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Even after over thirty years of lifting, I'm still amazed at the parallels between lifting and life. I'm also amazed at how often these parallels surface. It just so happens that I'm currently in a life situation where I'm looking to lifting for answers. I do this because often the lessons I've learned in lifting have given me answers to dilemmas in life, and lessons I've learned in life have given me answers to dilemmas in lifting.

This recent situation has me thinking back to the fine line between arrogance and confidence, something I learned in powerlifting. I'm in a new relationship with someone I've known for a very long time. Even as friends, we always seemed to be very comfortable and open with each other. Because of this, she is aware of my disorders and is very understanding of them. She knows that I have to do certain things in my life in order to keep my disorders under control. This is still very hard for me mentally. I'm so grateful that she understands all of this and is OK with it, but a big part of me hates that she will have to accept certain negative aspects of my life because of my disorders. My biggest problem at the moment is my narcolepsy and sleep issues. In order to stay healthy and keep my bipolar disorder at bay, I need to be in bed more than most normal people, and I also need to keep a fairly strict sleep schedule. I had been doing a great job keeping all this under control, but I was single at the time. This made it easier for me to live by a strict sleep schedule because it really didn't affect anyone else.

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Once we started dating, I started to stray from my sleep schedule. The irony of all this is that it was all my choice, not any fault of hers. I wanted to spend more time with her and I wanted more of a normal life with her. Things had been going so well in my life that I thought I had everything under control and that I could handle it. I started to believe that I had it so under control that I could live a normal life. I now realize that it was also a worry for me that she would have to suffer because of my disorders.

I started staying up later chatting with her when we weren't together. When we were together, I stayed up much later with her and then tried to get up early because she was up. She is an early riser while I usually stay in bed later on the weekends. This is because my sleep is usually better between 6:00 am and 10:00 am. I wanted to have more hours in the day to spend with her, and I felt bad that she would be up while I was still in bed. I was able to keep this pace up for a while, but within a few weeks or so, I was starting to feel the effects. At this point, we started discussing my sleep issues more, and I tried to explain the things I was beginning to feel. I still wanted to fight it because I'm a stubborn, hardheaded bastard, but it was hard for me to ignore the signs I've spent years learning. She was unbelievably understanding and more than willing to help me stick to my schedule.

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It's very hard to explain how it feels to realize that your disorders affect someone you care about. It's one thing for it to affect my life. I can take that because it’s me and my unfortunate problem. But to have someone who cares enough for me to choose to deal with these things because she thinks my positives are worth the negatives is another thing altogether. I was getting stuck thinking about how she shouldn't have to deal with my issues and how I should be strong enough or good enough to conquer my disorders. This isn't a good place to be and certainly won't solve anything. In fact, it usually makes things worse.

We set up a schedule and started to get things moving in the right direction. This simply meant making sure I was in bed and taking my sleep medications on a regular schedule during the week. We were more lenient on weekends with actual bed time, but I still needed to be in bed for a certain amount of time no matter what time she chose to get up. I'm still struggling with this because even though I'm tired and know that I need more sleep, I want to spend time with her. The biggest problem was that I had already done too much damage. My mornings had already gotten pretty bad. It was almost like being severely depressed every morning until 1:00–2:00 pm when I would start to come out of it. My obsession with suicidal thoughts was increasing, and everything I saw or thought of was engulfed with negativity. I couldn't believe that I let myself get back to this point after all the work I had done over the last few years. I also couldn't believe how bad it had gotten and how fast. I knew it took me a long time to recover from certain events, but I had thought with all the work I had done, recovery would be faster now.

After much thought, I realized that even though we had made improvements, it had already become so bad that I had to do something drastic to get myself back to where I was and it had to be done immediately. Once the negative depression starts, it very quickly sends me spiraling downward mentally. I was even beginning to see this affecting our relationship because of how it changed me. Fortunately, and unlike in the past, I did a much better job of communicating what was going on. She was amazing in how open she was to trying to understand what was going on with me even when it was hard for me to explain it to her.

Basically, I took a week and my only priority was to get my shit straight. This meant no training, no shooting, no writing and no BMX. Nothing but single minded focus on my goal. I got off work, ate dinner, took my medications, watched the Vikings to slow my brain and went to bed at 8:00–8:30 pm. This got me back on track and feeling much better. There was still more work to do, but at least I was improving. I felt like I needed to just keep to my schedule and continue to improve how I dealt with my disorders. There is still a lot of thinking I need to do, and I'm still coming to terms with some things I was struggling with.

The more I thought about this situation and how I felt, the more I thought back to lessons I had learned in powerlifting. It reminded me of when I first started training using the conjugate method, and everyone on my team ended up overtrained within 4–6 weeks. Of course, I was always destroyed by the fourth week while my partners lasted a little while more. We ended up needing a week of deload or a week completely off before we were ready to train heavy again. This cycle was repeated a few times without any improvements at all. I thought a lot about this and realized that we needed to modify the program we were using because it simply wasn't working for us. I ended up spreading the split out with more days off or adding in more recovery days. I made those same tweaks for years depending on our strength levels and how our training was progressing. The funny thing is I see so many lifters who will stick with a program that's simply beating the crap out of them or not giving them any gains at all. They refuse to change it or think that maybe this program isn't for them. On the flip side, I see many other lifters who just throw out programs if they don’t work immediately.


In this article, I'm more focused on the mentality of sticking with it even though it isn't working. In my mind, this is arrogance, and I've been known to be arrogant in my life once or twice. For much of my lifting career (before powerlifting anyway), I stuck with programs even though I was making little or no gains. Sometimes I stuck with them because I felt that if it worked for some lifter I admired, it should work for me. I didn't stop to think about different genetics, drugs, lifestyles or other things. Sometimes I just liked the program, so I stuck them out and kept plugging away. In those days, I never really looked too deeply into the programs to figure them out or study them to see if they actually made sense for me. I would read or hear about something and then do it. Some may see this as confidence, but now I just see it as arrogance.

What I did with the conjugate method (once I started powerlifting) was confidence. I picked that program after a lot of research, and I learned it from knowledgeable lifters. I knew the program was sound, and I believed in its principles. The thing was it wasn't working for me the way that it was set up, and on top of that, it wasn't working for my partners either. It would have been arrogant to stick with it just how it was or completely throw it out. I was confident in my ability, my own knowledge and the program though, so I went about changing it to make it work for my team. In my mind, I was confident in my potential to be a great lifter, and I was confident that the program could get me there. I just needed to figure out how. The arrogant man keeps running into the concrete wall thinking that he can break through to the other side with his head. The confident man knows that those actions will only smash his head in and he finds an alternative way to reach his goal of getting to the other side.

RELATED: Mental Health and the Strength Athlete: Strength Beyond the Barbell

So how did this lesson from powerlifting translate into my new life situation? I was being arrogant thinking that I could conquer my disorders and live a more normal life. Some of the wiring in my head is messed the f*ck up, and as of right now, there isn't any cure. I can't conquer it, but I can control it, so I need to approach this just like I did my programming in powerlifting. Even though I didn't have diagnoses for my disorders when I first started powerlifting, I knew things weren't normal for me. I didn't let that stop me from achieving my goals though. I just found a different way to get there. I wasn't so arrogant that I thought I could keep up with this program the way it was or the way others had done it. I made it work for me and the guys on my team.

My goal here is to have a solid, intense and healthy relationship. Maybe it won't be normal by society’s standards, but I'm confident that I can make this goal happen. I need to face reality but stay confident that I can find a different path to reach my goal. For me, this path involves staying on a stricter sleep schedule and probably being more mindful of certain things. It will most certainly involve a lot of communication. We've talked and both agree that the quality of time we spend together is much more important than the quantity of time we spend together. I also need to remember that this is her choice to be with me and that she accepts my negatives. It isn't my place to make this choice for her or to feel bad about her choice. I also need to not be so hard on myself for things that are out of my control. I didn't ask for these disorders and don't want these disorders, but I have them. I won't let them define me or rule my life. By continuing to be arrogant, I'm doing just that. I'm letting them rule my life. I'm much too confident of a person to let that continue to happen. I just need to accept it and find my own way like I did in powerlifting.

Lifting and life mimic each other and can be very supportive of each other. They both have valuable lessons if we choose to see them. In my case, the lessons learned about arrogance and confidence translated into life, specifically my current circumstances. Arrogance is going in blindly without any thought, knowledge or concern of reality while thinking that the goal can be achieved. Confidence is going in with full knowledge of reality, circumstances and our own personal ability while knowing that the goal can be achieved. Granted, sometimes arrogance works, but confidence is always the more consistent and intelligent option. So use life to help your lifting and use lifting to help your life. Approach your goals and obstacles with confidence and watch out for arrogance. Use confidence to find other paths to achieve your goals, and understand that the normal expected path isn't always the right one for you. There is always another way, so don’t let anything hold you back from your goals and don’t be the person smashing your head in against the concrete wall!