Enough Is Good Enough (December 2016) Another popular post that argues the case against striving for perfection every single time.
9. Channeling Your Power: When Brute Force Just Doesn’t Cut It (February 2017) How teaching a teenager the nuances of poomsae helped me appreciate the nuances of approaching life’s challenges.
10. Don’t Forget Where You Came From (Feb 2017) The case for always being a “good white belt.”

So…I Stopped Eating Meat

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I haven’t eaten meat for the past three months…well, six months, really, but with a caveat. I stopped eating meat on September 12, 2016. Exactly two months later I made an exception for a gyro, pastitsio, and souvlaki at the local Greek food festival and later meatloaf for dinner. Worth it. Gyros, you guys, come on, gyros. Then I went right back to not eating meat. I had a little bit of meat over Thanksgiving and Christmas, and when I got on the plane to fly back home after the holidays I was done.

Before I move on, let me just do my instructor and other Texas friends favor and yell “HIPPIE!” Yes, yes, I know. I am a hippie.

Going vegetarian was not difficult for me. I’ve done it before, and even during periods when I ate meat, I rarely ate it every day. It’s not so much that I’m giving up meat (and most of the time dairy, but I’m still hanging on to my local farmer’s market eggs), but rather, I’m taking the opportunity to eat a boatload of vegetables and fruits plus keep up the good work with whole grains and nuts. I’m much more likely to make vegetables the star of the meal when meat isn’t an option.

Meat and I just don’t work well together. It tastes good, and I’m daydreaming about a gyro right now as I write this, but it’s not nice to me, especially beef. One year I spent a week with my then-boyfriend’s family at Christmas. While his parents were fabulous cooks, nearly all the meals were centered around their hearty Bolivian diet of beef, white rice, potatoes, and thick bread. By the end of the week I felt very sick, heavy, and unable to digest anything. I felt awful. The starchy carbs didn’t help, but I knew it was the beef that was doing a number on my digestive tract. I’d never craved green vegetables so much in my life.

Sometimes I can’t even get meat down into my unhappy digestive tract. Just about every time I eat beef, chicken, or pork, no matter how tender it is or how tiny of a bite I take, it gets caught in my throat. I’d rather not be strangled by my own food. (How ironic would it be if I choked on a baby octopus?) Plus—and this is a big reason—I’ve seen and read way too much about factory farming and slaughterhouses to in good conscious continue eating meat from nationwide producers. And I still occasionally eat dairy and eggs and own several leather accessories and pieces of furniture so I’m not going to pretend to be absolved of being involved in this process. I do what I can even though it’s minimal. My blog is not my political platform, so I’ll leave it at that. You can learn more on your own if you choose.

I can hear you asking: But you still eat fish, right? NOPE. I hate the taste and smell of fish and never eat it anyway, plus I’m allergic to shellfish, so giving that up was a non-issue. I don’t get people who claim to be vegetarian but proclaim they still eat fish. It’s from an animal, therefore it’s meat nor do I understand that question when I say I follow a vegetarian diet. My brother and I used to argue with our Catholic Sunday school teachers that eating fish on non-meat days didn’t make sense. Have you ever seen a fish gutted and cleaned alive? I’ve seen plenty, and the fish are PISSED. It’s an animal, duh! I guess if I wanted to do penance I’d choke down some fish because I hate it so much. Forgive me, Father for I have sinned, let me just skip the Hail Marys, hold my nose, and eat this disgusting packet of tuna so I can be absolved of my sins…

I feel good! I’ve lost nearly 10 pounds over the past few months. Some of that was due to some unexplained stomach problems, but I think not going to Arby’s and Jack in the Box and eating more fruits and vegetables helped.

But where do I get my protein? I get plenty of protein; I’m just fine. Animal products are not the only source of protein. I still eat eggs, plus avocado, nuts, tofu (to the point that I actually crave it, mmmm!), beans, lentils, almond or coconut milk, seeds, and of course, God’s gift to humanity, peanut butter. More plant-based food sources than you think have protein such as quinoa, steel cut oats, leafy greens, and broccoli…yes, really!

So what DO I eat? More like what DON’T I eat! I eat just about anything other than meat of course, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and eggs and cheese on occasion (and chocolate…and alcohol). I’m not vegan although my diet ends up being vegan many days. I have plenty of energy for the taekwondo classes I attend 4-6 days a week. And I don’t care what some of these purist fat-phobic hippies in the vegetarian/vegan world say, I’m not giving up olive oil. Not because it’s a source of healthy fat but because I’m ¼ Italian and cook everything with it. I can’t give up olive oil now, not while a picture of my Nonon is glaring at me from my living room mantelpiece.

I try to stay away from refined carbs and processed foods, although I have to have a little bit of the junk poison from time to time…okay, sometimes more than a little bit. I once knew a “vegetarian” who only ate mac & cheese and cheese pizzas so it is possible to avoid meat and still have a very unhealthy diet, but I haven’t quite fallen that low yet…well….Uh…I had a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for dinner Sunday night and okay, so I had a grilled cheese sandwich and fries Monday night, but that was after a REALLY hardcore taekwondo workout, shut up, whatever! (Sigh) Was it vegetarian? Yes. Was it full of helpful nutrients? NOPE. Will I eat that stuff on the regular? Nah, probably not. I did put fresh raspberries in my cereal and used an almond/coconut milk blend. That should count for something, right?

During my little meat-eating holiday interlude did I my mother’s delicious Thanksgiving stuffing made with Italian sausage? OH HELL YES. Did I eat her Christmas Beef Wellington? F-ckin’ A, you know I did, and I even took on the job of wrapping the tenderloin pieces in puff pastry. If I go to someone’s house and they make a special meal just for me that includes meat, will I eat it? Yes, I probably will to be polite although I’ll be piling on the veggie side dishes. But 95% of the time I’ll pass on the meat and load up on plants. But then there’s this BBQ place I’ve been stalking for a while. As a Texan it’s my duty to try it out…maybe on my birthday. Just one time.

So what did I eat today? I had egg and veggie tacos for breakfast with some raspberries on the side, brown rice/quinoa pasta with homemade marinara for lunch plus a clementine, and Thai vegetables and tofu with brown rice for dinner and a big fat juicy navel orange afterwards. Yummy and satisfying! (And a tad more healthy than sugary cereal and fries)

Should you go vegetarian? That’s entirely up to you. If you’re into fitness and want to explore a vegetarian diet a good blog to check out for tips is No Meat Athlete by Matt Frazier. Frankly I don’t care what anyone else eats so I’m not going to judge anyone for eating meat. Like sexual orientation, reproductive choices, and religion, what other people eat is none of my business. I just know this works well for me. If you’re looking for something to shake up your diet and help you eat healthier, then consider joining me on the green side and giving a plant-based diet a try.

My How You’ve Grown

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Silence surrounded me other than the ticking clocks I love to have in my home. Afternoon sun poured into my living room as I settled into my recliner. On my lap was a plain brown envelope–my medical records. One of my physicians, a specialist I’d been seeing for years for a chronic condition, had passed away suddenly. I wanted to get a copy of my records so I could easily transition to another doctor, but I mostly wanted to see them just because. 

I was a little nervous about reading my doctor’s notes this afternoon. I was very sick when I first started seeing him. By the time I found him I was desperate. My health had rapidly deteriorated, and I was nearly out of options. I slowly opened the envelope and pulled out the stapled packet of notes. I was curious about his initial thoughts the first time he met me. He saw what my illness had done to me. He’d seen me through remissions and relapses. Sometimes he seemed concerned or disappointed with my ongoing struggles. Sometimes he was cheerful and proud of my progress. What had he really thought of me?

The last time I saw him, though, we agreed that I’d made vast improvement over the last five years. And I have. I am not the same person I was when I first saw him at age 32…or am I? Had I really changed? Were my records going to reveal the piece of me that I’d worked so hard to fight off? Was it still there? Had I made as much progress as I’d thought? Had I really gotten my health back, and would I never be able to let my guard down?

His notes not only told the story of my treatment and healing but of all the good things I did with my life during a very difficult period. His first entry of notes mentioned that I was in the process of buying a house. Later entries mentioned closing on the house, changing jobs, and completing my MBA. The next to last entry mentioned how excited I was about receiving my black belt. That one made me smile and tear up a little. I wasn’t so bad after all. I really had done something good with my life despite the ways my condition threatened to hinder me.

I have him to thank for helping me get my health back, and even more so, I have taekwondo to thank. He was a huge help, but taekwondo was the clincher. It helped me get my life and my health back on track. It is the absolute best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Getting me well was a team effort.

When I cross paths with my departed doctor in the next life I hope I’ll have a chance to shake his hand and tell him that I turned out okay.

Black Belts Can’t Have Eating Disorders, Right? I Mean, That’s Just Silly…

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Maybe I can cinch this belt just a little bit tighter…

114.8

That was the number blinking up at me from my digital scale at 8:57 PM a week or so ago after three hours of taekwondo training. I smiled. It was exactly one pound less than it was at 5:21 AM that morning. Ahh. At least I had that.

Then I ate a small meal, sat on my bed and cried for a while, and took some medicine to help me sleep. That’s been happening more often lately. My weight had nothing to do with my mood (other than giving me a little boost), but I’ll get to that later.

So I guess I have to eat (ha ha, no pun intended) my words a bit. A few months ago I wrote this big manifesto about how I was finally over the disordered eating and body image problems that had plagued me since I was thirteen years old. I stopped restricting calories, ate whatever and whenever I felt like it, and got back into cooking traditional Italian dishes. I was really proud of myself.

Then some strange gastrointestinal problems hit me around Christmas and lasted up until…hmm…about this time last week. I had to follow a healthier, more whole foods diet and cut out junk food. I love junk food but eventually lost interest in it other than an occasional taste. Some days I simply couldn’t eat because I felt too sick. I lost seven pounds, and oh my God, you guys, it was like the hit of a drug. Seven pounds doesn’t sound like much, but I’m 5’3” and small to begin with, so it’s noticeable. I look leaner, and my clothes fit better. I’ve been this weight before, and I was fine. I LOVE being smaller. I LOVE the way my clothes fit. Those dropping numbers on the scale were emotional cocaine. I was triggered, y’all.

I can get addicted to things very easily, and weight loss is one of them. I like seeing the “trouble areas” get leaner. I like seeing the muscle tone peek out around my triceps and the ripples on my upper back. I like that I recently had to buy a smaller size pair of jeans than I’d been used to. I like that my tight lycra stretch pants I always wear to the gym are just a wee bit looser than usual.

It’s not like I don’t eat. Here’s a typical day for me: bowl of cereal with banana and raspberries and maybe half a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast. Tortellini with vegetables for lunch and a spicy chickpea and tahini wrap for dinner. I just hate feeling full. I wonder if I should have had half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of a whole sandwich after class tonight. Maybe I should just eat a protein bar after taekwondo practice, especially on my late nights. Or maybe…

Let’s get something straight. I don’t binge, and I don’t purge. You guys, I eat, I swear…but maybe, just maybe, I could get the number a little lower. Just for fun. Just to see if I could do it. Just to have a low baseline so I could put weight back on. That’s okay, right?

To me it’s not that big of a deal. I’m not “skinny.” I have curves and muscles. Skinny girls look like prepubescent boys. I’m fine. I’m still flabby in one area so I HAVE to sacrifice everything else to make that part thinner, right? I have it in my head that I’m deceptively thin: I look tiny and fit from the outside but up close it’s a different story. Who is going to be attracted to me if they find out my secret? Am I right? (Then again I’ve never had any complaints other than that one time you can read about here.)

And it’s not like I’ve ever had a full-blown eating disorder. Well, there was this one time in high school where I exercised excessively for one summer. I mean, it stopped my period for three months, and I barely slept, but I was fine. I scaled back once I got into my senior year of high school. I started eating more, but I just exercised a lot and never really “purged,” so that shouldn’t count, right? If I’m ever vomiting it’s either because I’m drunk, have food poisoning, or have a very rare stomach flu. I won’t throw up perfectly good food.

And I guess I’ve kinda had a mini version of anorexia over the years, like that one time I got down to 108 pounds right before I started taekwondo…but I mean, it didn’t cause any lasting damage, and I didn’t think I was THAT thin. I didn’t have heart palpitations or get that fine layer of hair all over my body. My face was haggard, my clothes were baggy, and coworkers asked me if I was sick (of course I lied and said I was fine)…but my stomach still wasn’t flat and I still had cellulite on my thighs, so it doesn’t count, right? You can’t be “skinny” with a tummy and cellulite. Why didn’t they see what I saw? AMIRIGHT?? I can’t even do anorexia properly. Food is just too good.

I don’t have an eating disorder; I have disordered eating (it’s different) and some lingering body image problems. That’s all. I mean, it’s just this one problem area I can’t get rid of, so it’s okay for me to continue losing weight, right?

Obviously I am in a state of denial.

Those of you who have been reading my blog know I’ve written about strength, confidence, and loving yourself. Was I bullshitting all of you to mask my own insecurities? No, not really. Whatever I’ve written has made perfect sense at the time. I believe all of that, but obviously I just can’t allow myself to truly feel that way.

I know damn well this current period of restricting really doesn’t have anything to do with controlling my weight. Clamping onto my recent weight loss that originally was unintentional and now intentionally trying to stay thinner is my way of coping, just like it always has been throughout my life. There is something deeper emotionally and mentally going on, and I’m using my body as a way to gain control of the situation.

I’ve identified what’s bothering me, but I won’t share that here. I won’t even share it with the people I’m closest to. I have to keep up my responsible, high-energy, high-achieving front because there is absolutely no one to pick up the slack if I fall down and have to give in to what’s troubling me for a while. There never has been, and I don’t trust anyone to fill that role. If you ask me if I’m fine, I’ll say “Yes,” so don’t bother.

I’m taking a huge risk by admitting this here. What will my coworkers think? What will the parents of the taekwondo students I teach think? What will the people closest to me think when they find out I’ve been keeping these feelings from them? I want somebody to tell me I’m okay, but I’m too afraid to ask and be vulnerable. This blog post may seem like a big ole cry for help, but I won’t accept it. I have to keep handling this alone.

This begs the question: Am I a person with an eating disorder who happens to do martial arts or am I a martial artist who happens to have an eating disorder?

I got curious about sports and body image/eating disorders. We typically associate those problems with body conscious activities like gymnastics, ballet, cheerleading, and sports with weight classes such as wrestling. Surely a martial artist, whose practice is based on the tenets of confidence and self-respect, wouldn’t be capable of succumbing to the tempting, lying, hate-spewing devil of food restriction and excessive exercise. Right?

Yeah, they do that too. Some of them anyway.

Dangerous practices of cutting weight are well-known in certain martial arts arenas, such as professional MMA fighters, so I didn’t want to focus on that. I’m more interested in the everyday martial artist, the people who have jobs, school, or family obligations, and practice martial arts as a very enjoyable past time.

The problem was I kept running into dead ends. I used to do medical research for a living, so trust me, I dug. Research was either tied to professional athletes, or the studies on perfectionism and athletes was more generic rather than focused on a specific sport.

So what does the lack of evidence mean? Am I the only martial artist who has body hangups? Where are the other stories of struggle? Am I a bad black belt because I’m insecure and don’t always appreciate my badass black belt body? Am I setting a bad example for other martial artists? Some days I don’t feel like I deserve my black belt, and not just because of my body hangups. This makes me question whether I can handle it or not. Should I even be testing for second dan this fall if I can’t get my shit together?

Okay you guys, don’t worry, I won’t REALLY starve myself, but if I didn’t have sports to keep me honest I might very well go over the deep end. Here are all the reasons why I’m fine, no really, I am:
(1) Food is hella delicious, and I like to cook
(2) I need fuel for swimming and taekwondo, which are two very demanding sports
(3) I need good cardiovascular health to hold up during cardio drills and sparring
(4) I don’t want to lose the badass muscle tone I’ve built up over the years doing taekwondo and leg-blasting physical therapy exercises
(5) I need strong bones to keep me intact when I slam into other people…or get slammed into the floor
(6) This anorexic bullshit is for white emo teenage girls, so that’s not really what I’m doing, amiright? I’m too old to have this problem.
(7) I’m too responsible to totally ruin my life, as tempting as that is sometimes.

Look, it’s not really about weight. Most days I’m good, feeling happy and upbeat and enjoying my work and personal life, but there’s an underlying darkness. I’m keeping myself extra busy so I don’t have to face the emptiness, loneliness, and restlessness I’ve been feeling for the past few months…. But on the plus side my weight was down to 114.2 the morning after my previously mentioned weigh-in. At least I have that.

The game continues. I’m fine, really. Besides, black belts are too strong for these types of problems…right?

Don’t Forget Where You Came From

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At the end of Monday night’s class my chief instructor asked us what we thought a student needed to do to pass their next promotion test. It was a straightforward question, but everyone was a little stumped. The room was peppered with answers like “practice” and “come to class at least three times a week.”

Of course my mind drifted to adult learning theory: applying what they’ve learned and implementing changes in their technique. I knew that wasn’t the answer he was looking for, but I’ve been in the learning and development business for a while, and I don’t shut off that perspective at taekwondo. Thankfully he spoke up before I could say anything.

The answer my chief instructor was looking for was much simpler. He pointed out one of our long-time students. The student was an advanced rank, but he practiced all his forms every day before class, starting with the ones learned at the lowest levels. This student hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from, even as he inches closer to black belt. My chief instructor widened his eyes at us and planted himself squarely in the front of the training area.

“All you really have is a dyed white belt, whether it’s red, blue, black, whatever. You have to be a good white belt before you can be good at anything else.”

My chief instructor had an interesting perspective that I inherently “knew” but hadn’t meditated on in quite some time. Everyone in the martial arts world has heard the phrase (and seen the accompanying memes), “A black belt is a white belt who never gave up.” We can all rattle it off and have probably given that little nugget of wisdom to other students, but do we ever think about what it really means?

My last post was about a child who was right at the beginning of his taekwondo journey and taught me a lesson in grounding myself in the basics. It’s easy to get caught up in the more complicated (and to some, more fun) stuff, and it’s also easy to become complacent and even a little cocky…but when you think about it, everything we do stems from what we do as white belts—stances, blocks, kicks, and strikes. If you don’t master the basics they will come back to bite you later on, and it weakens your practice as a whole.

Besides taekwondo basics, the white belt mindset is something to consider revisiting. As I said in a post from 2014, “When you are a white belt your mind is open and your heart is humbled and ready for learning. You pay close attention to the new information you’re receiving and pour your efforts into practicing your new craft.” My inner white belt reminds me to maintain a simpler focus: what I’m learning, practicing, improving in this moment. I don’t need to worry about being perfect or ruminate on something that happened in the last class or admonish myself for not always performing at the level I think a respectable black belt should be.

I’ve been a white belt twice in my life—once when I was ten and brand new to taekwondo, and again when I was thirty-three and looking for a fresh start in more ways than one. Both times I was just happy to be in the dojang, no matter what I was doing or what I looked like. I loved learning new things and making time to practice. More responsibility and complexity comes with a black belt, but I will always be a student.

As an adult returning to taekwondo I desperately needed to change my life, and I knew in my gut I’d found the answer. Getting a black belt didn’t even occur to me at first. What kept me coming back was how learning and practicing in class made me feel, not the color of my belt. Of course I hotly pursued black belt later, but the real reason why I do taekwondo has never left me. When I test for second dan this fall I will do my best to keep an open, curious mind and an open, humble heart, just like a white belt.

Reflection: When can you use the white belt mindset in your life? Where do you need to slow down, refocus, and ground yourself?