10 Changes That Made Me Strong(er) This Year

TAGS: negative self talk, manage depression, manage anxiety, Kratom, mental strength, Joe Schillero, program design, powerlifting, Nutrition

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The past year has been one of the most developmental that I’ve had, both in terms of powerlifting (training, coaching, and competing) and my general well-being (mental health, in particular). Like anyone, I’m far from perfect and constantly in the process of growing. But this year I’ve seen a lot of positive fruit come from changes I’ve made in my life. Each of these points could probably be an article of their own (and I may write separate articles on some of them), but for now, here’s a quick summary of each change and how I’m seeing it affect my physical and mental strength. 

I found a medication combination that made my anxiety manageable.

I put this one first because I think it allowed me to make a lot of other positive changes throughout the rest of the year. For years, I tried a dozen different medications to try to help my anxiety and sleep problems, with no success. On a daily basis I would be up until at least 4 AM afraid to go to sleep, and then the second I’d open my eyes in the morning my heart would be racing and I’d be sick to my stomach with panic for no reason. I finally saw a psychiatric expert (as opposed to the general doctors I was seeing in the past), and they tried a combination of Buspar, Cymbalta, and Zoloft (which I had tried in the past by itself with no success).


LISTEN: Introducing the New Peak Mental Performance Podcast with Guest Dr. Steve Graef


After a few weeks of feeling like absolute garbage, it helped me start to sleep better and ease my anxiety. By no means did it completely fix everything, but I think it allowed me to “reset” my sleep and daily patterns enough to make some positive changes in other areas. It started a snowball effect of positive changes that all have contributed to improvements in my mental health. At this point now, my doctor and I reduced the medications down to just the two (Buspar and Cymbalta), and while I still deal with some anxiety and depression on occasion, it’s 1,000 times better than it was before.

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I took full control of my own training.

For the past several years I was either training with a training crew (and following their training methods), or getting help from a more experienced lifter with planning certain aspects of my training. In the different groups and lifters I trained with, I learned a ton of great information that I’ve been able to utilize in different aspects of my training. With all the positives, however, I always couldn’t help but feel a desire to train in ways that made more sense to me personally. The full realization came to me as well when I went to see a hip specialist for my injuries (torn labrums, bone spurs, torn ligamentum teres, etc.), and they told me I’d likely need a full hip replacement in the next 10 to 20 years. In my mind, if I have severe injuries or surgery at the end of my powerlifting career, but I did things the way I wanted to, I can live with that. But if I have injuries and only ever did what others told me, that wouldn’t fly with me.

I’ve been working with clients for the past several years as well, and they were making great progress with my training methodology, so I wanted to start implementing my own ideas for myself (it sounds pretty silly that it took me so long to do this when I actually type it out). I’ll never discount the great lessons I learned from other coaches (and those lessons have been what has allowed me to train the way I do now), but my training has been dramatically better since taking full control of my own programming. Even with the clients that I work with, my goal is that they’ll be better at planning their own training when they’re done working with me.

I discovered kratom.

I wrote an article about kratom recently here on elitefts for those interested in reading more about it, but kratom has been a game-changer for me. By itself, I’m not sure it would necessarily fix everything, but it’s been incredibly helpful with easing anxiety, helping me with energy, and staying focused at work (this is especially helpful because one of the side effects of my medication is drowsiness). I’ve been taking two to three grams in the morning on an empty stomach (with water), and it’s helped me a ton.

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I started training lighter.

For years I trained too heavy, and it not only led to injuries and less-than-ideal results but also made my anxiety and depression worse. Going along with my second point about taking control of my own training, I started focusing on training “too light” (something I really took to heart after some conversations with Jim Wendler), and accumulating volume over time versus using conventional max effort lifts. It has helped me to work around my existing injuries and continue to get stronger, without burning me out.

I took my nutrition as seriously as my training.

I’ve always structured my eating (in terms of eating similarly every day) because of my personality, but for years I kept putting off adjusting my food sources and cooking more — and I was getting digestive issues because of it. Not only did my weight fluctuate constantly, but I would get consistent digestive irregularity, as well as headaches and anxiety that I think were caused by my poor diet. The past several months I’ve cut out the majority of processed foods, added sugar, dairy, and bread (with the exclusion of when I go out to eat with people in a social environment), and I’ve felt dramatically better. My energy is better, I feel better and perform better in training, and my bodyweight stays much more stable. I also cut some body fat, maintained my strength (and it’s continued to improve), and will be doing my next meet at 198.

I focused more on positivity.

For a long time with my anxiety and depression I let negative self-talk drive me further and further into the darker times I was having. I think there’s something to be said for just venting and allowing yourself to get things off your chest once in a while without necessarily having a solution. But when this is done too frequently without accountability, it can compound your current problems. This is where I think having honest feedback (really honest), is helpful to make sure you aren’t talking yourself into things getting worse and worse.

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I got a dog.

I hadn’t had a dog since my roommates and I had one in college, and after talking about it for a while I finally caved and got a rescue pit bull from the shelter where I live. Every year at the school where I work I bring dogs in from the shelter to play with the students and try to get them adopted, and this stocky little wrecking ball named Bobo (who was struggling to get adopted) just made me fall in love with him. I adopted him (and promptly renamed him Vito), and while he’s a lot of work, he’s made me extremely happy and helps curb my anxiety at night. He also is great for forcing me to do recovery cardio, and I walk two to three miles with him every day. 

I started trusting my gut more.

This kind of goes along with taking control of my own training, but for a long time, my tendency was just to listen to anyone and everyone except for myself. I think this varies on the situation and person—and in many cases getting outside advice is needed—but at some point, you have to go with what you feel good about. Making decisions based on what I want to do even if it isn’t popular or conventional with powerlifting wisdom has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

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I took more risks in starting projects.

I’m typically a really conservative person decision-wise, and I think it helps me in general with making decisions that are very long-term or big-picture-minded. But sometimes I know I need to get better at taking risks and committing to things even if they may not work out. The past few months I decided to start the Peak Mental Performance Podcast and run with the idea, and I’m so happy I did. I’ve been learning as I go, but already I’ve had so many great conversations that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. Sometimes you just have to take something you’re passionate about and go for it, even if you don’t have every single detail planned out.

I stopped watching the (negative) news.

Both in general life and with powerlifting, there’s plenty of negativity out there. Turn on the news, or scroll down your social media feed, and there’s a ton of arguing, negativity, and divisiveness. But you would be surprised how many more positive things there are out there when you choose to focus on them instead. The past year I’ve tried to focus on sinking more effort into positive discussions, projects, and people (including those that don’t agree with me), unfollowing negative people/discussions on social media, and not following news that’s designed just to entertain with negativity. It’s improved my view of powerlifting and of life in general.

These are just a handful of things that have positivity impacted my life this year, and will hopefully give you some food for thought as you work through your own decisions and life changes. None of us are perfect, but keep working on the process of improvement!

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