On Saturday 20th April I was at Trojan's gym in Bristol for the Southern Area qualifiers for Britain's Natural Strongest Man 2019.
Last year I tore my bicep on the Atlas Stones and had to pull out.
The top 3 spots in the < 105kg category go through to the finals.
This year I didn't qualify.
Here's the run down of my performance in the BNSM comp.
Not the result I wanted and made some costly mistakes. Simply didn't perform to par on the day, and know what I need to do to correct it.
Regardless, I had fun at the competition, and only came away with minor injuries. It was a strong field of ten athletes in the 105kg category and we were often separated by only 1 rep or a second or two.
I was asked, do I know where I came in the competition? I do not, and for me it doesn't matter. Simply because my objective for the competition was to not get injured and to qualify.
I needed a top 3 spot, which I did not achieve, therefore to me, my place is irrelevant.
I could make up a story as to why I didn't perform or "how close I was" but the reality is whether I got 4th place, 8th place or 10th place it doesn't change the fact that I did not achieve my objective. I failed to achieve what I set out to do.
Objectively, I failed. Am I disappointed in my performance? Yes. Does it feel great? No it doesn't. I've occasionally got that icky feeling in the pit of my stomach; a coarse blend of shame, disappointment, regret - and I'm ok with that.
Now I know what you are thinking, and many of you will try to put a positive spin on it. There is no need to - because there is not a negative spin in it.
I appreciated all the comments on social media of support, and the well meaning comments attempting to lift my spirits. What I did notice was that at no time did anyone actually ask me how I was with the situation. This got me thinking....
Have we really become so fragile that we cannot handle or admit to failure or disappointment?
Not every cloud has a sliver lining - and that's ok.
Sometime things go great - and that's ok . Sometimes things go shit - and that's ok too. I responded to one of the comments that, "I'm not that fragile that I need to graffiti everything with a silver outline."
I'm built from sturdy stuff.
I think as a culture we need to step away from being positive about everything (falsely) and be able to sit with, and handle the uncomfortable, icky stuff. To be able to lean into failure, not wallow in it, but to be able to allow ourselves to experience the uncomfortable stuff. To grow from it.
In my opinion this is what builds resilience. Success is success. Failure is failure. Lets not confuse the two, but learn from it.
As I tell all those that I Coach, you are not your performance.
Just because you put in a great performance, doesn't suddenly make you a wonderful human being (ask Lance Armstrong) and just because you put in a sub-par performance doesn't make you less worthy.
We need to be able to experience and express our emotions in a healthy way, without trying to correct them, and objectively take feedback from our performance so that we can improve, if we so choose.
The morning after my competition I got up around 6am to watch A Call To Courage by Brene Brown on Netflix (which I highly recommend). In it she spoke about that there are those who live life in the stands, and those who live life in the arena.
The people in the stands are those who criticise and judge others from a place of safety, not having to expose themselves, while there are those who live life in the arena, who live life fully and dare greatly. But to dare greatly you must allow yourself to be vulnerable, and to do this means that you will fail.
Not that you risk failure, but that inevitably you will fail at some point and that's ok.
When we don't acknowledge the icky, or the uncomfortable within ourselves or others, while simply attempting to spray paint it with a silver lining, we invalidate our experience, as if we are not allowed, or shouldn't be experiencing this (cue the internal war and suffering).
This may very well be a short term strategy, but it's certainly not a long term solution.
You can spray paint a steaming pile of shit with silver, top it with sprinkles and stick a candle in it - that don't make it birthday cake.
Not every story has a moral.
Not every cloud has a silver lining.
Resilience is built from struggle.
"Therapists can study the science of grief until it is coming out of their ears, but they can ultimately only promise you a theory."
This past Monday I was to attend what would be the final Death Cafe in West Hampstead hosted by Josefine Speyer.
Josefine is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and the co-founder of the Natural Death Centre (NDC). Her husband who co-founded the NDC with her, was to die in a car accident in 2001.
Josefine set up the West Hampstead Death Cafe back when it was still a seed taking root in the UK, if I am not mistaken it was one of the first. It was for this reason, Josefine's skills and experience that I was to attend all those years ago (Josefine was to remind me that it had been six years).
Since that time I have experienced many more deaths, I have hosted many death cafes, set them up and delivered talks, workshops and coached on bereavement. I have no doubt that if it was not for attending the West Hampstead Death cafe back in 2013 with my Death buddy Liz Wong, things would have turned out very differently.
This final Death Cafe started as all do. Setting the agreement for the event and setting the tone. There were some powerful stories and experiences that were shared. For many, the emotion of their grief was still strong. Some had managed to work with their grief, others were still struggling deeply. What amazed me in all these cases was the power of the human spirit and I was honoured to be in the presence of such vulnerability and strength.
After my sharing my experiences, one of the attendees remarked, "I'm amazed. You've been through a lot, what amazes me is how did you cope?"
I paused. It had never occurred to me before that what I had done was amazing, or in fact that not coping was an option. It got me thinking. How did I cope?
This is what I have learned.
I allowed myself to fall apart. I didn't put on a "brave face" . If I needed to cry I cried. If I needed to scream, I'd find somewhere and let it out the cage. If I needed to hit something or break something I did just that, as long as I didn't hurt myself or others I gave myself permission to do whatever I needed to to get through it.
I had a tight support network. It wasn't massive. Just a select few. Each person served a different role, as it is unreasonable for me to expect one person to be all things. Some just made sure I had eaten, take me out to eat or prepare food for me. Others new the importance of displacing that emotional energy and check in on me to make sure I was still staying active and we'd go train.
I had select friends and family members who I could have deep and meaningful conversations with, and others who I were fun time friends - because even in grief it's important to smile and recognise that you can still be happy. These people were just there to make sure I had a good time.
This doesn't mean I didn't struggle. It doesn't mean that sometimes my life and relationships weren't messy. It doesn't mean that I didn't lose the plot. If I told you that it would be a lie. But what it did mean was that I set myself up for the best fighting chance.
I'm also a firm believer that you are never given anything that you can't handle in life - but how and if you handle it is down to you.
As I said at the Death Cafe
Time does not heal. It's more what you do with that time that matters."
Josefine was quick to point out to those in attendance, "The unprocessed stuff stays in the fridge."
The danger is that if you do not pro-actively deal with your bereavement (whatever that may look like for you) that what stays in the fridge is likely to go rotten - and no one wants that. It may very well be a short term strategy, but not a long term solution.
The death of the West Hamptead Death Cafe was tinged with sadness at the loss of such sacred space for healing that Josefine had created, but also feelings of gratitude for having bore witness to the start and the end of it, and the knowledge that Josefine will continue to do invaluable work around Death and Bereavement with the NDC and her Death Salons.
I'm not sure that I agree with Rio Ferdinand on this point, (to be clear he does advocate getting help from a suitable professional) but I do get his sentiment. The death of someone is like a scar that you carry, it heals, but the skin is never the same.
Now a doctor or nurse may be able to stitch you up and tell you how to take care of the wound to minimalize the scar tissue, but unless they've been deeply cut themselves they'll never truly understand what you are going through, and even if they have, they can only ever get a glimpse of your experience.
This is what it is to grieve.
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If you are are Michael Jackson fan then the image probably triggered the song Smooth Criminal to play fall blast in your mind. It was some years after the songs initial release that I learned that the line "Annie are you Ok?" was indeed inspired by the name of the first aid doll and one of the protocols - who knew?
Yesterday I was on a First Aid Course run by First Aid Training Organisation The course was filled to capacity, with practitioners from all walks of life, from personal trainers, massage therapists, teachers, to those working with the vulnerable. It was easily one of the best first courses I had attended, but half way through the course something happened that I had not expected, or was ready for.
We were pressure tested from the start, given various scenarios to see how we would respond. One of them was an example of an Road Traffic Accident (RTC) as we spoke about the scenario and as I looked a the dummy laying on the floor I began to have flash backs.
In May 2018 I was witness to an RTC where the person died. There is an ongoing investigation which I am a part of. I thought I had dealt with the situation, but it was clear that I hadn't one hundred percent. I began to get emotional as my mind played back the scenario, but I had the awareness to allow myself to feel the emotion and acknowledge it, while still staying present to what was happening right now, in front of me.
Why did I do this, continue, and not stop?
See, as someone who is First Aid qualified there will always be situations that trigger things and in the moment, and I need to be able to manage my emotional state so that I can be of assistance to others (as long as it's in my scope of practice).
My daily practice of mindfulness meditation, and the work I have recently been doing with Mood Cards have been paying off. I was able to hold a space where I could allow myself to experience and acknowledge the past trauma and still function in the present moment, carrying out the first aid.
Processing those emotions and taking care of myself afterwards is equally important - and if you ever experience something similar I urge you to find what works for you. While I had addressed the situation cognitively, I still had all this restless physical energy, so after the course I took myself to the gym to lift heavy, put on some tunes and got stuck it, utilising that physical energy for my benefit. I then went home to journal, utilising the mood cards and them meditated.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because our brain is a fascinating thing, and has evolved over time to protect us in various ways. Sometimes, even when we think we have dealt completely with something cognitively, emotional residue can still show up. This doesn't mean that anything is necessarily wrong. It just gives us the opportunity to get help if we need it, or practice our self care strategies. That day, because I was able to put those things in place, Annie remained ok.