Suck it up and get it done. Your first world problems don’t matter.
People are strange: we take the greatest of our evolutionary gifts for granted, blissfully unaware of the psycho-emotional ramifications that follow unexpected, unexplainable and unequivocally disastrous strokes of fate. Only when we are forcibly deprived of our bodily and/or cognitive functions do we truly understand and appreciate the wonder that is biology.
My long time client turned friend-for-life Pulkit knows more about loss than most ever will.
I will try within the span of this article to flesh out the essence of his struggle as well as the savage, unrelenting drive that would see him rehabilitate what doctors adamantly assured him would be an irreversible, life-long condition.
Part I: The fall from Olympus
THERE ARE FEW THINGS MORE TERRIFYING THAN UNCERTAINTY
The harrowing feel of anxiety’s coils creeping, crawling and slithering up your spine and around your neck, slowly relieving you of your ability to oxygenate your blood in the deep of the night as you wait in desperate hope for a phantom text that you know deep down you will never receive is monstrous.
The suffocating bite of doubt gnawing at your entrails as you wait for the results of a job interview that lackadaisically sit on the razor’s edge of failure is a slow, agonizing death.
Yes. To live is to suffer; to all men a portion of suffering is allotted to bear, like the Cross of the Christ, for the remainder of his life, but what does true suffering look like?
TAKE A STEP BACK
Close your eyes, and imagine losing the ability to control your body.
- Imagine being confined to the asphyxiating clutch of your bed for months on end
- Imagine not being able to walk to the bathroom to perform your daily hygiene rituals
- Imagine the feeling of being regarded as sub-human through the gaudy niceties of friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers
- Imagine not being able to make love to the person you hold dearest in the world
- Imagine living in the darkness of despair and resignation
The doctors had spoken: the stroke would leave Pulkit permanently paralyzed on the left side of his body.
Now close your eyes again and imagine all of this happening to you at the age of 30.
This, my friend, is what true suffering looks like.
Part II: The Journey through Tartarus
Indignation. Rage. Despair. Resentment. Doubt. Hatred. Regret. Hope. Longing. Truculence. Resolve. Faith.
The wraithly orchestra’s sorrowful symphony had begun spilling its silent melodies in the recesses of Pulkit’s mind, taking him through and beyond the spectrum of human emotion in its frail entirety. The spectral voices in his mind had multiplied and merged into a deafening chorus of despair, drowning out the gentle whisper of reason he had tried so hard to hold onto.
It takes a measure of strength beyond that which is bequeathed to mortal men to fight against an unseen foe: faith demands a solid foundation of unwavering resilience.
No exit signs in sight
The months that followed Pulkit’s surgery were some of the darkest of his life. It wasn’t so much his condition that affected his outlook on life: it was the goddamned uncertainty of ever being able to do all the things that he had promised himself he would one day do that frayed his natural optimism.
His hell had enveloped him: physically, emotionally and psychologically.
There was literally no escape. His plans had been put on hold – his career, his engagement, his social life, his hopes and his dreams…
To find himself he would have to follow in the footsteps of Hercules and journey through the place where fallen souls must forever engage their deepest, darkest fears in grueling and bloody combat: his mind.
Choosing to go against the current of popular opinion is never easy: a lesser man would have crumbled under the unflinching opinions of the medical naysayers: ‘you’ll likely never recover full mobility of your limbs‘ they’d say, patronizingly implying that he had no choice but to just accept his station in life and move on.
After all, the miracle of modern medicine, in time, would see him learn to embrace and coexist with his handicap right? ‘People with physical handicaps can live full, deeply satisfying lives’ they would tell him in all of their politically correct smugness, their empty, hypocritical words serving only to fuel his multiplying and hateful frustration.
There was no respite from the torture, even in the real world… Especially in the real world. No exit signs. Everything and everyone around him reminded him that he was an invalid, nothing more than a cripple.
- “Let me get the door for you”
- “Can I get anything for you?”
- “You need to rest. It’s been a long day.”
- “Wow, look at you walking all by yourself, you’re making so much progress!”
Generic politeness and soulless words of ‘comfort’ and ’empathy’ are as inutile as they are offensive: being treated like a child was in no way going to help him dig himself out of this hole. He needed encouragement, not meaningless niceties. He was fully aware of the problem and didn’t need to be reminded of his bodily ailments; he needed people in his life that would help him dig a way out of this prison.
His anger eventually gave way to ambition and he vowed that, and I jest not, he would give his doctors the finger the moment he’d regain full motor control of his body. And it was with that attitude that he would eventually bulldoze through his physical therapy.
Part III: From there we came out to see once more the stars.
Pulkit and I met around the time that he completed his rehabilitation.
We were introduced by a client of mine at a happy hour party and quickly made plans to discuss his needs, wants and motivations to start training. He simply answered, in a very matter of fact manner, that he wanted to look good on his wedding day and that he was ready to start training as soon as I had an available slot in my roster – we started training that very weekend…
Which incidentally, is when I found out that he was, in fact, partly paralyzed.
You see, we met in a crowded restaurant/lounge, not exactly the ideal place to talk shop. It was dark, loud, and on top of that, he was comfortably sitting on a stool at one of our tables. He seemed spry and in good spirits: no one in their right mind would have been able to guess that he had recently suffered from a stroke.
Programming the unprogrammable
To make a very long story somewhat linear and less convoluted, I will preface by saying that there were MANY challenges to overcome, and that I had to get VERY creative to custom build a training program for Pulkit.
How was I going to introduce deadlifts and rows if hand function/strength was impaired?
How was I going to include pressing into the mix if shoulder extension was for all intents and purposes nonexistent?
How the hell would I ever help Pulkit achieve bilateral squat strength if merely supporting the weight of his frame proved difficult?
They say that the the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step… What they don’t say is that trying to take that first step when your body doesn’t want to cooperate is a royal cluster fuck.
Ask Bruce Wayne, he knows.
But you know what? In the midst of all of the mind fuckery it wasn’t Pulkit that was bugging out, it was me. As a matter of fact, it was always his calm demeanor and steadfast spirit that encouraged me to show up and bring my best. Once he had taken that proverbial first step there would be no stopping him. He had become a juggernaut.
He was always calm.
Almost eerily so. It was almost as if he had mentally transcended his limitations and was patiently waiting for his strength to manifest itself physically. And little by little, slowly but surely, it did.
[Insert mandatory Batman reference number 2: Bruce Wayne trains his balls off to rehab his broken back after Bane hands him his ass]
Pushing past limits
We started off with a lot of trx-esque body weight work and a metric crap ton of mobility drills to coax his body back into biological obedience. It was hard. Brutally hard. And the harder I pushed PK, the harder he would push back.
If I prescribed him 15 rep sets he would do 25.
If I told him to do 4 sets, he’d do 8.
If he wasn’t wrecked by the end of the session, he would leave the gym with the bitter taste of disappointment in his mouth. He had become obsessed, consumed with the single thought of triumph, regardless the cost.
And let’s keep it real here – it wasn’t my prowess as a coach that got PK his results – it was his mindset. Success is a function of success, and as his strength began to grow, and along with it his hand-to-eye dexterity and coordination, his confidence began to soar. He began pushing past his limits, boldly breaking through plateaus and momentary setbacks. If he wasn’t able to perform the prescribed exercise during one of our sessions, he would try it again at a later time.
He was relentless. His resolve had become self perpetuating. He had already won; his body was merely catching up.
Little by little we started working on supported overhead squats and then supported overhead isometric holds to get his upper back and shoulders used to bearing ever increasing loads.
In the end inches were shed, strength was gained and confidence was reestablished. I can’t adequately express how proud I am to have had the chance to work with Pulkit: I was reminded that no matter how vengeful, vicious and violent the karmic shit storms in my life become, my pain is nothing when compared to the bullshit this man has had to endure. And I had made a friend for life.
Count your blessings friends, they are certainly not owed.
Part IV: Afterword
The human body is amazing; the human mind, in its boundless biological capacity, miraculous, and Pulkit’s story is as close to proof as there is of this. To this day I am convinced that we are capable of achieving far more than what we give ourselves credit for. We only have to ask ourselves how much hardship we are willing to endure and if we truly trust that our efforts will one day yield the desired results.
When PK told me that he simply wanted to look good on the day of his wedding I took his statement at face value: months would go by before I would see the immensity of his simple statement.
His ‘why’ was not a simple matter of vanity: he wanted to unveil to the the people in his world, on a day where he knew they would all be present, a day that all would remember for years to come, that his circumstances did not and could not define him. He wanted to broadcast to all that he would never forfeit his life, even in the face of overwhelming odds of failure. He needed to demonstrate to those around him that his was, is and will always be a spirit of victory and not victimhood.
I can only hope that even the slightest fragment of the inspiration I experienced could sway your thoughts away from the multifarious factors of insignificance that permeate society, that you may remember, as I was reminded, of the things that matter most in life.
About the author
Head Coach, Managing Director
Wordsmith. Lover of Medieval literature. Heavy metal guitarist. History nerd. Dan mainly works with general population clients and normal folks that want to achieve their personal version of the extraordinary. He enjoys learning about what makes people tick, and to that purpose has decided to pursue a PhD in Business, focusing his research on the psychological imperatives that drive customer behavior – Basically, whether you’re looking to lose a little holiday weight or up your nude game to 12/10, he’s got what it takes to lead to the Promised Land.