19 July 2019

Changing Priorities – Using Setbacks To Fuel Your Comeback

by Jacob Schepis 0

2017 was the fairy-tale year; I started training, lost over 50kg, travelled America & Canada, competed in my first powerlifting competition, and met a group of friends who became my family. I remember sitting down, reflecting and writing about that year and producing a list of 10 goals that I ‘knew’ I was going to…

2017 was the fairy-tale year; I started training, lost over 50kg, travelled America & Canada, competed in my first powerlifting competition, and met a group of friends who became my family. I remember sitting down, reflecting and writing about that year and producing a list of 10 goals that I ‘knew’ I was going to achieve. Looking back now, I achieved approximately 3 of those in goals within the last 14 or so months. I say ‘approximately’ because some are subjective and so could actually be only two.


Before I discuss the year that was, compared to the year that I had pictured it, I wanted to first start with this; I, by no means, think that the past 12 + months were a failure or a waste of time. I do, however, think that in the scheme of things, there were less than ideal circumstances which occurred and didn’t allow me to reach the original goals that I had set. While at the time, each of these circumstances seemed like the worst thing in the world, looking back, they have made me stronger as a person and as an athlete (again, subjective).


Everyone is thrown curveballs in life and I’m writing this to reflect on how I have pushed myself to improve due to changes in circumstances, not to look for sympathy or to complain about things that happened to me. I am not bad off, things could be worse in so many ways. The message I am trying to convey, is that I have learned how to become the captain of my ship, not just being a drunken sailor hanging off the deck.


I’ve always been known as being clumsier than South Park’s Kenny, but my number of injuries last year was absurd. We kicked off with a jacked-up rotator cuff, then a subluxation of my shoulder from doing sled pushes, a bulging disc and annular tear at L4/5 and finally, we finished off with a car accident where I almost lost my right arm. When you lay it all out, it sounds pretty bad. Physically, my body was getting pretty beaten up, but mentally I was struggling a whole lot more. If you have read my previous article, you would know that I have previously had some struggles with anxiety and depression, and last year, I really felt the burden of these again.


Let’s start from June 2018. I had competed at Top Lifter in Sydney in April and was feeling great – ready to crack on with training and excited for where I was at. I was peaking for Junior Nationals and confident that I was set to make some solid comp PBs. Unfortunately, things took a turn. My body was fatigued, I was mentally exhausted and, like a lot of lifters, had some niggling back injuries.During one particular session whilst I was deadlifting, I felt intense pain in my back instantly but convinced myself that I was fine. After a few more weeks of tears, tantrums and essentially being a stubborn asshole to everyone, I pulled out of the three-lift competition at Nationals and competed in bench only. To be honest, this was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Hurting my back, once I got over the initial 23-year-old-tantrum phase, forced my hand to recover, rest and look at other goals. My ultimate goal was to still get back onto the platform, but with the help of Lyndon, I was able to set goals that I could look at prior to that stage (spoiler alert: It’s June 2019 and I still haven’t quite made it back to the platform).


Fast forward to November – I had spent a few months smashing the feet up bench and I had just started squatting and deadlifting again. I was ready to bring up my training, prep for a comp and hit the platform. Around this time, I was working 4 jobs, going to uni, training 5 times a week and driving ~1400km a week. Mentally I was exhausted, and while I had promised myself that I would concentrate on sleeping and recovering better, I just hadn’t done that. That part isn’t important but gives extra context for what came next.


I had been working at the airport and was leaving work to then train, before going to job number two of three that day. I got to that second job 8 weeks late, due to an impatient taxi driver who tried to drive through my car in a roundabout rather than waiting for me to go past. Compartment syndrome, a fasciotomy, two skin grafts and two weeks later, I was again forced to eat, rest, recover and adapt my training and my goals. This isn’t a story about all the injuries I’ve had and how I have recovered from them, so I’m going to skip through the next few months. What I will say is this; The months following the accident were tough. I went through (and still deal with) car, noise and sleep related PTSD, issues with my right arm and wrist, medical and legal appointments weekly and coming to terms with accepting that my life is going to be slightly altered from now on, due to someone else’s dumb decision.


Now, on to my actual point of this article (if you know me, you know that I’m terrible at telling stories in person too). As I sit here writing this, I have just returned from a 4-week teaching placement in India. I’m not saying that I went to another culture and I ‘found myself’ or I solved all my life’s problems, because I didn’t. What the trip did give me time to do, was to reflect on the past year; what has changed, what hasn’t, what my goals were and what they are now, but most importantly, who has helped me get to this point. So, let me share some of my thoughts which nobody has asked for.


After my accident, I was forced to change my priorities. I went from annoyed that I wasn’t recovered from my back injury enough to have competed yet, to angry at the taxi driver who turned my car into a lump of orange metal and messed up my arm, to now being thankful that my arm is attached and 90% functioning. I am also thankful that I will eventually be able to get onto the platform, even if we’re going to be 18 months later than originally planned. Don’t get me wrong, getting to this stage has taken a long period of time. They say there are 7 stages of grief, but I may have been through 21 stages of “but I just wanna be less fat and a powerlifter with two fully functioning arms!” While it is obvious that I didn’t trek through all 21 stages of these stages alone, I want to highlight what it really took. A full medical team; surgeons, hand therapists, GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, physiotherapist, pharmacists and a whole array of staff at the previously mentioned clinics. Next, my parents and my brother Andrew, but most importantly, my adopted family. There are friends who you know who are always there and will support you, but then there are friends who are the complete pillars of strength and who are not afraid to tell you how it is. That’s an important part and really what it took me to stop feeling sorry for myself and hiding in the comfort of those around me. Everyone needs a friend like that; to make you look at yourself objectively, not subjectively. With a not so subtle, but caring “stop feeling sorry for yourself, pull your head out of your arse and look at the silver linings”, I was able to stop, think and re-evaluate my life, my priorities and my goals.


So finally, what I have actually learned (it took a while, but we’re here). Looking back over the past 18 months to 2 years, all I wanted was to keep dropping weight, to be a great powerlifter and to make my coach proud. But why? Did I want to get to exactly 74.9kg so that I was over half my starting body weight and therefore ‘healthy’? Did I want to eventually deadlift 200kg because that would make Lyndon proud? Hell no. I wanted these things out of pure ego. But, yes, it did take Lyndon pointing out a clear change of behaviour for me to be able to look at how I had let my ego cloud my judgement of how I need to pull myself through some non-ideal circumstances.


Once my ego was shoved out of the driver’s seat and the rose-coloured glasses removed, I checked myself and looked at what was really important. What you wouldn’t know by reading either of my articles, is that my true passion is education. I’m a qualified Veterinary Nurse, I’ve been at uni for 7 years now and I’m currently completing my Masters in Teaching. One day I want to do my PhD and end my days cruising around being an academic at uni. But a cool academic. That’s a thing, right? Anyway, back to the point. In my urge to lose weight, lift more and make other people happy, I had put my own education on the back burner. If you saw my uni marks graphed as a function of time, you could pick exactly when I re-evaluated things. It’s no surprise that when I refocused my energy, my marks improved, my mood towards teaching and learning improved, my sleep improved and my ability to teach exponentially improved. Once I realised that my main priorities were A) my health (mental and physical) and B) my education and teaching, I noticed that everything else in my life fell in to their place in my personal hierarchy. Training fell from the highest priority in my life to an honourable fourth, right behind making time for family and friends. I always made sure I made time for training, even when busy on placement. It makes me happy and I know that it improves my mood. But I also knew that it didn’t matter that I completed Day 1-5 in order and hit every single rep or kilogram that was programmed for me. This was important to realise before I went overseas, because in India, the fact that I was able to train at all, was an absolute privilege. If you had have told me 6 months ago, that I would mentally be ok with training 10 times over 25 days, I would’ve laughed in your face.


This last point is closely linked to one of the most important things that I have learned in recent times. After my accident, I was in ‘survival’ mode. I even remember sending a text to Lyndon saying, “I’m out of hospital, but I’ve gotten fat”, and his very fast response said, “you’re not fat, you’re recovering”. The man had a point – it happens occasionally. Fast forward to the start of April. I felt like I was banging my head against a wall trying to lose weight, but nothing was coming off due to multiple reasons. Finally, let’s look at me this week. I’m home from just shy of 4 weeks in India, didn’t get all of my training done and am heavier than I’ve been 18 months. But importantly, I came home having enjoyed the incredible food in another culture, having created a very promising teaching career for myself, and most importantly, happier than I have been in years. I am so grateful for the experiences that I have had and how they have shaped my mindset now. I can clearly see that I do understand how to drop weight and that now that I am home, I will be able to set targets, adhere to protocols but allow my lifestyle to be flexible when needed. I can also see that my accident could have killed me or left me without an arm, so having 90-95% function is a pretty incredible outcome (although it’s probably a very good thing that I had already left vet school and no longer wanted to be a veterinary surgeon).


While priorities change constantly, the things that I am focusing on is firstly being happy. I know its cliché, but honestly, it’s been a long time since I have felt like I was in control of my own happiness. That’s a sad but true fact. Next up on the pyramid, we have both the education I am receiving and the education that I am providing students. I love learning and I love helping others learn, but I had forgotten how it really made me feel. After this, you could keep working up the pyramid and eventually find training and nutrition for personal improvement, but without the major drive of my ego. I’m sure it’s hiding somewhere, but I’ll keep in the dark for a while longer. The truth is, I’m probably never going to be an elite athlete, or a shredded Instagram chick, nor do I really want to be. What I actually want, is to keep training and eating to make myself feel good, compete when I can, assist in learning and development of secondary students and anyone who will listen, and importantly, be happy, healthy and continue to be surrounded by an inner circle who makes me want to be a better person.


I’m not easy to deal with. I’m a sook, can throw a tantrum and a half, struggle to get along with other females and need to be doing 1,700 things at once. Because of this, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to me if I had pushed all of my support network away when I was blind with self-pity and anger; but they’re still around. While there are a number of people that I could thank for being in my personal cheer-squad, the major players involved in my opinion, are Lyndon and Sam. Like I said earlier (if you can remember that far back in my rambling), the most important friends that you need in life, are those who aren’t afraid to call you out when it’s needed. Confrontation is hard, but harder when it involves your friends. This is why I appreciate these guys so much. They’re around to cheer me on with their oversized pom-poms, have philosophical and scientific conversations with me, but also are ready to tell me to get my shit together and check myself. Their support has been endless, and they are like family to me. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it many more times, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Lyndon or Sam. So, thank you both; for being there, for your unlimited support and your tough love when needed. I don’t think you’ll ever understand my appreciation and love for you both.


So, what’s next? At this stage, I’m starting to cut after my trip, working on continually improving my dexterity in my hand/wrist and aiming to don the soft suit towards the end of the year. But who knows what will actually happen? What I do know, is that I refuse to let my training and food endeavours get in the way of uni and teaching or my general happiness and mental health. It’s not worth it. As long as I am happy, healthy and moving, that’s good enough for me. Go team ‘mediocrity’.

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