My physical therapist and the concussion specialist agreed that if I used major resistance band support, I could go back to doing pull-ups provided it didn’t aggravate my symptoms. For the first time in nearly two months, I open my Pull-ups Coach app. I scroll all the way back through all the progress I’d made and look at my sets: Week One, Day One. Shit.
I hang both resistance bands from the bar and step into them, do two pull-ups, hang until the timer beeps, and then lay on my yoga mat to do PT exercises between sets. When it beeps again, I go back to the bar. Other foot in the bands. One pull-up. Hang. Beep. I’m frustrated. Back to PT exercises. Beep. One more pull-up, then suddenly and inexplicably I’m in deep emotional pain, wailing. I don’t understand why I’m crying, I just know that it hurts and I can’t stop. I lay on my yoga mat, occasionally blowing my nose into a nearby paper towel and lobbing it in the general direction of the garbage. I lay on my belly and cry until I am tired then lay there confused. Eventually, my friend comes back and I’m able to collect myself from the floor.
Several hours later, after an afternoon picnic and a walk in the woods, my friend goes to the gym. Alone in the apartment, I take a shower. That will feel nice. I’m standing with my back to the water.
“Only girls and Marines do pull-ups like that,” he informs me, standing behind me. I’m hanging from the pull-up bar in my office doorway. I have races coming up in a few months and I’m serious about wanting to be able to do pull-ups. I can do one if I jump a little, and I’m experimenting with grips. When I get off the bar he hangs from it with a wide grip, wearing a ratty tshirt and jeans. He effortlessly does ten pull-ups then goes back to whatever he was doing. I feel deflated and worthless.
I don’t understand why that hurts so much now–but I’m heaving out big, choking sobs, fighting not to hyperventilate. I hold the wall next to me and shriek. Why should I care now that he demeaned me in such a minor way? Why does that hurt so much? I’m wailing in confusion as much as in pain–but it hurts, and it’s the same hurt I felt earlier.
I’ve dropped from the bar after my third set of pull-ups. I’m experimenting with flexed arm rather than dead hang in between. My fingers and forearms burn as I do core work in between sets. “I can hear you breathing from downstairs,” he snaps at me before ducking into his office. So? Why does he go out of his way to be rude to me?
How am I having flashbacks now from a trigger hours ago? Why are pull-ups triggering me? This never happened before. I start to hyperventilate and then catch myself. Hissing, growling, I bring my breath back to a labored normal pace.
I’m feeling frightened, powerless and vulnerable.. This is an old, old wound that I have tried many times to heal. I started running as a child because I was really good at it, and being really good at something gave me a sense of power when I felt afraid.
My abuser made all kinds of derogatory and discouraging remarks as I trained and cut myself down to racing weight. He raced once with me when we were dating, but after we were married I went alone to every race. My abuser undermined the thing in my life that gave me access to my personal power. Hobbled in my recovery I feel a little like Samson without his hair; weak, frail and afraid. Those old attacks hurt again.