Like having a brick wall smashed over your head, it hits and I feel the weight of pieces crumbling around me. Like a wave of raging fury, I'm trenched from head to toe. Like taking a bullet to the chest, I'm stopped dead in my tracks. Anger is a powerful emotion. The worst of it comes quickly and unexpectedly, consuming me completely. The heat rises from my gut, into my chest, flushing my face. It takes an equally-shocking jolt for it to recede: the bitter wind of a freezing day.
Walking down the rocky gravel path, the wind nipped at my numbing cheeks and nose. In this moment I thanked myself for neither wearing my hair up nor getting it cut any shorter. Pulling my hood up over my head and stuffing my belongings - binos, pencil pouch and sketchbook - into various pockets, I tugged my sleeves over my fingertips and crunched my hands into fists. the sound of each footstep on the gravel seemed obnoxiously loud compared to the overwhelming silence of the wood. Broken only by the sound of leaves rustling in the wind and the occasional far-off bird call, the silence, a seeming friend of the cold, accompanied me to the stream.
Well, the cat's out of the bag -- I am officially less than 8 weeks out from my first bodybuilding competition! I know that it's a foreign sport to some people (including the 8 month-ago version of myself), so I wanted to write this blog post to answer some of the questions I commonly get about it and my experience, including how I was introduced to the sport and why I decided to do the competition.
Honestly, the sport was introduced to me by accident. This time last year I started training at Elite Fitness in Huntersville, North Carolina, which was recently ranked as one of the Top Ten Gyms of the Carolinas by Carolina Bodybuilding Magazine. I trained on my own for a while, dipping my toe into the gym's community, training for my then-upcoming half-marathon, and exchanging incidental glances and conversation with other members as we worked out. A few days after ringing in the new year, and after about a month's hiatus from the gym, I found myself easing back into weightlifting with an undemanding leg day when I was approached by a veteran gym member.
"I want you to be really honest with yourself and with me," he began.
"Do you feel like you actually trained or did that feel like a warmup?"
Now, before you decide to hate the acerbic protagonist of the story, you should have some context. It's not like he was a total stranger -- I had been introduced to him on my first day at the gym when the person giving me a tour pointed out his picture from a prior bodybuilding competition that was hanging on the wall. He'd also helped me a few other times by spotting me and correcting my form on different lifts. It was always clear that he knew what he was doing and, since I'd been out of the lifting environment since high school, I figured he would be more knowledgeable than I. So it's not like we'd never had any interaction before, and I could tell he was very intentional in his decision to call me out. My respect of him allowed me to answer,
"I guess, if I'm being honest, it did feel more like a warmup."
He nodded in reassuring agreement and invited me to go finish training legs with him. After a few sets of banded single-leg presses, I snuck off to the bathroom and threw up. This was a level of intensity in a workout that I hadn't had in a long time -- and one that I missed dearly. Cleaning myself up, I returned to the machine where I found him waiting patiently.
"Well, you did it. You made me sick. Let's finish this," I said.
I finished out his leg workout and bid him farewell with a question:
"What are you training tomorrow?"
And that's how it started -- I wound up with a bodybuilder as my training partner. After a few weeks, he made a seemingly off-handed comment to the gym's owner about getting me on stage. It wasn't long before I realized he was serious and I started toying with the idea myself.
I spent a couple months allowing the idea of doing a bodybuilding competition to roll around in my mind. I didn't want to make any commitments — I had a half marathon to get through, first (and the last semester of senior year, job applications, graduation, etc.). When I finally decided to pull the trigger, it was neither spontaneous nor unintentional. In fact, there were several reasons why I wanted to give it a go:
Okay, so when is it?
I will be competing in the Women's Figure Division (check out this article for an explanation of the differences in women's divisions) in the NPC Mid-Atlantic Classic on October 23, 2021.
As of today, I'm less than 8 weeks out and only getting more and more excited for the show! I've had the greatest support system in my training partner, my gym and my family. I already know that I would not have been able to get this far if any one of those factors were missing. I'm so incredibly thankful for the village that has helped raise me as a competitor. My greatest goal is to bring the absolute best version of myself that I can to the stage in October.
I hope this answered any questions you had! Feel free to ask those that I may have left unanswered. You can keep up with my progress through my Instagram, where I share progress updates and daily insights.
I struggle with binge eating.
And I have my whole life.
All through my childhood, high school and early college, I was active enough that I never really saw the effects of binging, so it was never on my radar. Honestly, it’s shown up in different degrees and intensities throughout my life. The September of 2019 is when it hit the hardest: I was struggling with depression, anxiety and isolation. At first, I was running miles and miles every day to release the disruptive emotions I was experiencing, to cope, to survive. After I sustained a foot injury, I turned to binge eating as my primary coping mechanism and that’s how I coped for a long time (like….well over a year).
My experience with binge eating is marked by lots of things: sneaking food, overeating ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ things (anything can be unhealthy in great amounts), saying “I’ll do better tomorrow” every day and giving myself excuses to eat more “this last time,” and shame — crippling, paralyzing shame. The shame triggered more disappointment and uncomfortable emotions, which triggered continued binging. It’s a vicious, brutal cycle, as anyone who struggles with this knows.
Today someone asked me, “As a Christian, how did you deal with the temptation of food and the struggle of binging?”
In that moment I was reminded of the desperate prayers I prayed in February of 2020 asking God to help me change my relationship with food. “God, please help change my perception of food. Help me see it as fuel for my body rather than as something in which I can overindulge.” I remember also feeling a nudge from the Spirit, “And God, help me grow to love myself the way that I am right now, that I would not be more worthy of love if I were in better shape or if I had a better relationship with food. Help me train to strengthen the body you gave me rather than for the hopes of ‘looking better.’ I am loved by you and I am worth being loved right now, just as I am.”
In our conversation today, I realized that the answer to my first prayer didn’t show up until after the Lord answered my second prayer, the one I prayed almost nonchalantly, the one I cared about less, the one He cared about the most. He addressed the heart problem: He addressed the fact that I wasn’t loving myself or my body well. Only after I started surrendering my self-loathing to the Lord did answer to the first prayer come along later.
Thankfully, God cares far more about my heart than anything. In the past, it didn’t matter how athletic I was: it was never good enough and I was never good enough. Now, my heart has undergone (and is still experiencing) a transformation that has resulted in a better understanding of my self-worth. The opportunity to pursue bodybuilding arose after I was at a place of greater contentment with and love of my body, with the way I was. I can genuinely say that I wanted to grow stronger and that any physical changes were a byproduct of the strength I was gaining.
I share this to encourage anyone who may be struggling with something similar: the Lord deeply cares about your heart and about your ability to love yourself. Even in the moments when it doesn’t feel like prayers are being answered, He’s working and moving. He’s loving you better than you could ever love yourself.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need to talk about anything you may be struggling with.
If you're an NF fan then there is no doubt that today has been quite an exciting day for you. For those of you that don't know, the rapper just dropped his newest song CLOUDS, which is the first track from his upcoming mixtape that will be released on March 26th (YAY). I discovered NF when I was in a pretty low and dark place in my life. To listen and hear music from someone who got it, who understood, was a saving grace. NF's music is real -- real music til the day we die, ain't that the slogan, Nathan?
If you know, you know.
Anyways, Nathan's music is real. He's not only an amazing lyricist but also an amazing communicator of real, deep feelings. He puts words, music and identity to feelings that previously just bubbled and stirred in my spirit unattended and untouched. NF's music is a huge release for me emotionally. I know this isn't just the case for me but for his hundreds of thousands of fans around the world. He's real. He's relatable. I discovered this more and more as I listened to The Search, his fourth studio album, all the way through for the first time. It was actually the first album of his that I listened to. When the punctuating strings faded out at the end of "Let Me Go," I was surprisingly greeted by a conversational Nate in "-Interlude-". This is what he says in the 50-second vent about how he felt during the Perception period:
My most considered, like, "successful" moment of my life was the worst
The most depressed I've ever been
Literally feeling like I'd probably be happier if I was just dead
I got a number one on Billboard, my song is massive right now
Like, I may never have a song this big again
My tour, I think every date sold out except one date
So I literally had everything that I had always dreamed of happening (Yeah)
And I felt...I didn't feel happy at all
And so I think what happened was I spiraled really bad
'Cause I was like, "I'm here, and if this is it
There's gotta be more for me
'Cause if this is it, like, it's not gonna work"
That fifty seconds stopped me dead in my tracks because that's EXACTLY what I was experiencing at the time -- minus, of course, having a number one on Billboard and my song being massive. The most depressed I've ever been was at a time in which, outwardly, I was experiencing the most "success" I've ever had. And I literally had spoken those words in my mind: "If I'm here, and if this is it…what's the point?" I had everything I'd ever dreamed of and longed for happening: I'd been accepted to the Early Entry Master's Program at UNC Charlotte, I was executing my own research, I was regularly handling venomous snakes, I had spent a month in one of the wildest places on earth and I was a dolphin training intern at the Georgia Aquarium. If you've known me for any amount of time, you'd know just how much and how long I had longed for those things up until that point.
While there were a lot of contributing factors to my depression at the time, I think the greatest underlying problem was that I had everything I'd ever wanted and none of it was deeply satisfying in the ways that I had expected them to be. Everything that I had put my hope in satisfied me in an incredibly superficial way. In a way, I felt betrayed by God and by those things. One of the worst parts of the experience, however, was that I didn't even realize that I'd put my hope in those things. It was something so deeply rooted in me that I wasn't even aware that it was happening, this idolization of different things that I thought would satisfy me (I would often repeat to myself years before I even thought about going to Botswana, Just wait until I get to Africa -- then everything will be alright). I'm so grateful to serve a God who knows us, though, who knows me and who knows that I'll believe something until it's proven wrong. Who knows that until I experienced the degree of superficial satisfaction that being in Botswana would bring, I wouldn't actually believe it.
I was doing everything I ever wanted to do and my soul was still crying out for something deeper. This realization of dissatisfaction threw me into a spiral of depression. It was during this period of depression that the Lord stripped me of every idol that I had, tearing down each and every one of them at the same time: the hope of my relationship, my career, my future. All of it. I questioned whether or not my faith was even worth it. I questioned whether or not life was even worth it. Boy, was that a deeply painful season.
Then I heard a 50 second vent session from a rapper that somebody randomly recommended to me and I realized that I wasn't alone in how I felt. It didn't take away the depression or the pain. To have my feelings expressed, identified and named by someone else hit in a way that I didn't expect: somebody understood me.
Somebody else had experienced the shattering disappointment of their dreams not satisfying them. Somebody else had experienced the fear and distress and sorrow that accompany that sort of realization. Somebody else had experienced the heartbreak of being disillusioned for so long and then being jolted awake to a reality they never imagined. Someone else experienced a state of utter despondency from which rescue efforts felt futile.
NF helped me acknowledge my feelings and see God through it all. I wouldn't trade that season for anything, as painful and emotionally exhausting as it was. God tore down every idol I had in my life at that time and showed me that He is the ONLY thing worth hoping in. He is the only satisfying thing. Everything I loved and craved about my dreams, I later discovered, are actually attributes of God. I was unknowingly longing for God in all of that (I'll write another post about this later).
In God I experienced the satisfaction of my soul. I felt like I understood Psalm 42:7: "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me." I now know that God is the only thing worth pouring every ounce of my passion into, as He is the only deeply satisfying thing.
I write this as both an encouragement and a precaution to anyone who may find themselves longing for the future, telling yourself once you get to a certain place or job position or in that relationship that they'll be satisfied. That's a lie from the enemy. The satisfaction will not be deep, nor will it be lasting. So take it from both NF and myself that it's not worth it to put your hope in anything other than God. If you do find yourself in that place, I'd really encourage you to spend some time with God. Ask Him to show you the ways that you're putting hope in the future or in achievements. I trust that He'll bring those up. Then pray a prayer of confession and repentance. It could go something like, "God, I'm sorry for the ways I've knowingly and/or unknowingly put my hope in anything other than You. Please help me want to want to put my hope in you. Satisfy the parts of me that are longing for things other than You. Satisfy my soul -- overflow my cup."
I trust that He'll do it. You may not feel a change right away, but it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.
If you have any questions or want to talk more, don't hesitate to reach out to me on my "Connect" page or by DMing me on Instagram.
Also, go give CLOUDS a listen. :)
1 Thess. 2:2
"...but with the help of our God we dared to tell His gospel in the face of strong opposition."