I am fascinated with CrossFit.
I love everything about it. I love the challenge of it, the seeming impossibility of it, and the fact that it has its own language. And I especially love that in CrossFit, hard work can give natural talent a serious run for its money. I feel like CrossFit is my destiny, or rather, it’s what my destiny could have been if I hadn’t wasted so much of my life shooting dope.
I’m obsessed with the Dottirs. I follow them, and other notoriously badass CrossFitters, on Instagram for inspiration. But as bad as I want to be like them, my fascination with CrossFit does not outweigh my fear of it. I’m terrified of CrossFit. I feel like it might humble me to an unbearable degree.
I’ve only ever really done two CrossFit workouts, and both times, it nearly killed me.
The first time was in September of 2016. I had about a month of Beachbody under my belt. I thought, “I run stairs. I do Beachbody now. I can do anything. This will be a breeze!”
It was not a breeze. I did a very abbreviated version of the WOD (workout of the day) and ended up dripping in sweat and dizzy to the point of being slightly nauseous. Which, as weird as it sounds, is very appealing to those of us constantly seeking the hardest, most intense workouts. I did it at the Monroe box, and I remember trying so hard to act tough, like it hadn’t affected me that much.
The next time was better. I was inspired from watching Fittest on Earth, so I tackled “Murph.” It was a modified version of Murph – I didn’t have a weighted vest and I used a door attachment kit for the pullups – but it was still Murph. For those that don’t speak CrossFit, Murph is a workout consisting of a 1-mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats and another 1-mile run.
I did it last year it to celebrate my five-year clean and sober birthday.
The pushups were a nightmare. I knocked them out in sets of 20, which towards the end became sets of 10, and then sets of five. I ended up with petechiae all over my face from the pressure.
My fascination of CrossFit has grown since then, as has my fear of it.
For the past month, CrossFit enthusiasts around the world have been engaged in the CrossFit Open, which is a series of five workouts stretched out over five weeks. Any CrossFit athlete who strives to compete at the annual CrossFit Games must compete in the Open, which can take place at any CrossFit box. Each Open workout is numbered using a system that incorporates the year and where the workout is in the sequence. The week one workout is called 18.1, week two is 18.2, and so on.
It was 8 p.m. last Monday night, and I was lying in bed scrolling through my Instagram feed, when one of the moves from 18.4 caught my attention. It was a handstand pushup, also known as a HSPU.
I was instantly intrigued.
I decided I needed to get up and try one for myself.
I walked out into my living room and cleared the needed wall space, which was not difficult, since my whole living room is pretty much dedicated to fitness. Even so, I made sure I had plenty of room. I positioned myself a short distance from the wall, raised my arms high into the air, lifted my knee to gain momentum, and went to propel myself forward into a handstand position.
Just like I did a million times as a kid.
I was shocked to discover that I couldn’t do it.
There was some bizarre disconnect between my brain and my body. In the standing position, I could see the wall right in front of me, and intellectually, I knew that once I got into a handstand position, the wall would be there to safely support me. But the second I lost sight of what was in front of me, my brain lost track of what it knew, and I became scared and unsure about what was going to happen.
Something about my head plummeting towards the ground and my feet flying up in the air felt wrong. It felt abnormal. Am I going to fall on my head? Is this even a thing I can do? Am I going to fail miserably? It sent me into a little bit of a panic, even though a part of me knew my arms were strong enough to hold me up, and I knew that the wall would be there to support me.
It happened over and over. Each time I tried, my legs got a little bit higher and I got a little bit closer, but I still failed. That flash of fear-driven indecision rendered me completely incapable of doing what I wanted to do.
It really made me think about my life.
For the past 14 months, I’ve been miserable. I’ve distanced myself from friends because I’m a chore to be around. I’ve kept myself sequestered so that others don’t have to endure me. It is a million times easier to stay home, by myself, every weekend, than it is to go out and risk whatever might happen socially. In general, I don’t have anything good to say about anything, so why bother talking?
I’ve been waiting for things to magically get better, but they don’t. They don’t get better. I’m miserable, and I’m so afraid that I’m going to fall on my head that I do nothing to change the situation.
The influence that fear has over my own mind is astonishing. Fear holds me back in everything I do. It is suffocating and pervasive, yet strangely comforting. I’ve never been good at being happy.
I’m tired of it holding me back.
Last year, I was working to increase my strength with the goal of being able to lift my 30-pound dumbbells for a chest press, without a spotter. I knew I could press them once I got them up; it was getting them up, safely and without hurting myself, that was the problem.
I tried many times and eventually got discouraged and stopped trying. Then, one day, I was sitting at my desk, and suddenly, I just knew that I could do it. I got up, walked to my weight bench, and hoisted those bad boys up without even hesitating. Yes, it’s not something I’ve always been able to do – but I put in the work to make it happen. The following Monday, which was chest day, I worried that it had been a fluke. Would I be able to lift them again?
That doubt was crippling. That doubt almost stopped me in my tracks.
That fear-driven indecision nearly rendered me incapable that time too.
But I knew I could do it because I had done it.
I have no idea how long fear influenced my brain to the extent that it hindered my ability to achieve something. I am 100 percent convinced that my muscles were strong enough to lift those weights long before my brain would accept the fact that I could do it.
I’ve been practicing my handstands since last Monday. As it turns out, HSPUs are hard.
After my first series of failed attempts, I went to work in the morning and dismally explained the situation to my coworker. She suggested that I start facing away from the wall, placing my hands down on the ground and then climbing my feet up the wall behind me, until I’m up in handstand. I thought that was a fantastic idea, so I tried it as soon as I got home.
It works, but it’s not a true HSPU. It’s almost like an extreme decline pushup, which is awesome, and it’s incredibly challenging, but it’s not what my CrossFit heroes do.
I’ve tried other variations as well, including facing the wall, starting on my head and achieving handstand slowly. This is when I realized the strength it takes to complete a handstand pushup. I couldn’t lift myself up when I started flat on my head.
By Wednesday morning, I had petechiae on my face again, from all the handstands and handstand variations.
I had not managed a single, true HSPU.
But with each attempt, I got closer. And with each attempt, I was inspired to do other things that I haven’t been brave enough to do. I reached out. I made some connections. I made some decisions. Most importantly, I didn’t give up. As much as I’m an instant gratification girl, weight-lifting has proven to me that sometimes, results come after a long, sustained effort. I didn’t lift my 30s overnight. But I lift them now whenever I want, which is something that I couldn’t do 14 months ago.
On Sunday, I accomplished my most solid, strongest handstand yet. I managed to get there without compromise – I stood, faced the wall, and flung myself forward from a standing position.
Just like I did a million times as a kid.
Once I was up, I stayed there for a few seconds, poised for whatever happened next. I started to do a pushup but lost my balance. I have yet to do one full, completely legitimate HSPU.
But I’ll get there. You watch.