Written by Katey Black
Imagine a 45-pound plate. You’ve more than likely seen one at least once in your life. They’re typically the heaviest weight available in a gym with free weight barbell equipment. A single 45-pound plate is not too heavy. Most people can lift one with both hands and some can with one. Now imagine one of those plates sitting on your chest. Imagine walking around with that weight pressing against you all day long. That’s what anxiety feels like or at least that’s what it feels like to me.
I started to feel the weight of anxiety during my junior and senior years in college. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and received the traditional help for it, for which I am very grateful (talking about your feelings is great!). I am not a medical professional and you probably aren’t, either: if you are experiencing anxiety/depression, there is absolutely no shame in getting help.
After graduation, I started a high stress but a very rewarding job that I absolutely adored but which took up all of my time. Then I lost it. I had to swallow my ego and move back home with my parents until something else came along. While I was very fortunate to be able to have that support, I was still unhappy. Those days were filled with a lot of aimless wandering, Netflix, and food. I felt that old familiar weight start to creep back again and make room on my chest. Despite feeling completely alien, the anxiety was a part of me now and that thought was discouraging, to say the least. The mountain of selfdoubt was forming over again, looming in front of me, and I just wanted to run away from everything. I started to get angry and I wanted to do something . My body and mind were itching for those long days of working toward real goals.
Cut to—of all things—Instagram. I was lucky enough in my first year of college to befriend Leanna Carr (hi Leanna!!) and I saw her lifting posts. She seemed happy and like she was working towards an attainable goal. At the time I had no idea how popular or talented she was in the sport of powerlifting. I just knew she was strong, and I really wanted to feel that way again. I started a powerlifting program and would run into her from time to time, badgering her with a million questions every time I saw her, all of which she patiently answered. I started talking to the trainers who saw me almost every day, and eventually they helped me fix some (truly horrendous) technique issues and answered more of my questions. I would like to take a moment to thank Brandyn, Ken, Wes, Chris, and Kent for providing me with such excellent guidance those first few months. I started posting photos and videos on Instagram to track my progress, and I found a community of people who had the same goals that I did. I found people who were kind, funny, and oftentimes using lifting to conquer their own struggles. I felt less alone and stuck in one place. My career may have hit a standstill, but I was making visible, quantifiable progress in the gym.
Some days that’s all I did, and that’s how I made myself feel valuable—not because I was lifting, but because I was moving forward. Something was happening. Pound for pound. There were days when I had to force myself to get up and go to the gym. My anxiety and depression had convinced me that I was a quitter, and I wasn’t good at anything. I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t. That I wasn’t weak. I wasn’t what that negative voice was saying. I had heard “you’re not strong enough” too many times. I was stubborn, and I had a little fight left in me and refused to quit. Lifting gave me the confidence to try again. It helped rebuild my sense of self, and reconnect me to my body which had felt unfamiliar for so long. I didn’t feel pressed into a “too small” body anymore; I was comfortable in my own skin. I soon found another job and moved out on my own for the first time. Things that seemed daunting before just became simple problems with simple solutions. I found a gym with wonderful people and a coach who is dedicated not just to helping me get stronger physically but who also believes in who I am as a person.
Powerlifting is a sport that requires almost constant positive reinforcement, and my anxiety definitely plays its part in that. It’s very easy to tell how my lifts will go based on how I’m feeling mentally that day. It’s easy to see when fatigue and self-doubt are settling in. What is not so easy is quieting those feelings, and there are days that I have to force myself to believe I can do it even if it feels like I’m lying to myself.
Powerlifting doesn’t allow you to think of anything but the lift in front of you. You must be in the moment 100% of the time. The tricky part about living with anxiety is that it never really goes away. I more or less have just learned how to manage it. I’m in the process of training for a meet that will ideally give me a qualifying total for the USAPL National Championships in October. I still seek a great deal of positive feedback and reinforcement, but I’ve also learned how to shut up and listen to my own confidence. I have to actively choose to make a lift because when I mentally check out, it shows. I know this because my friends are not afraid to call me out on it, and I trust them enough to know that they’re right. I still feel insecure about my weight, and about my body’s ability to handle the physical stress. The reassuring thing is that 2 and 2 will always equal 4, and lifting heavy while eating right will always make you stronger. Silencing the “what if”scenarios that race through my head is difficult, but the math holds up every time. I walk out of the gym most days exhausted and covered in chalk, having defeated another small goal that I once thought was impossible.
There is a beautiful moment that most strength athletes feel during a hard grind. The world goes silent; all of the screaming fades away, music dies out, and it’s just You. Whatever you are is in that moment, that moment when the weight stops moving. It only lasts for a second to the outside world—but to a lifter, it’s a lifetime. It’s one of the few times my mind goes completely silent, except for one voice that sounds a thousand years old; “Push. Don’t stop”. This voice knows I can lift the weight. It knows I won’t fail, won’t get injured, and won’t suddenly collapse from exertion. This is the voice that drowns out the others. The one that resonates with each clang of a barbell and silences the other negative voices.
I am strong. I am not my anxiety. Every plate that I add to the barbell feels like one less that I have to carry around with me every day. In reality, the weight never really goes away—I’ve just gotten stronger and my world has gotten bigger. At the end of the day, the strength remains after everything else has ended, and I’m a part of a supportive community of people. 200 pounds in the U.S. is still 200 pounds in Russia, Brazil, or Australia. Even if it’s measured in kilos.
*** Update: Since writing this Katey went on to win her weight class at her most recent meet is going to USAPL Nationals in October!! ***
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