Tag Archives: mental health

The Real Buttercup

snatch copy

Some days, I don’t want to toughen up.

I just want to be Buttercup.

But single moms can’t afford to be soft.

It was an exhausting week, with monumental occasions and sheer exhaustion culminating in a slight breakdown where I cried in front of the kids, while baking a frozen pizza.

I had an interview Monday in Munich and walked away with a job offer.

I had an interview Tuesday in Nurnberg and walked away with a job offer.

I sold two vehicles, juggling the insane schedule of the vehicle registration & inspection offices, US and German, which were further constrained by US AND German holidays–and all of this business HAD to be completed by May 30th.

I’d never bought or sold a car in my life, and this month, I did both.

But sitting there on the cold kitchen tile, watching through the grimy glass as my comfort-food heated up, I couldn’t help but think about the woman I used to be. She was cheerful (mostly), sweet and soft, blindly ignoring major marital problems so she could keep the happy status quo.

She was quite often miserable and heartbroken, but the facade was there; and she had a sort of Pollyanna gullibility that seems endearing upon reflection.

She was Buttercup.

But that woman has changed a lot; and I find myself wondering if it’s possible to be both tough and soft at the same time.

This is a difficult time, transitioning to a new life, and a million thoughts go through my head: Will I get a life? Will I really be happy again? What will my life look like in five years? Hell, what will it look like next week?

Some days I feel alone. Utterly. Totally. Alone.

My friends and family (who just read that statement) are now saying something like, “YOU are NOT alone–I am here for you!!”

And you are.

But eventually (and rightly so) you fade into the shadows, and step back into your own lives.

And it’s just me again.

Drinking a glass of red wine and writing a blog on a Saturday night.

I suppose the utter alone-ness I’m feeling is simply because I’ve had domineering other-ness for 20 years.

I’d better learn to like myself.

I’ve taken a gamble by trying to carve out a life–a real life–here in Germany. It’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do.

On Thursday, I woke up two hours before my alarm with a stress migraine. I wanted to give up–to lock the door and sleep in my dark basement room and let someone else take care of things for a while.

Then I had one of those fitful sleeps where I dreamed I was in the guest room of my Grandma’s house, where I stayed after my Aunt Kathy died (of cancer…way too early); and Grandma was taking care of my kids while I just slept and slept and slept.

As my alarm chimed, it dawned on me: there WAS no one else to take care of things. And even if I WERE to retreat to Grandma’s spare room, that’s not exactly the life I envision. I have to be tough to make a life for myself.

I need the toughness to deal with bureaucracy. I need the toughness it takes to be humble and ask for help. I need the toughness to weather the emotional storms that unexpectedly drop from the sky like tornadoes.

Buttercup couldn’t handle it.

But the woman she’s becoming…as coach Rob once told me…she gets shit done.

And this is where I am. I am hanging in there; persevering and working for a life of my own. It’s not easy. I don’t like being tough all the time. But maybe someday, when things get settled. When I find my place in this little world. I’ll be able to let my guard down again. Just for a moment. To know that the world isn’t all harsh. That I can trust again. That it’s okay to be happy and not worry about things so much.

Buttercup is still there somewhere. She didn’t die.

She’s just a lot stronger now.

And maybe this new Buttercup was actually there all along.

 

 


Different is Good

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My birthday is perilously close to Mother’s Day, which means I only get one cake. On the bright side, the kids never forget my birthday because every store window reminds them to get something for their Mom.

This year had a different feel to it; and when things have been pretty much the same for twenty years, (to quote Groundhog day): “Different is good.”

My birthday landed on a Thursday–a non-Crossfit day–which meant no birthday burpees for me. Instead, I took the kids to Wurzburg to my favorite Thai food place and afterwards for the best coffee (at a nondescript little hole in the wall) and ice cream in Germany. Interestingly, both places are run by Italians. I’m thankful they brought their beans and gelato north of the Alps.

The difference this year was that there was no spouse to take pictures of me with the kids. It was a strange feeling.

As we walked through the palace garden, it was hard to watch couples strolling along holding hands, or to see a kid riding on his dad’s shoulders. You start to ask “Why can’t we have that?”

Why do I only have a strong espresso in my hand where fingers should be laced?

But questions that don’t have answers only set you down the road to self-pity–not a good place to go.

It’s far more productive to be thankful: for the unique individuals I call my offspring; for the laughter; for the coffee; for the ability to walk and run and lift heavy.

I’m even thankful for the trials because they are forcing me to become the person I want to be.

But I don’t want you to get the wrong impression: my life is not The Notebook (which, for the record, I only saw once and could not stand it).

My life comes with tears that work my abs and moments where I have to pull the car over because my sweet little family is unraveling in the rear view mirror.

I have come to understand that my life ‘before’ wasn’t life at all–it was existence. I did not have some incredibly amazing passionate marriage in which my partner suddenly had medical problems, and I, as the ever-loving, patient wife would care for him and see him through. The hard reality is that things had been messed up for a long time; and I though I wanted things to be better, I was smart enough to have already begun the long journey towards independence, well before the medical problems complicated matters.

I AM a Taurus, which means when something isn’t working,  you either fix it perfectly or smash it all to hell and start over.

That stubbornness, a quality I had loved about myself,  had been covered with twenty years of dust before Crossfit came along to clean house.

I’m thankful it did.

I’m starting to figure out what kind of person I really am–even though I sometimes don’t like what I see. I want to be like ‘good’ people–you know, the ones who always seem happy.

My kids are feeling this too. My youngest and I were talking about how ‘different’ we feel these days–and how it’s almost painful to be around ‘good’ families. I guess part of this whole process is discovering the joy of being a family exactly like ours: figuring out how WE roll and not comparing ourselves to others and sure as hell not WANTING to be like other families.

Our scars show that we’ve been actively engaged in life, not merely witnessing it from a protective bubble.

Different is scary.

But different can be good.

So, we press on, move forward, and scrawl out the first word of the first chapter of this new life. 

 

 

 

 


When Life Gets Real, You Toughen Up

keri back squat

How does Crossfit help you in life outside the box?

I was contemplating this while sitting in a mental health facility–you know, the kind where they keep the doors locked.

I don’t quite understand how PR’ing the day before on my press, back squat and deadlift could help me through 11 hours of emotional hell, but it did.

I was sitting in a red vinyl chair, inhaling the remains of someone’s cigarette smoke, while “Thank You For the Music,” was cheerfully blaring from the stereo.

Six hours before, I had been sitting in a psychiatrist’s office with my husband, and now, I was navigating the admittance process of a German mental health clinic.

My brain was tired from being in nearly constant translation mode (I WISH I were fluent); my emotions were raw, and the tears were being bottled up and saved for a place other than the day room of the mental health ward.

The woman sitting next to me, the one I named “The Imposter,” because she had pretended to be a nurse when we had first arrived, commented on my ‘handy,’ upon which I was crying on virtual shoulders a continent away.

I set the phone down, and she and I had a conversation about cell phones, kids and (I think…like I said, I’m not fluent) sex. Then she got up and went out into the garden, where other patients were walking around or standing there smoking.

Alone and waiting for my husband to get done speaking with the doctor, I wanted to crumple. If you are going to begin an immobilizing crying jag, there’s probably no better place to do it. At least no one would bat an eye.

My life had suddenly gone from a county music song to The Notebook in a single day.

And I was done.

Emotionally.

Physically (not having anything to eat or drink in seven hours).

Mentally.

And though I didn’t know it,  I was little more than halfway through the ordeal.

It was a marathon. Only this time, there didn’t seem to be a beer and a medal waiting for me at the end.

There are times in Crossfit, when my core starts to weaken, my shoulders fold in, and the weight starts to heed the law of gravity as my form degrades. During those times, it’s not uncommon to hear the coach’s voice calling out, “Tighten up!” or “Do NOT set those kettle bells down!” It usually helps. 

This time was no exception.

As I sat in the red chair, looking into the garden through windows marked with two large, greasy handprints, contemplating words like Parkinson’s and dementia, I felt my core weaken. The weight of five worlds was finally starting to push me to the ground.

It sounds sappy and sentimental, but I could hear my coach’s voice, which can always pierce through the cacophony of groans, music and metal in the box, telling me one thing:

Toughen up! 

And I did.

The tears would come later, alone and in the car.

But there, mid-way through the worst day of my life thus far, I stayed strong.

Sometimes the world IS placed on your shoulders.

I’m glad I was ready. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Crossfit: an Assertiveness Immersion Course

weights

A sled doesn’t move unless you pull it.

Sounds simple, right?

But think about the alternative.

What happens if you’re passive about:

  • what you eat & drink
  • other chemicals you put into your body (yes, smokers…I’m nagging you)
  • HOW and when you exercise (*note: I didn’t say ‘if’ you exercise)
  • HOW and when you sleep
  • your spiritual life
  • your job
  • your relationship with your kids
  • love & romance (yes–it’s important too)
  • your finances
  • your present
  • your future

Each of those things (and probably more) requires an active, dedicated, thoughtful effort. 

The result of letting things slide means critical failure at some point. And trust me–it WILL catch up to you eventually.

I’m learning this now, the hard way.

Pieces of my life are falling down around me, and I often wonder how I’m going to claw my way out of the rubble.

But I will.

I know I will.

Crossfit (no topic is too deep for Crossfit) has loosened passivity’s grip on my life and has frequently been the impetus for change.

Being assertive does not make you annoying–it gives your opinion value. Think how your life would be different if you were assertive in the things mentioned above: your health, your relationships, using the present to shape your future. 

At the very beginning of this current personal hell I’m going through, a Crossfitter friend asked me where I saw myself in five years.

I had no answer.

I had never envisioned life five years down the road. I had simply been along for the ride, letting others dictate how the course of my life would run.

I have a five-year vision now. 

It includes relationships, joy, Crossfit, marathons, a simple life, fluency in German, a job I love, a six year-old labrador and lots of coffee.

I’ll also have a deeper appreciation for the things I have. 

I already do.

I have a LOT to be thankful for: my kids, my friends, my family in the US, my always-cheerful labrador, the cup of coffee at my side, and of course, today’s WOD–whatever it may be.

Most of us don’t just walk into a box and do a muscle-up. It takes practice, dedication and a lot of sweat. But at some point, you’ll find yourself doing things you once thought impossible.

Think about one area in which you’ve been passive–and take steps today to change it.

Your future depends on it.


The Secret to Life: Don’t Get Comfortable

comfort

I’ve been comfortable for a long time.

Comfortable, yet miserable inside.

We tend to think that comfort is something to strive for, and we’re even willing to pay a lot for it. But would you pay your soul for it? Would you really snuff the spark within you just so your life could have more leg room?

Years ago, when a family member was breathing his last, hospice gave him two things for comfort: morphine and TV.

Maybe that’s a radical way to define comfort, but when you think about it, we’re all dying. These bodies degrade (some more rapidly than others) day by day. So we need to set goals and keep striving for them. We need to put some muscle behind our dreams to make them real. Making dreams real is decidedly uncomfortable, and often, you find yourself doing things you never thought you’d do.

Nothing illegal, of course.

This isn’t Breaking Bad.

And when I say ‘dreams,’ I don’t necessarily mean things that will make your life ‘easier.’ Sometimes a ‘dream’ is simply living the life you want to live: changing careers, moving to a foreign country, making sure every relationship you have is meaningful in this world of aquaintfriendses.

Relationships are what life is all about–that nuanced give and take of ideas and energy that leaves you feeling like your life has changed someone’s world, even just a little.

My comfort blanket has been thrown back, and as I wake and rub my eyes in the dawn, I can still feel the warmth of the bed, growing cold as I rise. I can’t lay back down and pull the blanket over my head. The sun is starting to shine, and I want to get up and make the most of this life.

It is uncomfortable.

I have many fears.

But I am finally awake.

I understand now, what it means to take care of what you have, whether it’s material possessions or your own body & spirit & mind.

In Crossfit, we tangibly make the connection between hard work and results. It is a lesson that shapes how we live and work and play. But there’s more to it: the community is what makes Crossfit so rich. It taps into that craving we all have to be part of something bigger.

It is ‘constantly varied.’

It is ‘functional.’

It is NOT comfortable.

It IS a metaphor for life.

And it’s good.


Crossfit Isn’t Dangerous–I Am

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My grandma sent me an article about how dangerous Crossfit is. I read it, and like any good Crossfitter, I found it amusing.

Grandmas are supposed to worry; and someday as I’m doing handstand pushups and running ultra marathons, I’ll probably worry about my own grandkids too. It’s kind of the Oma’s job.

While I don’t entirely buy the ‘karma’ idea, I did manage to injure myself after I read the article. But I can’t blame Crossfit–it was entirely pilot error. I can’t pinpoint exactly what I did, but I think there was a problem with my improperly executed push-ups that left my shoulder-blade hurting. And like the stubborn marathon runner I am (pushing through pain) I kept working out until I literally could not put any weight on my left arm whatsoever.

Stupid, I know.

I tend to learn things that hard way (it’s a character flaw).

This shoulder ‘incident’ has left me feeling weak. While everyone else gets to do the WOD, I get the ‘injured runner’s special.’ It’s frustrating to NOT be with my fellow bogatyrs, swinging kettle bells and (as much as I hate the exercise) doing push ups.

It makes me feel weak.

We tend to think a lot about strength in Crossfit, but the ‘W’ word isn’t tossed around much.

That’s because no one WANTS to be weak–that’s why we Crossfit.

Weakness means not performing up to standard or to be structurally compromised or inefficient.

But being weak is so much more. Like strength, weakness is also a condition of the mind. Weakness causes people to roll over and die when things get tough, rather than facing challenges head-on.

We all have moments of vulnerability, moments where we WANT to give up. But the truly strong people will observe the weakness, and then elbow it out of the way as they push past.

Injury is not weakness. In fact, forcing oneself to recover from injury takes more mental strength than pushing through pain. It means staying humble by using a lighter weight; it means complete trust in your coach’s modification; it means willingly, purposely decelerating, though everything in you wants to put the pedal to the metal.

There is strength in self-control.

Given time, most injuries will heal, and with Crossfit, you can bet that you’ll eventually come out stronger than ever.

Weakness of the mind–that’s another story. No amount of time can heal it. Once it takes root, it will completely take over until lives are brambly and tangled with it.

The emotions we have are important outlets. Sadness, when it comes, needs to be recognized and given its proper respect. But it’s not a place to linger; and it’s certainly not a neighborhood you’d want to buy a home in.

So, we move on, without asking ‘why;’ without wishing we could change time; without hoping it was all a bad dream. We just keep moving forward. Though we might hobble along, we still keep moving. We don’t stop. We don’t look back.

Because if we look back, our progress stops cold in its tracks.

That IS weakness.

The best runners keep their eyes on the horizon. They don’t look down, and they sure as hell don’t look back.

If we’ve stumbled, then we learn our lesson, do things better, and make things right.

Being injured might make you feel weak–but that’s not true weakness.

True weakness is stopping to watch the clock run out instead of trying.

Even if you’re injured, you can still move forward, albeit slowly; because in this life, every rep counts.


Hot Bodies Part 3: The Perfect Body

BOL cheer

I was standing there talking to my friends after a WOD when one of them pulls up my shirt, grabs my bauch, and says, “You’re too skinny! You must eat more!”

This is also the same woman who routinely grabs my butt.

Germans can be a very tactile people.

Since this is probably the fourth person to mention my physique recently, I’m starting to think my body IS changing. I’ve never ben called skinny.

But we rarely see ourselves how others see us. When I look at my body, I see the things that still need improvement. Even though some of my size small clothes are now getting baggy, my eyes are first drawn to what I perceive as flaws.

If I had the money, I would get plastic surgery to get rid of the extra Michelin man skin I have around the midsection from bearing 4 kids, and to perhaps reshape a couple of superfluous body parts. But now I wonder if that would even make me feel better?

I used to shop, thinking that a new pair of pants would make me feel different. But that’s as ridiculous as thinking a new pair of running shoes will make you faster. If you’re fast, you’re fast, no matter what shoes you’re wearing. If you’re strong, you’re strong. If you’re weak, you’re still weak. If you’re kind; you’re kind. If you’re an asshole; you’re still an asshole–no matter what your tee-shirt says.

There are two important points here:

Even the most 'perfect' body has room for improvement.

Go up to someone who you think has the ‘perfect’ body. You know…this is probably the person who can do stuff that you can’t do yet. Ask him his weakness–and if he doesn’t think you’re a stalker, he’ll probably tell you. The human body requires maintenance, and that means working on things that aren’t quite up to our standards.

It is a life-long endeavor, and no one ever arrives at some kind of Superhero Valhalla, where we all walk around with tight, properly-bulgy bodies, flashing Hollywood smiles as we fist-bump and where WODS come so easily we don’t even sweat. 

Crossfit is hard for everyone. And the people who seem to do things ‘easily’ have put in countless hours of sweat and possibly blood to get where they are.

Who cares what your body looks like? Can you do things that are hard?

It makes me cringe to hear people talking about Crossfit as a means to lose weight. That’s just stupid. Crossfit is about doing things that are hard. If your body begins to change because of it, then great, but it shouldn’t be your primary focus. This IS functional fitness. That means it is PRACTICAL for enjoying life TODAY and facing challenges that make most people slink away.

I never would have dreamed of moving an entire household of furniture myself had it not been for Crossfit. As a marathon runner, I was in no shape to extract major appliances from a basement. But as a Crossfitter–bring it on!

As the washing machine was pushing me over backwards down the basement stairs, I wasn’t thinking about my chunky thighs, ample posterior or how I look in my running tights. I was thinking, “Tighten up! Tighten up!” I was using every ounce of muscle to keep that SOB from crushing me.

Now that’s functional fitness. 

So, am I losing weight? I have no idea. I could clean the dust and dog-hair off the scale and step on it. But judging from the fit of my ‘skinny’ jeans, which now have the ‘Cross-fit’ (loose in the waist, tight in the thighs), something is changing. My small shirts are loose in the belly (as my friend so enthusiastically demonstrated) and I’ve had the experience of combining  paradoxical words: spandex and XSMALL.

When I hold up the XSMALL TALL pants, I don’t think they’ll fit. But they’re like super pants and they always slide on.

Do I like it? I guess I do, on some level.

Do I care? Not really.

I never set out to go down in size and my goal is not to have a ‘hot’ body (*definitions may vary). Rather, I want to be strong enough to run mountain marathons, and ultras, and lift heavier and heavier, as my hair turns white and the wrinkles take over.

I need to reprogram my mind so that notions of plastic surgery go the way of the bathroom scale.

Crossfit makes you strong.

Sexiness is just a by-product.


Victims, Villains and Heroes: Why Abuse Victims Should Crossfit

victim

Not to build muscle.

Not to ‘feel’ better about how you look.

Not to improve self-esteem.

Not to have the ability to kick ass, if necessary.

Victims of abuse, whether it was sexual, physical or emotional, should Crossfit because, if you have a great coach and a great environment, your mindset will begin to change. And any change that’s going to happen in a person’s life MUST begin in their own mind.

The perpetrator could be hauled off to jail, die from a drug overdose, step entirely from the pages of your history or, worse yet for some, unexpectedly reappear to haunt you. But whatever scenario applies, the victim needs more than anything to transition from the victim mentality to the hero mentality.

I’m not villanizing the victim here, but we’ve all seen cases of perpetual victimness. The 50 year-old putting up with behavior that is borderline illegal simply because that’s what she’s been trained to do. She reacts without thinking, and quite often, she believes that without her, the guy would be completely lost. She WANTS to be needed–and that can be a source of power for her, no matter how twisted it is.

Switch gears to Crossfit. The victim now only NEEDS to find power within herself. By training daily, she seeks and finds that strength. Because her desire for power is being met in a healthy way, she’ll start to see the unhealthy behaviors for what they are–and she’ll have the courage to change it.

I’m no psychologist, but here’s why I think Crossfit helps the victim:

  • She is in a positive, supportive environment where people are only beasts when it comes to the WOD
  • If she’s been sexually abused, the Crossfit environment allows her to see the body for the incredibly complex and beautiful thing that it is, rather than something to be ashamed about
  • The mental focus it takes to lift heavy shit translates into her personal life, and she’ll start to think, “If I can swing THAT kettle bell without setting it down, then I can handle [FILL IN THE BLANK.]
  • She won’t be isolated anymore
  • When she began, she couldn’t do ten wall balls, and now she can do 150–and seeing that kind of progress will show she DOES have the power to change–if she perseveres
  • She’ll have a seriously strong Crossfit family to support her
  • She’ll stop seeking out villains and become her own hero

I’m not saying Crossfit is a cure-all for deep psychological/emotional trauma–if it’s that serious, please, get some help. What I AM saying is that Crossfit changes lives for the better.

I’d encourage anyone who’s been abused to seek both counseling and a kick-ass box.


When the Well Runs Dry, Find a New One: Inner Strength and Crossfit

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One thing I love about Crossfit is that for one hour, the only problems I have include avoiding getting stuck with the bulbous blue 12kg kettle bells (which everyone hates), lifting heavy things over my head without getting a concussion, and seeing how much anti-gravity enhancement I can get (*jumping) during pull-ups.

Crossfit is the ultimate stress-reliever for me; and if you didn’t know me, you might think that after a workout I was on drugs because of that peculiar relaxed bubbliness that shapes my attitude as well as my physiology afterwards.

Life is good after a WOD.

But occasionally stress takes over a part of my brain, and even though I’m not thinking about it consciously, I’m not quite fully engaged in the workout.

Even though I read yesterday’s workout on the blog (at home) and on the board (repeatedly during my warm-up), I STILL asked my partner a million times what we were doing; and I STILL messed it up. I could read and hear and see the workout, but my mind wasn’t tracking.

I hate that feeling.

I also felt weak, but I’m not sure how much of that was physical and how much was mental.

Presses are hard. Yes. They’re kind of like the strict pull-up of lifting because you can’t compensate with momentum. Though I did 30kg in the warm-up, I got ‘stuck’ about shoulder high during the WOD. And once I was ‘stuck’ physically, I was stuck mentally.

I hate that feeling too.

Usually I can dig down deep to some source of molten anger and push through, but that well was dry.

I just had nothing left.

I was physically and mentally empty, and I couldn’t even come up with a great excuse.

If this were someone else’s blog, I would tell her that it’s okay. We all have bad days. That you have to let go of the pain, the stress, the frustration and let it all evaporate like a sweat angel from the floor. Because negativity will only hold you back.

I would tell her that a single day of a lobotomized WOD isn’t that bad, because at least, in the middle of a personal hurricane, with rubble flying at her from every direction, she took time to go to the box and to work some things out in a healthy place.

I would tell her there IS strength in her. She just needs to go Big Oil: cap the old well, move the drill to a different location and tap into a new current that’s flowing unseen beneath the rocky layers.

Strength is there, even when she can’t see it. Even when she can’t feel it or even understand where it’s going to come from. But it IS there. I believe that now.

On Saturday, I’ll walk through my old, empty house with my landlord. It will give me a real sense of closure to my old life. It will be difficult, because ghosts still run through those halls, and it will be hard not to romanticize it.

I’ll have to remind myself of the dusty, dry, hard times too, so I’ll remember to look to the future, and the vast stores of potential waiting to be unearthed.


Love Like a Barbell

barbells

Sometimes I wish love were more like a barbell: something you could wrap your hands around and make it do whatever you want. It could be heavy and slow, or light and fast.

You could hold it to your chest or feel the cold weight bruising your bare shoulders; you could throw your entire body under it, and if you have the strength, it wouldn’t crush you.

If you drop it, you can pick it back up and try again. With steel, you inherently understand that the more you work with it, the higher you can go. Your technique and strength improve with practice.

The barbell cannot be destroyed and is unlikely to be taken away from you while you’re holding it. Nothing anyone says can make it vanish. It’s never hidden or cloaked or suppressed or masked. It cannot die or dwindle or be extinguished.

The barbell is predictable. It does not change. It is always there for the taking. If you get hurt, it’s never the barbell’s fault.

But love is  a different beast.

Unless you’re clinically narcissistic, love involves another living, breathing human being. And human beings, as we all know, tend to make messes wherever they go. But that’s what makes love, love.

Its unpredictability thrills you or breaks you. You never know which it will be.

The interplay of mind, body and emotion is far more complicated than the sleek, sturdy silhouettes of iron.

That’s probably what draws me to the iron. Whether it’s the barbells or the kettle bells, the heart races, the blood flows, chemicals are released in the brain that make you feel good, elated even. And isn’t that what love is supposed to do?

The barbell is simpler.

Cold, yes. Unfeeling, yes. But simpler. And sometimes we need a break from the emotion, the drama, the heartache, the uncertainty of love.

Sometimes we just need to lift heavy shit.

For all the differences, however, there is one way in which love IS like a barbell: if you are lucky enough to have it in your hands, you can hold on tightly and do something great with it.