By Jordan Feigenbaum
“Just keep putting in the work. You’ll be fine. You’re strong. You’ve got this. Focus, Jordan.”
This was just some of my internal dialogue on the 25th of September last year (2014). I had just gotten done with some squats, which felt terrible at the time. They were heavy, painful, exhausting, and just about every negative descriptor you can conjure up- I was feeling that.
Those feelings pretty much describe my training during much of that particular meet prep, but then something even more unusual happened. I remember laying down to do some pin bench presses and I was warming up. For context, I’m usually good for somewhere between 350-400 depending on the rep scheme on this particular exercise. I loaded the bar to 225 for another warm up set and on the first rep as I lowered the bar, I felt a rush of negative emotion come over me. Once the bar touched the pins I threw up, literally disgusted with what I was doing. I remember squirming out from underneath the loaded barbell that lay there on the safety pins and just feeling empty, worthless, and weak.
I remember my eyes welling up wondering what was wrong with me, was I injured? A quick survey revealed no trauma or an obvious bleeding wound so I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to die. As I was going through my assessment to figure out what the heck was going on I stumbled across a clue. I had been kind of “down” for the past few months. I wasn’t sleeping, I had no appetite, I didn’t enjoy training (which I normally love), I felt tired all the time, and I was having a lot of trouble focusing on the task at hand. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks…..I was depressed. (cue dramatic music)
The DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition) gives the diagnosis of depression when five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2- week period and represent a change from previous functioning; with at least one of the symptoms is either 1) depressed mood or 2) loss of interest or pleasure. Other symptoms include 3) Sleep changes (more or less sleep), 4) feelings of guilt, 5) decrease in energy, 6) decreased cognition or ability to concentrate, 7) appetite changes (more or less hunger), 8) psychomotor agitation (anxiety) or retardation, or 9) suicidal ideation. Allow me to use an immature defense mechanism, intellectualization, and say that by criteria I had clinical depression even though I was still a high functioning medical student, an entrepreneur, and I was closing in on a monster powerlifting total. I just felt like I lost my mojo, like even the most mundane tasks required so much effort, and worst of all- that training was a chore. I remember consistently waking up early in the morning, 4:00 or so- on a day that I wouldn’t have to wake up until 5 or 6 to make it to the hospital on time and immediately I would start dreading my workout in addition to my day. Would I be able to hit the numbers I needed to hit? Would everything continue to hurt? Does it even matter?
I realize that in writing this, I am admitting weakness. That’s okay- it’s the truth. While I think that putting some catchy mantra like “Keep pushing, excuses are for the weak” on a graphic of a lifter grinding out a heavy squat would likely be more social media friendly, it wouldn’t genuine- not for me at least. I also wonder why no one comes out and talks about this? I’ve met a lot of lifters who have shared similar sentiments.
We all just chalk it up (at least in public) to being burnt out and that we’ll just keep “grinding” because we #cantstopwontstop. The reality is that sometimes life is hard and it’s difficult to cope and even the strongest amongst us get a little down. Is it “stronger” to keep all this inside- to put up the stoic front for Instagram or Facebook or does it take more strength to share publicly and let others who may be going through the same thing know that feeling this way doesn’t make them weak or a failure? I don’t have that answer at present time.
Jordan Feigenbaum, a competitive powerlifter, holds his Bachelors of Science in Biology, a Master’s of Science in Anatomy and Physiology, is currently pursuing his doctorate in medicine, and owns Barbell Medicine. Jordan also holds accreditations from many professional training organizations and is a staff member for select Starting Strength Seminars. As a competitive powerlifter, Jordan has competition best lifts of a 640 squat, 430 bench press, and 775 deadlift as a 198lb raw lifter. If he’s not in the gym or the clinic, you can find him riding dirt bikes, admiring or purchasing Lululemon, traveling, or reading. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org