There is a pressure in life to assume that you are in the most part, supposed to enjoy it. And yes, for many people this tends to be true.
But for a few people, life tends to be a weighing and measuring of the times when you do enjoy it, a sort of counting on your fingers the times when it feels worth hanging around for.
Now this article isn't about mental health, or perhaps the lack of it; no rather it's about how sometimes the cards you are given, are the cards that you pick up.
Why Share This?
If you refer to yourself as a "Corrective Movement Mindset Strength Conditioning and Performance Nutrition" coach, there is the added pressure of feeling like you really should have all your shit together.
Surely working in the "health and fitness" industry means you should be a shining example of both. I also work with climbers, have a "penchant for climbing", and yet my (@usefulcoach) has zero photos of climbing trips (so far), and no it's not because I didn't take my camera.
Now I'm not saying I'm a hypocrite, or that I don't follow my own coaching advice. I'm saying it more complicated than that.
I want to provide an insight into my background, so that perhaps you can better understand what goes on in the background, of someone with all the appearance of having all their shit together.
I spent my early twenties in London, alone and in a lot of debt. These were the 2000's when a bank would give a kid £6,000 of mixed credit and charge you both when you went over the limit, and for not clearing it the following month.
I learnt one expensive survival trick: petrol stations (back then) had delayed card transactions, which meant you could buy groceries on a maxed-out bank card. The only issue being you had to pay an extra £25 bank charge just for the convenience of milk and bread.
I arrived in London in 1999, months after finishing high-school, three years after losing my father, and two-and-a-half years after the death of my older brother in a car-accident. I had enough inheritance to be unemployed for a year, and the plan was to attend the SAE Institute UK to study sound engineering, and what was then called "new media".
Though I finished an SAE DJ course and played my exam in the Ministry Of Sound; by 2002 I could no longer continue college and was in the middle of what would eventually become £18,000 worth of debt. I ended up working a double-shift pub job (they provided cash and meals), but had zero friends and no heady stories of drugs, partying, or relationships.
When I could, I would go out clubbing on my own (Velvet Rooms, Turnmills, The End, The Cross), but never quit managed to meet anyone. Perhaps I was too shy, or perhaps dancing too much.
There was absolutely no exciting reasons for my debt other than being too young and too alone. Quite simply I made poor choices, trusted people I knew too little, and was too arrogant to ask for help from anyone, not even the Government. By 2005 I had sold everything including my turntables, mixers, FX units, and computer which meant my dreams of DJing and music production were over. Thankfully though I was now under the management of a debt aid company.
At the apex of the money troubles, most mornings (00:00-3:00) I would walk around central London looking for dropped change, staring into dustbins, and often sat with the rough sleepers who had it far worse than I ever did. I had managed to meet an estate agent who provided me a room in his half-built flat in exchange for gardening services and office cleaning. Writing this now, I remember he often invited friends over and asked if I wanted to chip-in for shared pizza. I used to say I had already eaten simply because I didn't have the money. I lived with him for months without him knowing how bad my situation was. That was until I broke down in his office one day when he gave me an extra £10 not knowing quite what an impact it would have.
As you can imagine I didn't eat much. I basically survived on cheap plastic pasta, olive oil, litres of milk, and tubs of whey protein. I once had only three onions, and let me tell you, three onions do not a meal make. Subsequently and most likely due to this hedonistic lifestyle, I had the pleasure of passing around two kidney stones every year for the next four years. This period also included two fun rounds of NHS funded "Shock Wave Lithotripsy", but the pilot stank at last game of asteroids, and in 2007 I passed a near 8mm fragment.
Which brings me sharply to the point of this post.
Since late 2007 I have had to deal with an almost constant urge to urinate. It's that tickly pressure-like feeling you have when your bladder is full, you know where you have to consciously hold lest you might let go.
Now going to the shops, going to the cinema, going to restaurants, going to parties, going on holidays, going on dates, going for job interviews, going to training workshops, or even going for a haircut; literally anything that involves going for near 60 minutes without a toilet break, almost always leaves me feeling exhausted, defeated, and sometimes suicidal.
Dealing with chronic pain is one thing, (I have carried many many kidney stones), feeling like you are going to wet yourself at any moment is a whole other terror. You see there is not much you can do in life that doesn't require an extended period away from the toilet.
- Want to change jobs? Nope, not if I am going to have to travel.
- Want to work in another gym? Nope, not if I am going to have to travel.
- Studying, or attend training workshops? Nope, not if I am going to have to travel.
- Dance classes, yoga classes, any classes? Nope, not if I am going to have to travel.
- Going for drinks, dinners, parties, concerts, events with friends? Nope, not if I am going to have to travel.
- Holidays, car/train/plane journeys, hiking, camping, climbing trips. Nope, not if I am going to have to travel.
- Want more help from a doctor or therapist? Nope, not if I am going to have to travel.
- Thinking of asking that girl at the climbing centre out? How would that ever work?
I used to do a lot… I helped start and coach The London Rollergirls in 2006, danced Argentine Tango with Tango Movement, travelled and safaried in Kenya, road tripped and holidayed in Israel, attended conferences, attended weddings, went to festivals, started learning Taijiquan (Master Ding Academy), breakdancing, flamenco (Flamenco Express), helped bring house dance to the UK (isaidfreak.org), and basically everything and anything in-between.
Right now (2017) I currently work full-time as a GNU/Linux System Administrator for a company 15 minutes walk from home. After work and on the weekends I train myself and coach people out of a local gym 5 minutes walk from the office. Twice a week I travel 20 minutes on the tube to the local climbing centre: Arch Climbing Walls. In my free time I spend working or studying out of the office or local shopping centre complex.
Now, all that being said I am not so parochial that I can't travel at all, I can, it just takes a lot of work.
Say you booked a coaching session with me at 9:00AM. 9 out of 10 times before I meet you, I would have spent an hour or so going back and fourth to the toilet until I felt confident enough to coach for over an hour. I probably wouldn't have eaten breakfast either. You wouldn't know it, but I have to do this before meetings, before hosting webcasts, and yes pretty much between coaching clients.
Want to know what my typical Tuesday night climbing looks like? Well I spend about 10 minutes in the office toilet whilst my stomach starts to twist in anticipation of the evening's travel plans. I then walk to the shopping complex which leads to the Jubilee Line station. Depending on my anxiety levels, I spend anything from 20 to 50 minutes in the toilet readying myself before I finally get myself onto the tube for the 20 minute journey to the climbing centre. I repeat this all again when I have to head home.
Let's say I wanted to go on a beach and surfing holiday with my best friend. (A beach holiday is good choice for someone who feels that they may wet themselves). Say my flight leaves at 14:00, I will not eat or drink anything from waking up around 6:00AM until I arrive at the hotel. Before I even get to the airport I would have spent roughly 2 hours in various toilets along the journey. On average I would go to the toilet another 3-4 times before I finally get on the plane, trembling, at which point I am jabbing my house keys into my palm to distract me from the feeling in my bladder. Oh yeah, I am also wearing a male incontinence pad "just in case". I also have to time things very well when the plane is going to land, as I can't spend too long in a plane toilet. It's almost military precision going once in the hour before finally going again before they turn on the seat belt sign.
No doubt you are wondering if I actually pass anything. That's the horror, every single time I pass urine, albeit very little at a time, but just enough to terrify my mind into an anxiety loop. Sometimes the anxiety not to leave the toilet is soo bad, that I literally have to smack myself around or punch myself to distract my mind. I cry a lot in toilets too, often spiralling into absolute despair and disgust at being a young fit guy in such a state of inability.
Really the only time I actually feel secure is when I couldn't give a shit about wetting myself. Like coming back from climbing a chalky sweaty mess. I find looking a sporty mess gives me a break from the worry, hence the joy of a beach holiday, hence you don't often see me wearing black-tie.
But you know, that's not all bad. What's worse is when I lose the battle.
This evening (Saturday) I was really looking forward to learning how to lead climb at The Reach, a 40 minute train journey away. Instead my body vetoed the idea right after I finished my morning client's training session.
Oh, the "veto" is sitting on the toilet for 30 minutes trembling while the mind basically packs it's bags. Years of saying no to invitations and cancelling everything makes you feel pretty low when you can't find the strength to travel at all. All those years of missed opportunities come flooding back and mixing with self-deprecation and despair, spiralling you into an abyss of inability and tears.
You can make a few things on a good day, but when you REALLY want a good day and you don't get one… it's bad, really %"£^"!ing bad.
I know it makes no rational sense, but quite simply it feels like I may wet myself at any moment. I never have, but that makes no difference to the "reality" of the condition. I have given up doing so many things. It's horrible, it is truly horrible.
When the fear is bad, the fear is everything.
You are probably wondering if I am getting help.
I have, I am trying.
I may not ever get better, I realise that.
Perhaps 2 out of 10 times I will make the journeys, and the other times are going to be there to keep me from being conceited.
I have been forced to sit in one place and read hard stuff and think hard stuff for many years. You learn a great deal about yourself (and stuff) when you can't travel.
Life certainly ends up being nothing like you expected, and I think the sooner you learn that the better.
But telling you as a young kid who barely passed high-school, you learn to be useful with what you have.
I may be often stuck in cafes rather than out on the weekends, but I make do with what I can, and what I can do is put all my thinking into helping other people get strong and able.
Being a full-time GNU/Linux System Administrator allows me the freedom to work with just a handful of clients on the weekends. I can devote more of my time to individuals with longer training sessions, and provide training and nutrition programming outside of our time together. Not having to play the numbers game is a joy I don't ever take for granted.
One day I may coach full-time, but for now I enjoy my weekends working out of a local gym walking distance from home, with a few select clients and athletes who give me a hug when we meet, and take me out to coffee, or go to the climbing center afterwards. I have gained a respect and appreciation from people I never thought I ever would. Most of all I have gained wisdom, and also the gift of having that kept in check lest it get out of hand.
I know what I am capable of, and I am legitimately allowed to be proud of that. But I am also well worn in knowing that at any moment a card will be put down, and I have to take whatever it says, to remind me what it's all for, and nothing less.
Maybe I might end up at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics cheering on a few climbers I have helped. But maybe that's out of my hands.
All I can say for anyone still reading this is:
Learn to be useful with what you have been given. Try and find the small joys. Don't compare yourself to others, but rather spend yourself in helping.
I was supposed to be tied to a rope and on a wall today. Instead I sat writing this in the same cafe I have sat in for the last 9 years.
But, I do feel better for it, and now I am off to go bake a birthday cake for my best friend who lives around the corner.
When something's dark, let me shed a little light on it. When something's cold, I wanna put a little fire on it. If something's old, I wanna put a bit of shine on it. When something's gone, I wanna fight to get it back again. When somethings broke, I wanna put a bit of fixin on it. When somethings bored, I wanna put a little exciting on it. If somethings low, I wanna put a little high on it. When somethings lost, I wanna fight to get it back again. – Pearl Jam. The Fixer. 2009.
It has been nearly two years since I wrote this article, you may be interested to know what has happened since: When All Isn't All Right, Some of the Time.