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.)

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