This week is a week of epiphanies for me.
Earlier this week I had lunch with my dad, who struggles with that toxic mix of depression and anxiety. That feeling where you can’t stop thinking and worrying about everything, but nor can you find the motivation to do anything about any of it, so you just end up laying around in this cesspit of misery, which is made even worse by knowing that you have the power to change things, but you just can’t find the strength. I’ve totally been there (yay genetics). And I totally understand why he’s in the situation he’s in. After discussing his situation for awhile, I found myself giving him advice, which made me realize how far I’ve come in my own mental health and overall philosophy on life, which was quite the epiphany. My advice to him was that, instead of focusing on not having motivation to do things that he knows will be helpful and make him feel good, take the “should” or “try” from those plans. There’s no longer a question about whether they’ll get done. You’re not going to see how you feel, or plan around Mom’s day. I went full Yoda: Do or do not, there is no try.
Advice that I realize I really do live by now in a great many ways.
I am not a person that excels in any type of physical endeavor. I have always been overweight. I don’t play sports (except that one time in middle school when I played softball and got a concussion from a pop up, but I try not to think about that). And having gotten this far in life, despite the fact that I’ve lost 60 pounds in the last few years, sports scare the hell out of me.
Which is exactly why I recently enrolled in martial arts.
I’ve always loved watching martial arts. It’s like dancing, only there’s a winner (*winks at the Whovians*). Seeing these people – often tiny, tiny people – having so much power and control over the human body has always been fascinating to me. All of the martial arts (but parkour especially) truly look like an art form, and are just beautiful to watch. And then of course when I started watching Arrow, and all these tiny women were kicking ALL of the ass – and it was inspiring. I can (and likely someday will) write an entire essay on why Arrow worked its way into my soul, but one thing I can say is that seeing stories of women learning how to feel more power and control by learning how to fight… well, it resonated, as I was feeling incredibly powerless in my life at that point, and incredibly pissed off. And so my journey with martial arts began.
I’m lucky in that I have a 3-year-old, plus a husband with a black belt in Taekwondo that I was able to hide behind when we went looking for a martial arts school. I was driving the ship, so to speak, because I was the one that really wanted to try martial arts, but those two took all the attention off my complete novice and completely awkward and terrified self. When I went to my first class, I was on the verge of tears the entire time. I had no idea what I was doing, the movements did not come naturally, the classes were complete chaos with so many people at so many different levels, and I was surrounded by teenagers who seemed fully confident while I, the adult, struggled to not run to the bathroom and cry. It was horrible.
But quitting was not an option. Because I knew this was going to be awful and terrifying, and so I took that option off the table before I even began.
I was going to figure out a way to do this, or I was going to spend every Monday and Friday evening miserable.
It’s astounding how that shift in personal philosophy can change your entire life.
I think back to grade school, and how every single day I didn’t want to go, and every single day I knew I had to. I hated it every step of the way, and directed that anger at my parents for making me go, the teachers for assigning work, the superintendents for not calling off school for snow, society for making school a pre-requisite for success. Once I became an adult, though, and some of life’s choices were truly my own, it was way easier to not do things that were hard because… who am I going to be mad at? Myself? I’ll just stay home, thanks.
But the thing is, when I got to graduation in high school, I was beyond proud of myself and extremely happy. Same with my bachelors and masters, and I have no reason to believe the PhD won’t be the same. I’ve had enough life experience now to recognize that while day to day things can be frustrating and disheartening, when you achieve that bigger picture goal, it actually is worth it. Seems like advice from Captain Obvious, but… I’d be surprised if I wasn’t the one that’s struggled with internalizing that message.
So here I sit, mentally preparing for tomorrow when I will test for a belt in martial arts for the first time. For many, I’m sure this isn’t a big deal. It may not carry much weight, or the stakes may not seem high. But for me, just the fact that I am going to test – regardless of whether I actually pass – is a summit I never thought I’d reach. Months of martial arts classes where I felt awkward, out of place, stupid, and graceless, which are kisses of death to a hard-core perfectionist such as myself. Where I had to get lessons from teenagers after class to help me get applications that I just couldn’t get during the regular class time. Where even my martial arts instructor wasn’t sure I should test because I clearly wasn’t confident in my abilities.
Tomorrow, I put all of this behind me and I test. I do. There is no try.
Martial arts is something that I have started because it scares the hell out of me. Because it is uncomfortable. Because it is hard. It would be easier to quit. It would sure as hell be more comfortable to quit. It would be easier to say it’s not for me and move on to something that comes more naturally. Maybe that’s the saner thing to do. But tomorrow I’m going to test for my yellow belt, and even if I don’t achieve it, I’ll know that I dug down deep and threw myself in to one of the most challenging situations I’ve been in in recent memory… and came out the other side stronger.
Regardless of the outcome of my test, I’ve already won.
And that’s a pretty cool epiphany.
Author’s note: Guess who has two thumbs and a yellow belt? THIS GIRL! That’s right… despite the fact that yesterday was one of the hardest days in recent memory, I got the belt.
My sister had surgery yesterday to repair a major blockage in her carotid artery that had already led to a stroke. I was the one that drove her to the hospital at o-dark-thirty and sat at the hospital all day. I knew that this was happening the same day as belt testing, and had mentally prepared as best I could. What I couldn’t really prepare for was the fact that her blood pressure went wonky during surgery and so she ended up in the surgical ICU for most of the day. By the time my parents got to the hospital so I could leave, even though she had stabilized, my level of exhaustion was epic. But I persevered.
When I got to the martial arts school, I had the beginnings of a headache, but I just tried to sit quietly and focus on the task at hand. I got changed and ready for the test. There were about 15 of us that had to test, and I actually thought that the white belts would go first, which would’ve been good. I was ready to get it over with.
Turns out the white belts go last. We sat through black belts, blue belts, green belts… all of which were very impressive. Except… my nerves were real, my exhaustion was really real, and that headache I mentioned earlier was quickly turning into a migraine.
Somehow, and I truly don’t know how, I made it through testing. I had a very serious mind versus body thing happening in terms of the migraine, and I was bound and freaking DETERMINED to get that damn belt. I’d been through so much… I was not going to miss it now because of something as ridiculously random as a headache. So I made it through. And…
I can’t say I passed with flying colors, because I didn’t. I passed with super average colors. But you know what? I got the belt. Despite hospitals, illness, snow, and sleep deprivation… I did it.
And now I’m going to go take a nap.
I’ve earned it.