Fight's Over

Post-Competition Letdown

I trained, I fought, and I performed incredibly well. But I drove the seven and a half hours home and suddenly found myself miserable. Periodic moments of joy interspersed with hours of listlessness, frustration, and anger. I haven’t been able focus.

It already seems weird that I’m a competitive boxer. Me: a 45 year old suburban working mother of three. And I am happy that I fought well, but now I’m also pissed that I lost, wondering if I’ll lose again, wondering how to get another fight, bored to not be training, not hungry now that I can eat anything I want, etcetera.

I satisfied my most painful food jones immediately after the fight (two vodka tonics — thank you, Amy Green — and two Bojangle’s biscuits) and that was the end of my celebration. Now I’m having trouble focusing on my workday. I’m keeping my happy face on, but I finally admitted to friends that I feel like a freak.

What is wrong with me?

Here’s what I know. I’m driven, I’m competitive, and I’m an experience junkie. I obsessively collect experiences, joyride the storm of intensity, then recline in my mental armchair to try and parse what I’ve just been through. But this time I’ve been stumbling in circles, feeling bereft. Over a hobby, for crying out loud.

But my friends are wise.

I haven’t ever met a single one of the women quoted below, but for a while now we have been frequenting each other’s blogs and chatting on Facebook.

Malissa at Girlboxing is also a fighter, and trains at Gleason’s in NYC. She said there were chemicals like adrenaline and dopamine involved, and she also said this:

I often feel the “letdown” at the end of most big projects I work on.

I liken it to some of Elias Canetti’s observations in his book “Crowds and Power.”  His basic thesis is that as we gather to participate in something that is outside of ourselves such as a sporting event, political rally, or concert, we break down many of our usual physical and emotional boundaries as part of becoming “one” with the event.

Just think of a big championship match and how united one can feel with the crowd. We tolerate the crush of people, the loud noises, speaking and sharing with strangers. But on the way out our barriers return; we feel irritation at being jostled, annoyed by conversations, and so on.

After we complete our own goals we are let down precisely because we no longer have a reason for sustaining the alternate paradigm that we put in place to accomplish the task in the first place.

Margaret, at Conjuring My Muse, is a writer. She recalls having the same experience after the hard push to publish her first novel. She also uses the word “junkie,” which I had been turning over in my head but was initially uncomfortable saying. But she took it all in stride.

As an adrenaline junkie, I find I experience this whenever a big moment has ended or cooled down. I can’t say I was ever shocked by it. It’s just my nature. And it doesn’t last long because I’m always on to the next big thing pretty quickly.

To tell you the truth, I think it’s a biological/psychological self-preservation mechanism. Some of us are “wired for sound” and we’d just keep doing the Energizer Bunny thing if we weren’t knocked down like a Rock ’em Sock ’em Robot every once in a while. I’m accepting of the letdown when it comes. It lets me refuel, and my brain simmers with future possibilities.

I would imagine that most people have experienced it at one time or another.

Amy, who blogs at Wait For It, has been a competitive weightlifter and is now testing out boxing.

We reach heights, as you did the other day, but then life goes on. We can’t sit at that height–we have to continue. You’re prancing around in the spotlight one minute, and doing laundry the next.

Last month I was one of four track leaders at an applied theatre conference. Initially, it freaked me out to think that people were paying money and traveling a distance to learn from me. But I worked hard and it went really well. Came home not quite on a high, but certainly feeling mature and wise.

I go to do my shift at the Y that Monday; I’m cleaning machines, and this woman leans down, gestures toward her treadmill and says, “Do you mind? I’m finished.” Meaning there’s no need for her to wipe down her own sweat if I’m ready at her heel.

I’m thinking, A couple of days ago I was a big wig, and now this.

A year ago I would have said that I need all of life to be always on, always full. But now I kinda like cleaning the equipment and knowing that I also can, do, and will
accomplish greater things.

I loved Amy’s image of leading the conference, then cleaning at the Y. Perfect. That’s me wiping down equipment, although I have to admit to my inner junkie’s nervous scanning for the experiential equivalent of a drink or cigarette, desperate to fix my situation.

God knows I’m privileged. Snug in my house with my kids and my computer and my HVAC. It’s embarrassing to be caught complaining. But as Malissa says, this is part of the human story. And like Margaret, I will try to let it help birth next thing.

Meanwhile, like Amy, I’ll be cleaning.

Image by modomatic on Flickr

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7 Responses to Post-Competition Letdown

  1. browse April 30, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    I remember a very similar feeling after finishing a run of a play. There’s jut this empty let-down, a hollow spot where that ritual and energy and excitement used to be.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe April 30, 2011 at 11:53 am #

      I guess I’ve experienced variations of this before. I’ve been pregnant and had babies, gone through hard patches in relationships, moved, had job changes and all that before. Those are all big deals, and everyone knows they are. So all I can figure is maybe I underestimated this one, so the power of it caught me off guard.

      I immediately identified with your use of the word “ritual” — I loved that about being in plays, too. And the sense of community as well. I think both of those are also true about boxing…

  2. Amy Scheer April 30, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    I keep turning over Malissa’s observations on an alternate paradigm; right on. On the individual level, the idea of identity comes in as well, I think. We get to play that role and then we have to play a different one that’s maybe not as glorious. And which is true? Both, or none, or doesn’t it matter? It’s something to ponder. Maybe it was on Malissa’s blog that I watched an interview of a woman who was transitioning from boxing to MMA. She’s all sweet and girly and downright demure when she’s talking, then they cut to the MMA stuff and she’s totally kicking ass. I’m sure she was true to herself in both instances, but part of me wonders if one is preferred.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe April 30, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

      That sounds like Holly Holm. Holly is a tall blonde bombshell (and a preacher’s daughter) who has an incredible pro boxing record. She makes a lot of money for her promoter, Lenny Fresquez. MMA is so hot now I’m sure he’s going to make even more now that he’s got her training and fighting in the cage. You’re right, she’s very polite and demure, and a powerhouse in the ring/cage.

      Which is an interesting thing, as you mentioned. All the personas are our own, but which do we truly identify with the most? Maybe one particular identity (wife, mom, boxer, cage fighter, teacher, etc) is the one we enjoy the most, and wish were were the most like…

      I can say with some certainty I wish I were more like my fighting identity. Or maybe I just want to do more fighting? Have more spotlight? More adrenaline? More feeling like a badass rather than an ordinary woman? Ugh, who knows.

      • Girlboxing April 30, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

        I figure that some of it is about owning the space. The one thing boxing teaches is a physical dominance that women in particular are conditioned not to want never mind achieve. When we do as athletes we transcend to another level of physical awareness — but to my thinking when we actually fight whether its boxing, martial arts practice, or MMA, we also connect to a primacy that puts our physical relationships to things at a whole other level.

        And yes, you becomes a “badass” – ’cause fighting is not part of the lexicon of our notions of genderedness. The next level of that, however, is when that badassness is inculcated into your whole being. At that point, it’s in your lexicon, the dna of how you handle the world. I figure it’s what makes Holly Holm sound so sweet. She *can* be precisely because she knows somewhere deep in her bones that she can kick anybody’s butt and THAT my friend is power. That is owning the room and commanding the spotlight without ever having to show anything beyond a smile.

        Back around the time I started boxing (1997), I took a karate class my then boyfriend (now husband) was teaching. In the class, I had to hit him as part of the fighting part of the session. I couldn’t and he started to yell at me to hit him, hard. I never really could and just broke down in tears instead — it is still hard for me to let it go sometimes, and there are still times when I mentally say, “I’m sorry.”

        A long way of saying — all of those roles and aspects of ourselves are really tough to negotiate and integrate, so hats off to you for trying.

  3. Lance Bledsoe May 1, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Lisa also has this personality trait in which she’s most comfortable when she has a challenging goal that she’s working toward. Her recent fight in Atlanta fit that very well, and when it was over she relished the successful completion of the goal, but only briefly; that sense of fulfillment doesn’t last too long for her. I think a lot of her post-fight letdown is simply that she doesn’t (yet) have another goal to take its place.

    I also find it interesting that I don’t recall experiencing this same kind of letdown after some big event that I’ve been working hard on. I’m usually so tired after all the hard work that I feel a sense of relief that I finally get to take a break. I’ve always heard that that’s how you can distinguish between introverts and extroverts: extroverts get energized by all of the spotlight, people, applause, etc., while we introverts get exhausted by it.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe May 1, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

      How is it that I don’t have this figured out by now? So glad you do.

      One of the interesting things you described when we talked about this earlier was what makes a challenging goal, and how the characteristics of those goals are different for different people. I wasn’t interested in learning my times tables as a kid (like you were, and you took it all the way through calculus and alternate geometries and all that crazy stuff), but I was interested in being in the school plays. Spotlight is part of a good goal for me, and boxing has some of that. Browse, I bet you have both the spotlight gene and the math/boundaries/rules gene.

      I also like for a goal to be really big. Something that I can keep working at over a period of years, as opposed to a learn it, do it, move on kind of thing. I assume that drives Margaret, who is working on her next novel as we speak.

      Gender roles — most of my goals have not been very traditional for women. I’m wondering if Malissa likes or hates that in her boxing.

      And community. I really like being part of a group of people who are all working toward a similar goal. Not sure that one fits you (Lance) particularly, unless the rock band thing gets at that…

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