A Twitter thread, an essay, and a few non-fiction books about disability, health, and trauma.
First up, the short-form stuff.
There’s this Twitter thread about why many autistic people don’t watch (or otherwise support) Netflix’s exploitative and stigmatizing show Love on the Spectrum. The replies and quote tweets are amazing, too.
There’s also this excellent essay about the casual ableism in cooking from Gabrielle Drolet, a disabled journalist, essayist, and cartoonist. The main takeaway: Items that many people turn their nose up at and consider to be lesser-than or “lazy”—like jarred minced garlic, bottled lemon juice, pre-sliced produce, and shredded cheese—are accessibility tools for disabled folks who can’t do things like chop or peel or slice.
Alright. Onto the books!
Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century edited by Alice Wong.
This is the first non-autism disability-related book I picked up, and I’m very slowly making my way through it. It is, as the title suggests, an anthology of essays by disabled folks, about what life is like as a disabled person in a very ableist society.
This book has been uncomfortable to read, and for those us with deeply internalized ableist attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors (like yours truly), I think that that’s the point.
Of the essays I’ve read so far, “The Isolation of Being Deaf in Prison” by Jeremy Woody as told to Christie Thompson is the one that has stood out to me the most. You can read the full essay on The Marshall Project’s website.
Related to that essay: A book I read a few years ago, Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Health by Alisa Roth, and a recent episode of the podcast Crime Show, which reports the story of a prisoner without teeth who was unable to eat yet denied dentures by the prison system because they only provide dentures if/when medically necessary and needing to eat was not considered medically necessary. Make it make sense!
What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma by Stephanie Woo.
The cover and the subtitle sold me—I’m a sucker for a well-designed book cover, and relatable memoir. So, a book with a gorgeous cover about a terrible thing? A real twofer, folks. Who could resist!
This book is exactly what the subtitle says it is, and the first of its kind: a memoir about healing from cPTSD. Specifically, childhood abuse and neglect, with a touch of generational trauma, and the science behind it, thrown in.
It’s a little slow to unfold for my taste, and I found it to be a little disjointed in places. Not sure if that’s a scoping issue or an editing issue. Maybe both. Whatever the case, I think this book is important and my own traumatized lil heart appreciates that more people are speaking so openly about trauma, abuse, therapy, and the hard work of healing.
A word of warning: There are some pretty detailed accounts of the author’s experiences that will be activating/triggering for some people. Reader discretion advised.
Another related-ish memoir: Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, a lyrical memoir about domestic violence in a queer relationship.
The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness by Meghan O’Rourke.
I’ve still got about 100 pages left but WOW. Very hard to put this one down, which I unfortunately have to do during the workday??? Dizazz.
Anyway. This book is well-researched, well-structured, and beautifully written. A great example of memoir combined with research and reportage. (In this way, it reminds me of another extremely bangin’ book: Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, her memoir + cultural history + literary criticism + reportage about addiction and recovery.)
Like Disability Visibility, this books been uncomfortable to read. Because like Disability Visibility, this book has me confronting my own ableist attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors. It’s uncomfortable to confront shitty parts of yourself!
This book is also affirming to read, because it does a great job of capturing the experience of having an invisible disability—of what it’s like when what people see on the outside doesn’t match what you feel on the inside; of knowing something about you is…off (“wrong” in the case of chronic illness, “different” in the case of autism), and no one around you understanding or believing you.
To be clear, autism is not an illness/disease. It is an invisible disability. This book is about being chronically ill, not about being autistic. Chronic illness and autism are related, however, in that they’re both largely invisible disabilities, and the descriptions in this book of those feelings of invisibility are very, very relatable to me, an autistic person.
Also, I was delighted—yes, delighted—that O’Rourke quotes/references a few of my favorite contemporary writers—Eula Biss, Sarah Manguso, and Jenny Ofill. I was also delighted to see that Biss and Esmé Weijun Wang (whose essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias I recommended at the very bottom of my post about the memoir-reportage book Pathological: The True Story of Six Misdiagnoses) blurbed this book. I clearly have a type when it comes to writers and writing.
What are you reading?
Every time I encounter the phrase #TrustTheProcess, I want to fucking SCREAM (yes, I wanted to scream the entire time I wrote this post). Being an athlete, I see and hear it all. the. time. It’s everywhere, its 7.5+ million posts propping up the fitstasphere by fitfluencers and big-name, top athletes alike.
I get why people use it. I know that, ostensibly, it’s meant to be motivating, encouraging, empowering. To amp people up. Get them excited. To instill in them dedication, discipline, drive. I understand the appeal.
In practice, this phrase is an overused and mis-used ableist pile of shit.
The people who preach #TrustTheProcess often fail to consider the resources—especially the intangible ones—and the nuance that go into accessing “the process” in the first place, let alone adhering to and trusting it. They conceive of “the process” as a universally applicable and infallible monolith. If you stick to it, it’ll work. If it doesn’t work, you’re not doing it right. Or you don’t want it badly enough. In the face of failure, the process is never the problem. Only you, the person, are ever the problem.
Here’s the thing about #TrustTheProcess: “The process” is not fail-proof, one-dimensional, or one-size-fits-all, and for it to work, you have to trust a lot more than just the process itself.
It isn’t enough to just show up and put in the work and follow—and stick to—the program. #TrustingTheProcess requires us to also trust our body, which requires us to know our body—and our needs and our boundaries—and to trust our intuition; to trust that the process we’ve been prescribed is designed for our body, that it’s compatible with our boundaries and our needs; and to trust the people around us who are telling us to #TrustTheProcess in the first place—coaches, trainers, doctors, physical therapists, etc.
For many of us autistic folks, these are incredibly difficult tasks. Sometimes they feel impossible. Sometimes they are impossible. Especially in a society that seems hellbent on forcing one-size-fits-all approaches that are baselined for neurotypical brains and bodies, espousing toxic positivity and hyper-individualism, and misunderstanding and pathologizing natural variations of the human experience.
Many of us autistic folks, especially those of us who learned we’re autistic later in life, grew up being told by everyone around us that our experiences, especially our sensory experiences, weren’t valid or real. We were called dramatic and attention-seeking. Our attempts to communicate our experiences and our needs were taken as complaining, or even combative, and often went unheeded. Sometimes we were punished—socially, emotionally, physically—for trying to make our experiences and needs known. Often, this shit persists into adulthood, and even after we learn—and disclose—that we’re autistic.
Since I started lifting almost a decade ago, I’ve consistently told coaches and doctors “this doesn’t feel right” and “that doesn’t make sense to me” and “I don’t think I’m doing this right??????”
For years, I was made to feel like I was stupid, that I was being lazy, that I didn’t want it badly enough, that I was being willfully obstinate. For years, coaches—and your standard variety pack of healthcare providers: doctors, DPTs, LMTs, chiros, etc.—insisted that it was impossible for me to experience the things I was experiencing, that I must be mistaken, that it was all in my head.
At first, I pushed back. I switched gyms, changed coaches and doctors, asked for second and third opinions, googled the shit out of many corners of the internet. Everywhere I went, I was told by people with all the right qualifications and credentials and letters behind their names that I was wrong. I was dismissed, disbelieved, gaslight. Told no, I was not having the experiences I was having. Impossible. The problem was me. I needed to #TrustTheProcess.
So I did. I spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars, and tens and tens of hours each month on #TrustingTheProcess. Day after day I showed up and put in the work. I paid for custom programming and coaching, I paid for nutrition coaching, I meticulously tracked my macros, my hydration, my sleep, my periods, my moods, my energy levels, and a long list of other variables. I recorded my training sessions, and analyzed them to death. I planned my entire life around lifting. For almost a decade I did this, with very, very little return on investment.
After the initial wave of PRs that most newbies ride, I plateaued. Hard. I wasn’t getting better, or stronger. Eventually, I started to regress, and to get weaker. And then, I ended up where I am now—multiply injured and, due to compensatory movement patterns that my body developed in response to performing movements incorrectly for literally my entire life, with “profound” (a current doctor’s word) muscle weaknesses and imbalances, on top of my natural hypermobility and joint instability. (Autistic people are at significantly higher risk for hypermobility, connective tissue disorders, and joint injuries.)
TURNS OUT *cuts eyes at camera* I was right all those times that I told my coaches and clinicians “this doesn’t feel right” and “that doesn’t make sense to me” and “I don’t think I’m doing this right??????”
Being autistic means my brain processes information—like coaching cues—differently, and my sensory systems—including the systems responsible for balance and coordination, muscle activation and recruitment, motor planning and output, awareness of where my body is in space, and sensing pain—work differently.
All those years, I suspected that my brain and my body worked differently. But I had no proof, so no one listened to me. I didn’t know the truth of my intuition—an intuition that was questioned and dismissed so frequently and intensely by experts and professionals that I gave up on it, began to ignore it—until recently. I didn’t know the truth of my intuition until I learned that I’m autistic and began learning how being autistic impacts me as an athlete, and overall health and wellness.
Most of the people I’ve worked with in the past didn’t know it either. I don’t think any of them were actively out to sabotage me. I think that they just…didn’t listen to me—and weren’t willing, or were otherwise unprepared, to consider that my experiences and needs are different from most, and to accommodate them/me. And before I learned that I’m autistic, I didn’t have the context or language to more effectively communicate my experiences and needs; to get people to listen to me, to believe me.
Autism aside, it’s wild to me that I was treated the way that I was, by so many people and for so long. Athlete/coach and patient/doctor relationships are supposed to be collaborative, not authoritarian. We should be working together to create spaces where we both feel respected and trusted, and able to trust each other.
It’s really, really hard to #TrustTheProcess when you don’t trust the people who are telling you to #TrustTheProcess, because the people who are telling you to #TrustTheProcess don’t trust you when you communicate your experiences and your needs to them.
We’re all different. “The process” is designed for many, perhaps even most. But “many” and “most” are not “all.” Some of us need a different process. And that’s okay! “Different” doesn’t mean “less than” or “worse” or “wrong.” It means “different.”
Coaches and clinicians: Be someone we can trust. When we tell you what we’re experiencing and what we need, believe us. Trust us. Work with us to find an approach—a process—that works for us, instead of doubling down and shrugging us off. We aren’t lazy or complaining or inherently inept or incapable; we’re frustrated and traumatized and exhausted. We absolutely want it badly enough. We just need someone to take us seriously, and give us a chance. I promise you, we’ll be much more open to trusting you and the process you prescribe if we feel seen and supported.
And if what we need is outside the scope of the service you offer, or beyond your knowledge and experience, say so! “I don’t know” is not a sign of weakness or an admission of failure.
I recently read Pathological: The True Story of Six Misdiagnoses by Sarah Fay. It was…not what I was expecting, and I have mixed feelings about it.
Before we dive in: I recognize that mental health and mental illness are emotionally charged topics, and, in our society, a politically charged one, too. I also recognize that they’re complex topics. There is no one-size-fits-all approach or philosophy. I think there’s widespread consensus that we need a paradigm shift when it comes to mental health and mental illness, and many different ideas about what that shift should be and how that shift should happen.
I don’t have all the answers. Or any of them! I have my thoughts and my feelings and my opinions, which are informed by my experiences, which are informed by my unique combination of privileges, accesses, and opportunities. Some people will share my perspective, and some people will not. That’s okay!
There are many bits in this book that I think are informative and valuable, and there are some takes with which I disagree. I touch on a few of these takes below, and focus mostly on one.
Alright then. Shall we? Let’s shall.
Ostensibly, this book is a memoir about the author’s experience of being misdiagnosed over the years with six separate DSM diagnoses: anorexia, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, ADHD, OCD, and bipolar disorder.
This book is memoir in the loosest sense of the word. The author frequently references her personal experience, but there’s no introspection, reflection, nuance, or critical self-analysis that one expects from memoir, and no character development beyond the superficial (really, the only character “development” is the author ages, as one does in accordance with the linear progression of time). The author comes off as self-centered—not self-aware—in a way that’s frustrating (sometimes infuriating) and uncomfortable.
What this book actually is, is a history and critique—a rebuke, really—of the DSM. Many people know that the DSM, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, is psychiatry’s “bible” and what clinicians use to diagnose mental illness. What many people don’t know, and what Pathological discusses, is that while the DSM has been branded as a definitive and scientifically sound document, it’s not. It has a problematic history, and remains a problematic—and scientifically unsound—document.
The main argument of the book is: Stop pathologizing normal human behavior, activities, and experiences. Which: YES! I agree with this. Emphatically. I understand that the DSM has a problematic history, and I agree that it remains a problematic document. I agree that there needs to be a paradigm shift when it comes to how we think and talk about, and approach, mental health and mental illness.
Where the author loses me is making the leap from “the DSM is a problematic document” to “not a single diagnosis in the DSM is real and its diagnoses aren’t helpful.”
She makes this leap by staying stuck on only the scientific definition of the word “valid.” To Fay, all DSM diagnoses—with the exception of dementia and perhaps schizophrenia (her caveats)—are “hypothetical” and “opinions, not facts.”
I think that this is an extremely problematic take.
Using the scientific definition of “valid,” DSM diagnoses aren’t “real” in that they aren’t pathological. Meaning, Fay clarifies, they’re not medical disease or illness; there is no blood test or brain scan or other physical diagnostic exam that can conclusively diagnose anything in the DSM (with the author’s two caveats, noted above).
Okay. I understand that using this definition of “valid,” no DSM diagnosis is “valid” because no DSM diagnosis is pathological. And, per a previous paragraph, I agree that we should’t pathologize normal human behaviors, activities, and experiences. I don’t agree that an experience not being pathological means that it’s not real. And I don’t agree that grouping experiences using common language is unhelpful.
An experience does not need to be observable on a physical diagnostic exam to be “real” or “valid” in the non-scientific meanings of those words. These experiences are very real for the people having them, and they have an impact—often a significant, if not defining, one—on a person’s life. And in this ableist-ass economy, that impact is usually a negative one.
Let’s take autism as an example. I’m autistic. Or, using the pathologized language of the DSM, I have Autistic Spectrum Disorder (autism isn’t a disorder or a deficiency, it’s a difference). There’s no blood test or brain scan—or other diagnostic imaging or lab—that can conclusively confirm, or “diagnose,” autism. Because being autistic isn’t an illness or disease. It’s not pathological. That autism can’t be definitely measured by and irrefutably proven using a physical diagnostic exam doesn’t mean my experience of being autistic isn’t valid or real. Same goes for the other DSM diagnoses. To argue otherwise is hurtful and harmful. That’s called gaslighting. Gaslighting is abuse. Abuse can cause trauma.
DSM diagnoses are labels. Sometimes, labels can be limiting. Often, especially in the context of understanding who you are, and extra especially in the context of invisible and intangible aspects of identity, they’re incredibly useful. Spend some time scrolling through #ActuallyAutistic, #DisabilityTwitter, and #NEISVoid on Twitter and you’ll see how powerful having language for your experience can be.
Pathologization aside, DSM diagnoses are life-changing, even life-saving, for many because those diagnoses—those labels—give people language, context, community, and permission. Receiving my DSM diagnoses was the single-most affirming and empowering experience of my life (to date, and pathologization aside). They came with stigma and stereotype, sure. They also gave me the four things I mentioned above: language, context, community, and permission.
Language to describe my experiences.
Context for why I have the experiences that I have.
Community with other people who have similar or same experiences.
Permission to stop masking, to unlearn ableist attitudes, to cut myself a fucking break, to be me.
Doing away with—or refusing/rejecting—DSM diagnoses, as the author suggests, and indeed does herself, means doing away with those labels and the affirming and empowering—and sometimes life-saving—benefits they can offer.
Also, can we just take a moment to talk about the irony of the author writing an entire-ass book arguing that we should stop pathologizing normal human behavior, activities, and experiences, and then using outdated and pathologizing language throughout. LOL!
Not once did Fay make an effort to reframe pathologizing terms with less loaded and more neutral, understanding, and inclusive language. She doesn’t even address it in passing. It’s like the idea simply never occurred to her. Wild.
Reframing pathologizing language is easy. SO easy.
We can say “co-occurs” instead of “comorbidity.”
We can say “traits” or “experiences” instead of “symptoms.”
We can say “difference” instead of “deficiency.”
People can be “supported” and “accommodated” instead of “treated” or “managed.”
Fay knows language is important. She must. Her whole book is framed using punctuation as a device to illustrate exactly this. If punctuation matters, so too must the words it punctuates. And the author—A WRITER, AKA A PERSON WHOSE WHOLE ENTIRE JOB IS LANGUAGE—obviously understands this. That she neglects to acknowledge or elaborate on it is, in my personal, unsolicited, and correct opinion: deeply irresponsible.
If your goal is to stop pathologizing non-pathological things, one of the easiest and immediate ways you can help to do this is to change the language you use when writing about said things. It’s, like, incredibly fucking obvious that using pathologizing language to talk about non-pathological experiences…perpetuates the pathologization of said non-patohlogical experiences, no?
It’s also wild/frustrating to me that Fay fails to discuss—or even acknowledge—one: that health is holistic and intersectional, and two: the ways society and our environment can intersect with and impact our health. We can’t talk about mental health without also talking about other aspects of health, like physical and emotional health. Nor can we talk about any aspect of health without acknowledging that every aspect of our existence influences every aspect of our health.
To her credit, Fay does mention the medical model of mental illness. To her discredit, she does so only once—in passing and with no explanation or elaboration, 213 pages in—and she doesn’t mention or explain the social model of mental illness at all.
Essentially, the medical model says “the problem is you and your brain and/or body.” The social model says “the problem is society/your environment.” Obviously this is a very reductive and overly simplified description of these models. Please do your own research. This paper from Andrew J. Hogan gives a good overview of the history of the medical and social models. You might find it a helpful place to start.
To her credit, Fay does discuss the Big Pharma aspect of the Mental Health Industrial Complex. To her discredit, she doesn’t acknowledge or discuss capitalism’s role in mental health beyond that. There’s seemingly no awareness on her part of how our capitalist society contributes to (creates?) and reinforces/perpetuates the mental un-wellness that it pathologizes and then packages and sells to us as being a result of our supposedly inherently faulty brains, without the slightest consideration for the ways the shit-ass social conditions and contexts in which we live and seek care affect our health.
To her credit, Fay does discuss off-labeling and over-prescribing, and the very real problems that too many people with too little education and training are permitted to diagnose using the DSM, and many people doing the diagnosing are misdiagnosing (lots of overlap between those last two things). I don’t think she digs as deeply on these last two things as she could have. There’s a lot of talk that it’s happening, and very little talk about why it might be happening. And certainly no talk about ways we might approach change.
I’m also confused by her suggestion to eliminate spectra, and I don’t think she adequately acknowledges her privilege, or the impact that gender, sexual orientation, race, and/or socioeconomic status in particular have on clinicians’ tendency to pathologize peoples’ behavior and experiences. The few mentions she makes of these things feel very superficial, contrived, and CYA-y.
As I read, I kept waiting for Fay to disclose her “real” diagnosis. Spoiler: That never happened. There is no neat ending. Which: fine. I don’t need a neat ending. I do like a cohesive and coherent one, and I don’t feel like I got that from this book. At the end of the book (literally), what we get from Fay is her rejecting therapy and all her diagnoses. She waits to do this until the epilogue.
“When I stopped labeling and talking to myself as a sick person, I no longer was one,” she writes 250 entire pages in. “I reject a diagnosis because none has been proven, but I have or had a mental illness—broadly and without definition,” she continues two pages later.
I have mixed feelings on this. Part of me feels like this is an extremely privileged decision that gives off very toxic positivity “denial disguised as ‘the power of positive thinking’” energy. Maybe it’s her delivery, though, not her message. Part of me gets it. Over the years I’ve had therapists insist—though not formally diagnose—that I was depressed, and “suffering” from PTSD. I knew in my bones that neither of these diagnoses fit—so I rejected the suggestion, and, eventually, found new therapists (a very privileged move).
I don’t know. To me, Fay sounds angry, perhaps scared and alone, and full of internalized ableism. And I think those things overpower the main message of her book.
(Honestly, I was waiting for Fay to reveal that she’s autistic. Each of the six DSM diagnoses that she outlines in the book either commonly co-occur with autism, or are commonly misdiagnosed before a person learns that they’re autistic. And the way she talks about her life experiences, both past and present, sound like so many other experiences that autistic people describe having.
I cannot stress this enough: Although it’s included in the DSM, autism is not a mental health condition/illness. Autistic people often experience adverse mental health conditions/illness as a result of living in an unaccepting and ableist society, but autism itself is not a mental health condition/illness.
I recognize that the phrase “mental illness” is…pathologizing. As are the words “diagnosis” and “diagnoses.” I also recognize that it’s the language that we have right now, to best convey the significance of many peoples’ experiences.)
Overall, I think the book is worth reading or listening to. While Fay fails to acknowledge or discuss many aspects of her argument that I think are crucial to the conversation she’s trying to have, she does make many excellent points about a few things. The book is well-researched, and the information she provides re: the history and usage of the DSM is especially important and valuable—albeit devoid of critical thinking or meaningful calls for action. Plus, there are things she discusses in the book that I’ve not touched on at all here. Respectfully, you should form your own opinion about the book by reading the book, not this post.
Fay uses punctuation as a device to frame the argument that language (or, I guess, punctuation) matters. It’s an interesting and fun choice. Given my love for language and history, I’m surprised it didn’t work for me.
Two books about the history of punctation that I’ve read and love and enthusiastically recommend to my fellow word nerds:
Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark by Cecelia Watson
While we’re at it, a rec for a book about the dictionary and how—and why and when—words end up in it:
Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper
And two books that are, broadly, about mental health, and that I think offer a more nuanced, responsible, and compassionate take on such a complex topic:
Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You by Jenara Nerenberg
The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang
The day after I hiked Dog Mountain (three entire weeks ago???? what is time?), I hiked Angel’s Rest. Angel’s Rest is another hike in the Gorge, on the Oregon side. It’s a short and easy trail—only 5-ish miles out and back, and just under 1,500 feet of elevation gain.
My original plan was to hike the 10-mile Angel’s Rest to Devil’s Rest Loop, but what had happened was, one of my heels began to blister shortly before the summit. Because this hike was so short, I didn’t wear liners or bring moleskin (dumb). I knew I was hiking again the next weekend and didn’t want my heel to be raw, so when I felt it blistering I decided to cut it short and just do the out-and-back. Look at me, adapting in the moment to the consequences of my own dumb decisions. That’s what we call ✨growth✨, bb.
The trail was pretty, and pretty straightforward. No obstacles or danger zones. Well-maintained and wide. The weather was great—clear and crisp—and because I started early (before 7 am), the trail was pretty empty.
I met a fellow hiker a few minutes in, right before the waterfall (Coopey Falls). We offered to take photos of each other, and then finished the hike together—and then made plans to hike together the following weekend. A new fitness friend! Neat!
Shortly before you reach the actual summit, you hit a false summit. There’s plenty of space here to take photos, or eat a snack, or just take a break. And if you hike it early, it’ll (probably) be empty and you’ll (probably) have it all to yourself. I think that the false summit had a similar view as the actual summit, and made for a better photo.
Ten-ish minutes past the false summit, you reach the actual summit and its 360-degree views. My hiking buddy and I almost missed it because we accidentally started on the trail to Devil’s Loop. OOPS. Thank god for AllTrails and its navigation feature. Truly.
Hint: As you leave the false summit, take the trail to the left (toward the river) to summit Angel’s Rest. The trail to the right leads you to the loop. Which: Take that too if you want, after you summit Angel’s Rest. Or not. I don’t know! I’m not the boss of you!
Overall, an okay hike. It wasn’t challenging, which I didn’t like. The views are stunning, which I did like. I’d do this one again, but I’d make it the loop, to add in some distance and, hopefully, some intensity and/or difficulty.
A few other details:
Permit: None required.
Parking: Two lots. I parked in the “lower” lot, pretty immediately off I-84 (if coming from Portland) and right across from the trailhead. I pulled in around 6:45 am and got the last of about ?????? 20-ish spots. There’s an “upper” lot just west of the trailhead, on the left. I didn’t park there or pass by it so I don’t know how big it is. Soz.
Bathrooms: None. Probably a few spots to pee off-trail but, tbh, this was such a short and quick hike that I didn’t pay attention because I wasn’t worried about needing to pee.
Cell phone service: I have Verizon and I had service the whole hike.
Water source: If you want to slip-slide down to the waterfall and you have a filtering system, there’s water along the way. Probably just bring your own though.
Summit: Very pretty near-360-degree views (according to Gorge Friends dot com you get 270-degree views). Not crowded if you go early.
Dogs: Yes, must be leashed.
I read this paraphrasing of the Joyce Meyer quote “patience is not simply the ability to wait—it’s how we behave while we’re waiting” years ago. It’s stuck with me, and it’s been especially loud in my mind these last few weeks.
I’ve been feeling restless and frustrated lately. The weather’s nicer, the days are longer, and this is my favorite time of year to spend hours each day training hard and heavy and fast. I can’t do that this year. My body has forced me to scale way the fuck back, and slow way the fuck down.
This has been challenging, mentally and emotionally. I’m not a patient person. Not in the way most people conceptualize patience—as a passive state of waiting.
I don’t like waiting. I don’t like not doing. And when it comes to scaling back and slowing down my training, I have an especially tough time being patient: Training is my zen. It’s the only time that my mind slows and quiets down, and that I can block out the rest of the world. I rely on it to regulate my nervous system and level-set my mental health. Not being able to train at full intensity and full speed has been hard.
Enter: “Patience is what you do while you wait.” I like this take because it frames patience as active and intentional. Bonus points for it aligning with my coach’s “less is more—for now” approach to my current programming.
There’s a lot that I can’t do right now, and there’s a lot that I can. So. I’m doing what I can while I wait.
I’m going to PT.
I’m doing my PT home programs.
I’m regularly receiving soft tissue work, and doing mobility and flexibility work.
I’m working one-on-one with a gymnastics and strength coach twice a week on regressing and mastering the most basic movements, building strength in the right muscles, building body awareness, unlearning deeply ingrained compensatory movement patterns, learning correct movement patterns, developing mind/muscle connections, learning to trust, and building confidence.
I’m tracking different aspects of how my body moves and feels, with more consistency and detail.
I’m prioritizing sleep and recovery, and nutrition.
As frustrating and challenging as it’s been to scale back and slow down, I know that it’s the right move. Necessary, really. Even if I wasn’t injured, I would’ve needed to scale back and slow down in order to learn to move efficiently and correctly. Because even without injuries, my balance, coordination, general body awareness, perception of sensation, mind/muscle connection, and motor planning and output weren’t—and aren’t—where they need to be for what I want to do.
None of what I’m doing right now is the fun and flashy and sexy stuff. All of it is the boring and small stuff. And all of it is important. Because it’s the boring and small stuff that makes the fun and flashy and sexy stuff possible. And because I really, really want to get back to doing the fun and flashy and sexy stuff, I’m going to keep doing the boring and small stuff.
That’s called maturity, bay-beeeeee.
But also: Not the full story.
My ability to do the things I’ve outlined in this post is rooted in an immense amount of privilege, access, and opportunity—in general, and as an autistic adult in particular. And extra especially in this dumpster-fire economy o’ the end times.
Rehabbing and prehabbing is a resource-intensive endeavor. It takes a team, and a fuck-ton of time, energy, and money to do *gestures widely* all of this. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to prioritize my health—consistently, and to the degree to which I do—so that I can do my silly little fitnesses for fun. Since learning I’m autistic and working to unlearn ableist attitudes and assumptions (an ongoing process), I am never not hyperaware of this. I wish that more people, especially those in the fitness world, recognized and understood that privilege, access, and opportunity are prerequisites to being—and staying—healthy.
But I digress.
I’ll save my many thoughts and feelings on all that—ableism, privilege, and toxic positivity in fitness—for a future post.
On Friday, May 20, I celebrated the release of Harry Styles’s new album, which he released that day, by taking the day off work and hiking Dog Mountain—and listening to the album on repeat for the entire 7-ish miles (I didn’t use GPS to track this hike and the mileage I’ve found online is inconsistent so—oops/oh well—I don’t know exactly how long I hiked, distance-wise). The album is all bops, no skips. Every track is my favorite. And now, every track can be your favorite too! YWFMS.
The hike is mostly bops, a few skips.
Dog Mountain is a very popular—and very (VERY) crowded—trail on the Washington side of the Gorge, about an hour from Portland. I’ve hiked popular trails. I have never in my life hiked a trail this crowded. Ever. And certainly not on a weekday morning. It was…not for me. I am not a social or leisurely hiker/person. Skip number one.
I got to the lot just before 9:00 am and it was already full. I got one of the last makeshift parking spots, fully in the treeline. Admittedly, 9:00 am isn’t that early. In fact, it’s the latest I’ve ever started a hike. Usually I’m well on my way back, sometimes even finished, by 9:00 am.
Still, I was surprised that it was so busy already on a weekday morning. Friday is almost the weekend, sure. But it’s not actually summer yet, and it was pretty windy and chilly the day I went. I really didn’t expect it to be quite as busy as it was. You live and you learn!
This 2017 blog post from Paul Gerald has a photo of the parking lot on a Friday at noon. Had I found his post before I did this hike, I would’ve adjusted my start time. You live and you learn—again!
Originally, I’d planned to hike this trail the following day, Saturday. On Thursday I found out that you need a permit to hike Dog Mountain on the weekend during peak wildflower bloom, which is…now. Permits are limited (200 per weekend day), each hiker needs their own permit ($1 each), and all the permits for that weekend were already gone. So Friday it was.
There are three basic ways to summit Dog Mountain. A western route, a central route, and an eastern route. The map below is taken from NW Hiker’s Dog Mountain page. I did a mash-up of the central and eastern routes, which are listed on AllTrails as, respectively, Dog Mountain Trail loop and Dog Mountain out-and-back.
I started at the Dog Mountain trailhead, went right at the choose-your-own-adventure “difficult/more difficult” junction (a little more than two miles in), took a left at Puppy Dog Lookout, kept going straight up to the summit, then accidentally started on the western route (Augspurger Mountain Trail on AllTrails) on my way back down. Which: extremely on brand. I realized my mistake about 10 minutes in, and turned around and got my ass back on track.
The Augspurger trail would’ve taken me back to the parking lot. I just wasn’t prepared/hadn’t planned to hike it. So I didn’t.
This hike is all lungs and legs. It’s like being on an Assault or Echo bike—for centuries, and under load. The ascent is immediate and relentless, which means it’s also a steep descent. I thought it was easier to run down much of the trail on my way back than it was to try to walk/hike it.
I tried to get a photo or video that captured the steepness of the canopy-covered part of the trail. My iPhone camera simply doesn’t do it justice. Please accept this photo of these cute lil blooming wildflowers instead.
The trail is completely covered by tree canopy for the first 2.3-ish miles. Once you hit the hills of wildflowers (you’ll know), you lose cover and the trail narrows the rest of the way to the summit. This is also where the best views begin.
Before you hit the wildflowers, most of the trail looks like this, except way steeper:
You hit Puppy Dog Lookout pretty quickly after emerging from the forest. The views here are amazing, and there’s space to pose for photos, eat a snack, or sit down and chill out for a bit.
I didn’t take any photos of/at Puppy Dog Lookout. I did take photos just before and after though. For reference, the lookout is where the trail fades from view in the photo above and the one below. The photo above was taken before I hit the lookout. The photo below was taken after I passed it and was on my way to the summit.
The rest of the way to the summit is steep and narrow, but relatively straightforward. There are a few sections with *some* loose rocks, but I personally didn’t think it was technical or rugged.
The next two photos were taken about midway between Puppy Dog Lookout and the summit. I think this stretch of the trail had the best views, and I was kind of underwhelmed when I reached the summit. Not that it wasn’t a great view. It was. It just wasn’t much different from the view at the lookout, or anywhere along the trail between the lookout and the summit.
Also, it wasn’t a great vibe (for me). There were A TON of people at the summit. It felt crowded and busy, it was loud, and there were a couple of people—I shit you not—smoking cigarettes. Which: free country, sure. But also: read the room? Skip number two.
One more gripe: Several people hiking this extremely crowded trail with large and/or high-energy dogs that were not leashed, despite it being clearly posted that dogs must be leashed. Skip number three.
Overall, a good hike. My total time was 2 hours, 58 minutes. That includes several stops to take in the view and take photos, 10-ish minutes of hanging out at the summit, and a solid 20 minutes of accidentally taking Augspurger Mountain Trail back and then turning around and making my way back to the trail I meant to be on: Dog Mountain Trail.
I would do this one again with two changes—start early in the morning on an earlier-in-the-week weekday, and take the “more difficult” trail up and Augspurger trail down.
I recommend this hike with caveats:
- If you’re not a social person/hiker, this might not be the trail for you, especially on a weekend day. If you hike it on the weekend, start early. If you have the flexibility in your schedule, avoid hiking it on a weekend day—try it early or mid-week, and start early. Like, well before 9:00 am.
- If you have cranky and/or janky knees, this might not be the trail for you. Trekking poles might help. Lots of people were using them, and seemed to find them helpful.
- If cardio isn’t your jam, this might not be the trail for you. If you choose to try it, factor in extra time for rest and water breaks, bring electrolytes and snacks, and carb up the night before and morning of.
And fucking please, people: If you’re hiking with your dog—especially a large and/or high-energy one, especially when hiking a very crowded trail, especially when hiking a trail that explicitly states dogs must be kept on leashes—keep them on a leash.
A few more details, for those who are interested:
Permit: Required on weekends during peak wildflower bloom. Reserve online. $1 each, nonrefundable.
Parking: Gravel lot. There are a lot of marked parking spaces—far more than I’ve ever seen at a hiking trailhead, but nowhere near enough to hold 200 vehicles on the weekend. (Not that everyone who hikes this trail drives alone or hikes at the same time. I trust you get what I mean.)
There’s an overflow parking area just west of the main lot. If you’re coming from Portland, this overflow parking area is just before the main lot. It might be marked, but I don’t recall seeing any signs for it on my way in. I only noticed it on my way out because a small clusterfuck of vehicles were crammed in there.
If you’re hiking on the weekend, consider taking the Columbia Area Transit shuttle. Find that schedule here.
Fees: If you drive, $5 day-use recreation fee per vehicle. Cash. Seal your cash in the paper envelope, tear off the piece that goes on your dash (and put it on your dash), and deposit the sealed envelope in the secure box at the trailhead. If the box is full, put your sealed envelope on the top of the box, find a heavy rock, and put the rock on top of your envelope. That’s what everyone did the morning I was there. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
If your directions take you over the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks, you’ll need $2 toll each direction (cash or card), or $1.25 if you have a BreezeBy pass.
So: Up to $9 per vehicle if you drive. Plus $1 per permit if you hike on a weekend during peak wildflower season.
Bathrooms: There are two vault toilets at the trailhead, about 100 yards from the parking lot. Neither had toilet paper the morning I was there. Bring your own. Just in case.
There are some places along the covered part of the trail that you can pull off to pee, but there are SO MANY people on this trail that you don’t really have many options that afford any privacy. Especially if you’re someone who needs to pull their pants all the way down and crouch/squat to pee.
Once you hit the wildflowers (you’ll know) there’s nowhere to pee with privacy for the rest of the ascent.
There’s some overgrowth (or whatever??? I don’t know all the correct hiking terms yet, OKAY?) at the summit that you can probably sneak off to, to pee. Maybe give a quick shout to see if anyone else is back there first though.
Cell phone service: I have Verizon and had enough service on this trail to receive a couple texts while I was hiking. There are so many people on this trail, though, that if something went wrong and you needed help and your phone didn’t have service (or was dead (or you forgot it in your car (or you don’t own one (or whatever)))), you’re not totally shit out of luck.
Water source: None. Bring your own.
Summit: Crowded. Noisy. Windy. Cold. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Stunning.
The first rule about living in the Pacific Northwest is you have to make being an outdoors person your entire personality.
The second rule about living in the Pacific Northwest is you have to make being an outdoors person your entire personality.
Good news! After 15 years away and almost two years back, I’ve re-transitioned into an Oregonian: hiking has become my entire personality (for now/again).
The first time I made hiking my personality was at the end of January 2020. My hip had been hurting for months—for almost two years, actually—and it had gotten bad enough that I cut back on lifting. I could no longer squat, and CrossFit, my primary sport at the time, is full of squatting. I needed something physical and intense to (temporarily) replace lifting. So I started hiking.
Prior to this, I’d gone on four hikes—ever, in my whole life. My ex and I had taken my kids on a short out-and-back in Shenandoah National Park for my birthday in 2015, which was a giant shit show of a day.
I drove off from the visitor’s center with my phone, which had my ID and my bank and credit cards stored in its case, on the roof of my car. It all ended up in the grass at a bend in the road and took us hours to find. We had to drive all the way back home—about two hours each direction—and pull up “Find My iPhone” on my Mac because my ex had an Android (red flag). I screenshot the map showing where my phone was, emailed it to my ex, and then we drove back out to Shenandoah with the screenshot map pulled up on her phone. Absolute chaos. Funny now. Beyond frustrating then.
A few months later, my ex and I hiked White Oak Canyon to the Upper Falls, also in Shenandoah, for our anniversary. We hiked it again the following weekend, this time with my kids and their dad.
I didn’t hike again for four years—until June 2019, two days after my two youngest kids moved in full-time with their dad after having lived full-time with me for their entire lives until that point (my oldest kiddo was already living full-time with her dad). I hiked Old Rag, another Shenandoah hike, alone.
Those first three hikes weren’t really about anything. They were all done to fill the time, to get out of the house and do something different from whatever we normally did in those days.
Old Rag was different. The transition of the kids moving in with their dad hit me in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. I knew the move was the right decision. Still, I felt so incredibly guilty and wrong for having asked for what I needed: help; time and space to start sorting through my shit (✨trauma✨). For being a mom whose kids didn’t live with her.
That hike was a spontaneous, emotional decision, and it was all about intensity. It was a way to alchemize the emotional pain, which I didn’t know how to allow myself to feel, into physical intensity and discomfort, which I absolutely knew how to feel—or at least, endure.
Old Rag is one of Virginia’s most dangerous and most difficult trails. In other words: it was the perfect starting point for me, an inexperienced and solo hiker. I went out early, alone, and “raced” it (my goal is always to beat the AllTrails “average time to complete” time), wearing regular ol’ gym shoes (RIP to those Reebok Nanos, which were my main hiking shoe in the beginning) and completely unaware (1) that there were stretches of scramble along the way, and (2) what scramble was—I’d never even heard that word outside the context of eggs.
I started hiking again at the end of January 2020. I hiked alone almost every other weekend until COVID-19 shut the world down. In that short stretch of time, I got in a handful of solo hikes—some in Shenandoah, some in George Washington and Jefferson National Forest—and a few shorter “hikes” with my kids in places much closer to home—Great Falls Park and Prince William Forest Park.
For my solo hikes, I sought out trails that were at least 10-ish miles, and rated “hard” on AllTrails. And then I hiked them as fast as I could. I started buying proper gear. I hiked in freezing temperatures and various forms of precip. I read books and blog posts about nature and trail journaling. I bought books and laminated tri-folds detailing the region’s flora and fauna. I watched videos on orienteering, broke out my “smart book” from basic training and studied the land nav sections. (It is so funny to me that this book, which is issued to soldiers at basic training, is rated and reviewed on Goodreads.)
I planned to spend 2020 learning how to camp in the backcountry, and signed up for a guided, group trek in Nepal later in the year. I’d decided I was going to solo thru-hike the AT in 2021, and this was how I’d prepare. (Because of COVID-19, none of these things happened.)
I was hoping for the best with my hip, and planning for the worst. I was frustrated that I had to stop lifting for the time being, and devastated at the idea that I might have to give it up completely. I wasn’t ready to. I made the AT solo thru-hike plan just in case. I was still years away from learning I’m autistic, and understanding why physical intensity is something I seek; something I need.
I’ve been hiking again lately—nine hikes total so far this year, at least once, sometimes twice, a week for the past five-ish weeks. Like last time, I’ve turned to hiking while rehabbing injuries that are keeping me from lifting, choosing trails that my body can handle, and that give me the intensity I’m after.
It’s been almost a year since my body has been healthy, which means it’s been almost a year since I’ve been able to train without significant modifications to my programming. I’ve been in physical therapy for various issues and injuries since June 2021, and I’m mid-way through a five-week stint working one-on-one with a gymnastics coach to improve my primary weaknesses and imbalances, and proprioception.
I’ve made a lot of progress with my DPTs and my coach, and I have a long way to go. Until then: hiking. And this blog is going to reflect that. So get in, chucklefuck. We’re going blogging about hiking.
A few weeks ago, weightlifting coach and athlete Aimee Anaya Everett made a post on Instagram. In the caption, she talks about how PRs come in a variety of forms, not just an increase in the weight on the bar. Things like movement consistency, technical proficiency, confidence, and mentality are also PRs.
I really like this take.
I like this take because it acknowledges, even centers, the small stuff.
The seemingly small stuff. The less flashy stuff.
Fun fact: The less flashy stuff is what makes up the flashy stuff! Amy’s post is a good reminder of this. And in the age of impatience and get-fit-quick InstaFit™, it’s a much-needed reminder. This take knows that the less flashy pieces of the process are fundamental. That they form the foundation for the big, flashy, sexy stuff. Like more-weight-on-the-barbell PRs. I like Amy’s take because it’s a good reminder to not skip the (seemingly) small stuff—to not skip doing it, and to not skip celebrating your progress with it.
I also like Amy’s take because it makes me feel less shitty about my history of a lack of more-weight-on-the-barbell PRs. If there was a record for the length of time between weight-on-the-bar PRs balanced against the amount of time one has been doing the sport and the amount of work one puts into progressing, I’d hold it.
The last time I hit a weight PR on a lift was February 2018. I snatched an ugly 55 kilos (the set-up, the jump forward, the press-out—all yikes). I’ve not snatched 55 kilos since. Prior to that PR, which, again, was four years ago, I hadn’t hit a weight PR on a lift in three years. I’ve hit a whopping two more-weight-on-the-barbell PRs in the last seven years. TWO. I am never not aware of this when I’m in the gym. And I am never not embarrassed by this.
I start training with a new coach at a new gym today, and I’m both excited and nervous. Excited because I love CrossFit and the vibe of CrossFit gyms, and I’m looking very forward to consistently doing CrossFit in a CrossFit gym after two years of not. Nervous because I’ll be training in the same space as some extremely elite athletes and I’m insecure and self-conscious about that. (I’m also very excited about this part. It’ll be good motivation—after it stops feeling so overwhelmingly intimidating.)
I feel very behind in CrossFit and weightlifting. Like I should (“should”) be stronger, faster, and more skilled than I am, because of how long I’ve been doing both sports. I feel like my plateau, which always feels all-encompassing and sometimes feels like regression, is failure and that failure is (1) bad and (2) my fault, and that, by natural and irreversible extension, I’m (1) bad and (2) a failure.
I feel this way even though I know these things aren’t true. Even though I know (now) that I’m autistic, and that being autistic means my brain and body work differently, especially in the context of fitness. And even though it’s incredibly unlikely that anyone at this new gym will negatively judge me for *checks notes* working with a coach to improve my imbalances and weaknesses. I mean, that’s literally the whole point of hiring a coach???
On the heels of a year-ish of physical therapy, and ahead of starting with my new coach at my new gym, and in the spirit of not skipping doing or celebrating the small, non-flashy stuff, here are some recent non-weight related PRs that I’m proud of:
Stretching. About a month ago I added stretching into my routine. For the first three-ish weeks, I was stretching morning, sometimes noon, and night. For the last two-ish, I’ve been stretching at least once most days. I’ve been using the Stretch and GOWOD apps. Stretch is a general stretching app, GOWOD is designed specifically for CrossFitters. I like them both, but’ve decided to only keep GOWOD. Stretch doesn’t have personalized or dynamic content. GOWOD does.
When I stretch in the morning, I often start with the first 15 minutes of this pregnancy yoga routine before adding in a Stretch or GOWOD protocol. It’s the first yoga practice I ever followed, when I was 18 and pregnant with my first child. I’ve returned to it many times over the years, even when not pregnant, because I like it. It’s both gentle and energizing, which I find to be a good combination in the morning.
Stretching on purpose is something I’ve neglected for much of my life, because (1) it’s boring, and (2) I’m naturally more mobile and flexible than many people, and I’ve never really been able to feel stretches when I do them. Stretching—and mobility and tissue work in general—didn’t really seem necessary. Until it did. I turn 36 this month (wild) and I’m not as limber as I used to be, or as I need to be for where I want to be.
Even when I pair it with listening to a podcast or FaceTiming my kids or watching TV, stretching is incredibly boring. But I recognize the value and notice a difference (my lower back is less cranky when I stretch consistently), so I’ve kept at it.
Unfucking my anterior pelvic tilt. Something finally clicked for me during a pelvic floor PT appointment about a month ago. Ever since, I’ve been hyperaware of my pelvis positioning, and able to detect and, with the help of mirrors and my iPhone’s front camera, which I use as a mirror when I don’t have one, correct it.
This has been a long time coming, something I began working on with clinicians beginning in middle school. What a difference it makes to work with a patient, kind, and encouraging clinician who doesn’t shame me for having a brain and body that work differently, and who works with me to find cues that click. Yes, this is paragraph is a subtweet at coaches and clinicians I’ve worked with in the past.
Learning to breathe. My first order of business when my current pelvic floor DPT and I started working together was learning how to deeply breathe into my diaphragm instead of shallowly breathing into my chest. My next order of business was to learn how to keep breathing. Turns out, I was almost always holding my breath, and not even noticing it. Who knew!
Learning to breathe optimally took A TON of conscious effort and was an incredibly frustrating, tear-filled process. And honestly, breathing correctly takes a pretty significant amount of active effort to maintain. For whatever reason, correct/optimal breathing is not intuitive to me/my brain.
Learning to brace my core. Figured this one out by accident while doing my pelvic floor PT exercises at home one night. Per usual, the usual cues for this have never made sense to me. When prompted with them, I just push my belly out (and bear down instead of contracting my pelvic floor), or suck it in (and stop breathing). Neither of those things are bracing your core. Your core braces when you laugh. That’s the thing you’re trying to achieve, except without laughing (and without bearing down, and without stopping breathing).
Personally, I think cues like “smile wide with your stomach, from the center, out” or “pancake your stomach” makes more sense than “flex your abs like you’re about to be punched” or “pull your belly button to your spine” (what does that even mean???).
Stronger and longer pelvic floor contractions. When I started pelvic floor PT last June, I could barely perform a pelvic floor contraction (aka: a Kegel). It was extremely weak—like, just barely there—and then immediately gone (“not enduring” is how my then-DPT worded it). And, bonus, for the first few months, I couldn’t even sense that I was contracting my pelvic floor. This was particularly upsetting and discouraging. How was I supposed to know that I was doing something—at all, and correctly—if I couldn’t physically feel it?
Now, after only 10 entire months in weekly pelvic floor PT, I’m able to feel my pelvic floor contractions, I can sense that they’re stronger, each one lasts significantly longer than they used to (I couldn’t hold a single Kegel for even literally two seconds when I first started pelvic floor PT, now I can hold each contraction for at least 10 seconds), and I can string reps and sets of them together. Go little rockstar.
Peeing my pants less—in volume and frequency. I can’t yet sense a pelvic floor contraction when I’m upright and moving and/or under load, but I know something is working because (1) I’m peeing my pants less frequently during workouts, and (2) when I do pee my pants, it happens later and heavier into a workout, and there’s not as much piss as there was before. Progress!
Notably, I recently ran an entire mile without peeing my pants at all????? Unheard of. I used to have pee dripping down my leg three paces into a run, and by the time I was finished I could literally wring it out of my shorts or leggings. Huge progress to run an entire mile without a single drop. And to be finishing most training sessions without pissing my pants.
Noticing. Honestly, noticing all of this shit is a giant PR. My differences in interoception and proprioception—two senses that are responsible for helping us understand our body’s internal sensations and positioning in space—are the primary reasons why I have the injuries, imbalances, and weaknesses that I do.
I’ve spent a literal lifetime with a massive mind/muscle disconnect, and, until very recently, I wasn’t even aware of that disconnect. That I’m now more aware of this disconnect, and of the different ways it influences my health and athleticism, is an achievement for sure. As is being able to register internal sensations that’ve eluded me for literally my entire life till now.
I’m freshly back in the Pacific Northwest after a week in El Paso, where I was visiting my oldest kiddo for a combination birthday/Mother’s Day celebration. Some years, her birthday and Mother’s Day are on the same day. Like the year she was born (yes, I became a mom on Mother’s Day). And like this year. Aww!
I enjoyed my time with my kiddo, and time away from the cold and wet of the PNW—and I’m happy to be home, in my own space and a cooler climate. The break from the rain and the wind and the cold was nice but oh man I am not cut out for full-time heat anymore. Especially in a place that has basically no shade/cover. Like the desert.
I’m not an adventurous person. I don’t enjoy adrenaline. It’s overwhelming and dysregulating. I’m also not a travel person. Traveling is not leisurely or fun for me. I do like being outside and exploring and moving my body, though. And because my kids and I all live in different states right now, I’m away from home (to visit them), which technically is “traveling,” more than I ever have been in my life.
Traveling is hard for me because I don’t do well when I’m away from home. I am very much an autistic creature of routine, schedule, and predictability, and do best in my own space, where I’m in near-total control of my sensory environment and experience.
When I’m away from home, it’s important for me to maintain as much sameness as possible, especially when it comes to working out. Working out is my zen. It helps me regulate, and when I’m regulated, I can be more present. So. When I’m away from home, I prioritize fitness. And because I’m a masochist who likes, and seeks out, type II fun, it’s always among the most enjoyable parts of my trips.
I’m happy to report that I got in plenty of fitness while in Texas. Pretty sure I got in more conditioning in the week that I was there than I have in the last few months combined. It felt great.
Day 1: Hike #1
My first full day in town, my daughter and I hiked (“hiked”) McKelligon Canyon Road, a 4.8-mile out-and-back. Personally, I don’t think this is really a hike hike—it’s in nature/the mountains, yes, but the whole thing is on a paved road. Even so, it kicks your ass right away. It’s only about 650 feet of elevation gain overall, but it feels like most of that is all at once and right at the beginning.
We went in the early evening. It took us about two hours, and wasn’t very crowded. Most people were just starting as we were finishing, and we saw both bikers (cyclists) and hikers/walkers. The weather was perfect—mid-80s and shade most of the way.
Day 2: Gym workout #1
I found a local CrossFit gym with open gym hours that worked with my schedule, and retested a workout I did in Portland last summer.
25 wallballs (14#)
25 kettlebell swings (44#)
25 cal row
When I did this workout last June, it was the first time I’d done a metcon in almost seven months. It sucked. I barely got two full rounds. This time, I got two and a half—50 entire additional reps! And at elevation, in the heat, and with a heavier kettlebell than last time (I used a 35# last time).
This one sucked just as much the second time around. And honestly, it’s supposed to be a 40:00 AMRAP. I cut it in half last summer because it was the first piece of conditioning I’d done in a long time and I wasn’t trying to die. I kept it at 20:00 this time around for continuity. And because while I’ve done more conditioning this calendar year than I did in all of 2021, I haven’t done that much. Twenty minutes was plenty.
Getting two and a half rounds was a confidence boost for me. My training has been significantly limited for the past 10 months thanks to a series of injuries. Mentally and emotionally, it’s been tough. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling extremely out of shape, and like it’s “too late” for me to go anywhere with CrossFit or lifting. Getting a better score using a heavier weight, at elevation, in the heat, and while injured (and without any pain during or after the workout) felt really good.
Day 3: Hike #2
There are multiple paths you can take at the trailhead, and none of them are marked—the first “Tin Mines Trail” sign we saw was at a cattle gate about halfway in. We ended up taking a wrong trail at first.
Eventually, I pulled out my phone and we figured out our way by following the red line on the map in the AllTrails app. Which: it’s great that we had service the whole time so that we could use my phone as a map, or for emergency reasons, had we needed to. But also: the trail should be marked—and clearly so—at the outset and all possible points of divergence, no???
I liked this one. Not a ton of elevation gain—about 1,000 feet overall—but you feel the uphill-ness of it the entire time. The last little bit right before you reach the mines is especially vertical.
This one took us three and half hours total, including getting lost and then un-lost, stopping for photo ops, and exploring the mines. We started a little bit before 8:00 am. By the time we made our way to the correct trail it was closer to 8:30 am. We were back at the car by 11:30 am.
Even though we went early, it was HOT. We each brought a liter of water, which wasn’t enough. Also, there’s no shade until you get inside the mines—if you’re able to hike all the way to them and have the mobility and flexibility to make your way inside them.
Day 4: Hike #3 (an attempt was made)
Mid-afternoon on day 4 we decided to hike Sugarloaf Summit. It’s a short trail, only 1.1 miles, but, according to many comments around the internet, it’s basically completely vertical the entire way up, and there are patches of scramble along the way.
The trailhead for this one wasn’t marked either. We had a really tough time figuring out where the hell we were supposed to start. By the time we did, the wind had picked up and the sun was HOT. We decided to save this one for next time, and headed to Scenic Drive Overlook instead.
Reader, I don’t know what it is but the older I get, the less I’m able to handle things that involve height, motion, and speed. Like flying. Or driving up/down an incredibly steep and winding road that’s on the side of a literal mountain. My body can sense the smallest shifts in movement and noise, and my OCD brain does not interpret or respond to them positively or in a remotely helpful manner.
I’m fine if my feet are on the ground and I’m the thing that’s in control of moving my body. But Jesus H. Styles Christ, being in some type of moving vehicle/mode of transportation at elevation is terrifying to me. And it’s only getting worse as I age. Disaster.
The scenic overlook overlooks El Paso and Mexico. See the red sculpture in the photo below? That’s Mexico. See the tan/gray-colored area that looks kind of bare to the left of it? That’s The Wall. If you look closely, you can see it curve along the border in both directions. Everything to the left of The Wall is Texas, everything to the right, Mexico. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it when I saw it (the wall). In my personal and correct opinion, it’s so fucking dumb. People cannot be illegal????
Shout out to my daughter for taking some standard tourist pics of me. Can we please have several moments of appreciation for her, and for this collab she captured between my hair and the wind?
Day 5: Gym workout #2
Today I did the Hero WOD Kalsu, but with dumbbells.
5 burpees EMOM, starting at 0:00
The RX female weight for the OG/barbell version of this workout is 95# (CrossFit works on a binary male/female system. I’m sorry.), which: Lol.
I’ve never done one (1) thruster at 95#, let alone literally 100??? Please. For that reason, I scaled the weight. For shoulder-injury reasons, I scaled the movement, and used DBs instead of a barbell. Neutral grip is okay for my shoulder. Pronated grip is not (yet).
My goal for this one wasn’t time-based. My goal was to do as few sets of thrusters as possible. I did 15 my first round and 10 my second, and then fell off to sets of five or seven for the rest of the “rounds” (except for the one round that I only did three).
My time was 13:45. Not terrible for someone who’s been injured for almost the entire last year, and who hasn’t consistently CrossFitted since 2020. Also not where I want to be/not where I know I can be. Overall, I’m happy with today’s time.
Day 6: Gym workout #3
Today’s metcon was another couplet. I saved it from @sergewod on Instagram. (While in between coaches, programming, and a gym, I’ve been supplementing my PT home programs with 5×5 squats, and metcons I find on IG.)
8 DB goblet squats
16 alternating DB snatches
I used a 25# DB and did every movement unbroken each round. Who is she?! It’s been A LONG time since I’ve been able to do movements unbroken. Things are looking up, bay-bee!
My goal for this one was sub-12:00. I got 13:04.
I wasn’t as fast as I wanted to be, but (BUT!!!) during this workout I was able to brace my core while under load and moving, my pelvic floor did what it’s supposed to do, and I had NO shoulder or knee pain—NONE! All of those things are A Very Big Deal for me. So what that I moved a minute slower than I wanted to. I’ll get my conditioning back.
I worked out at the east side location of CrossFit Uncommon. I loved it. Immaculate gym vibes.
They have a great space and plenty of equipment (no platforms or kilo plates though, and I didn’t see any jerk blocks), including a separate area for accessory work. The accessory area has a wall-to-wall mirror, which I, a person with poor propriocpetion and in physical therapy for multiples issues and injuries because of it, found extremely helpful.
Everyone I encountered was super nice and welcoming, the house WODs looked terrible (in a good way), and they have a HUGE FitAid case. Pretty sure they stock every flavor of every FitAid product. I like to reward myself with a FitAid or Kill Cliff after every workout, so this was a big bonus for me.
I also really liked that they’re not another red and black gym. So many CrossFit gyms are red and black and I hate it. For those who care (me): they have two bathrooms and two showers (separate rooms), and parking was never an issue (I went at 3:00 pm all three days). Also, they had THE BEST music during class. 12/10. I’ll for sure be back.
After taking 2021 off to focus on weightlifting, I’ve made the very easy decision to return to my first, and true, love: CrossFit. No disrespect to weightlifting. I like it—a lot. I also really miss the intensity of CrossFit. So back to CrossFit I go. At least, for now.
I started CrossFit in early 2013. Except for the break I took in 2021, it’s been my primary fitness focus for the last decade-ish. For the entirety of that time, I’ve been stuck between being scaled and RX: I’ve always been pretty good at bodyweight-based conditioning pieces, and’ve struggled to develop gymnastics and strength.
Like I wrote in my last post, for a long time I thought this was an innate limitation. That I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I didn’t want it badly enough, that my body wasn’t designed to do what I wanted it to do. Since learning I’m autistic, I’ve realized that none of those things are true. My progress in the gym—or lack thereof, really—isn’t rooted in some innate character flaw, or an inherently incapable body. It’s rooted in my autistic brain and how it works (differently, not deficiently); the lack of understanding among the general population about what autism is and how it intersects and interacts with health, wellness, and athleticism; and ableism. A classic example of the medical model of disability in action.
But I digress.
At its core, autism is in large part a different orientation to information and sensory stimuli. Autistic brains process, respond to, and engage with sensory input and other information, like instructions and cues, differently.
I know from my experiences over the past 10 months in pelvic floor and shoulder PT that my brain and body are absolutely able to work together to grasp and master movements—I just need different cues and more time to get there. Now that I know this, my goal, which hasn’t changed since I started CrossFit nearly a decade ago, doesn’t seem ridiculous anymore.
My goal is to compete RX—without having to scale the weight or substitute a movement because I’m not strong or skilled enough. Realistically, I think I’m at least two seasons away (not including the current one, which is close to being over).
There are a lot of things that need to happen for me to get to where I want to be. The rest of this post is a high-level list of those things, grouped into six, well, groups (domains?), and listed in the order I think I need to approach them.
1. Joint health
My joints are janky as hell, y’all. I’m hypermobile, important aspects of my body awareness are trash-ass, and I experience and express pain differently—sometimes I struggle to recognize pain, other times I can’t make it make sense to the people who could help me figure out how to fix it if I could figure out how to tell them what I’m feeling.
All three of these things are common in autistic people. All three of these things directly, and can negatively, affect athleticism. All three of these things are why I have multiple joint injuries—a torn labrum in one hip, which is mostly under control these days; unexplained pain in both knees; a fucked-up rotator cuff and labrum in one shoulder—and’ve been significantly limited in what I can do in the gym, and in my daily life, for most of the last year.
My end goals here: pain-free movement, and stable and strong joints. This is square one. There is no other starting point. I simply cannot progress in many of the other ways I want to until I rehab my joints.
What I’m already doing to get my joints healthy:
- Twice-weekly shoulder PT, and daily at-home PT protocol.
- Awaiting a referral from my ortho for PT for my knees.
- ATG ZERO program.
- Daily collagen.
- Daily fish oil.
- Daily curcumin and turmeric.
- Not training through pain.
- Not training any overhead exercises.
- Not training any hanging-from-the-rig exercises (pull-ups, toes to bar, etc.).
All things considered, I think this is going to be the most frustrating part of training. I’m antsy to get back under a barbell—it’s already been nearly a year since I’ve been able to train without pain, and without scaling or substituting movements—and patience isn’t my strong suit. I hope this doesn’t take the rest of this year—or longer—to achieve. I understand that it might.
2. The basics
One not-terrible thing about being so restricted in what I can currently do in the gym is that it means that all the time, attention, effort, and energy that I usually put into training can now be dedicated to rehabbing my injuries, and to returning to the basics and working on the weaknesses and imbalances that helped get me here (injured).
The things I most want to improve:
- Core strength.
- Pelvic floor health and function.
- Glute strength and activation.
- Tissue work.
- Mind/muscle connection.
- Body awareness.
- Body mechanics.
Some notes about a few of the things above:
By “posture” I mean: unfuck my anterior pelvic tilt and droopy-ass, rounded shoulders.
By “body awareness” I mean mostly proprioceptive-related things. I don’t know if I lock out my arms, or reach full hip and knee extension, or when I hit parallel (or a whole bunch of other things) because I literally cannot feel/sense those things. It’s why for the last couple of weeks I’ve recorded all of my workouts, including warm-ups and post-workout PT protocols—so I can see with my own eyes what an exercise looks like immediately after performing it, and then pair that data with what a rep felt like moments earlier when I performed it.
By “body mechanics” I mean: de-program my body from the compensatory movement patterns its developed, and learn how to move my body and perform exercises correctly. I’m convinced that my body’s been doing the somatic equivalent of social masking for the entirety of my lifting career (lol “career”), and is finally at it’s breaking point—literally.
What I’m already doing to work on the basics:
- Weekly pelvic floor PT, and daily at-home PT protocol.
- Static stretching.
- Dynamic warm-ups.
- Unilateral work.
- Iso work.
- Bi-weekly massage.
- Recording my training.
- Performing at-home PT protocols in front of a mirror.
- Physically touching different body parts as I perform different movements—so that I can feel them working, and to improve mind/muscle connection.
The first two milestones I’m working toward: properly plank, and master the hollow hold.
Get my speed and engine back.
Of the three main things I train—speed, skill, and strength—this is the one I’m naturally best at, and it’s the only one I currently have no medical restrictions, and few and mobility-based limitations, on: I can bike, row, and run without pain, and, lately, sometimes even without peeing my pants (full brag!). The ski erg is probably the only thing I need to wait a bit longer to add back in.
Each/any/all of these things will obviously help me improve both my cardiovascular performance and my overall engine. They’re all great on-the-job training opportunities for my pelvic floor, my core, my posture, and my body awareness and mechanics, too.
What I’m already doing to get my speed and engine back:
- Running intervals.
- Bike intervals.
- Row intervals.
No specific time- or distance-based goals yet. My focus right now is to reacclimate to conditioning by consistently including it in my training, and to get back to the point where I don’t feel like I’m dying every time I metcon.
4. Skill building
Leverage the progress made in rehabbing my joints and remastering the basics to develop and master bodyweight skill-based exercises, especially:
- Pull-ups, all variations and grips.
- Muscle-ups, bar and ring.
- Dips, bar and ring.
- Toes to bar, strict and kipping.
- Handstand push-ups, holds, and walks.
- Rope climbs, including legless.
- Peg board.
- Grip strength and endurance.
The end goals are to (1) do these movements strict, (2) do these movements kipping, with proper form, unbroken, and under fatigue in WODs, and (3) spice things up by adding weight, doing deficits, and mastering complexes, etc.
I’m not currently working on any of these things. Not directly, anyway. I have to unfuck my joints, strengthen my core, develop my balance and coordination, and improve both my mind/muscle connection and my body awareness before I can start working on anything listed here.
5. Strength training
Get stronk under load.
To get to my overall goal of competing RX, I need to get stronger in every lift. This has always been my biggest challenge in the gym—I struggle to put on weight, on both my body and on the barbell—and because of that, I anticipate this to be the most mentally and emotionally challenging piece of everything I’ve laid out here.
That being said, I think that having a weak core, weak glutes, shitty posture, and an underdeveloped mind/muscle connection played a big role in my struggle with this in the past. Approaching strength training after putting in the work on addressing these weaknesses and imbalances might make this piece less challenging than I expect.
As my body allows, try new exercise-y things that (a) interest me, and (b) will help me develop skill and strength, build endurance and engine, and improve body awareness and mind/muscle activation. Some of the things I’d like to try:
- Pole dancing.
Pilates is the only thing on this list I can even consider starting any time soon, although I may need to take out a small personal loan to do so (Pilates is so expensive????). I need to wait until my shoulder is rehabbed to try the other three things.
* * *
I’m not a coach or trainer or expert on any of this type of stuff, and this list is my best guess of how to approach my training going forward. I know enough to know that there’s a lot that I don’t know, and that I’ll need the help and guidance of people who know more than me and who have more experience than I do, to help get me to where I want to be.
I’m eager to find a coach I’m compatible with, and to come up with a training approach and plan that works for me and my autistic brain. Until then, I’m doing what I can on my own.
I’m actively and consistently working on the first item on this list (joint health).
Technically, I’m also able to work on the next two (mastering the basics, conditioning). My body is able to handle these two things. I need a coach’s help with, well, coaching, and also programming and cueing.
I need to make significant progress with the first two things on this list (joint health, mastering the basics) before I can work on the last three (skill, strength, cross-training).
So, what are my next steps? Find a gym, a coach, and a program, and then do the damn thing.
I’m checking out a potential new gym next week that I’m really excited about, and I’m hopeful it ends up being a good fit.