When I left for China, I wanted to get big and strong. I had been on the school athletics team and swam for years. I had even won a few medals at regional level. I guess I was in reasonable shape, but I was crippled by chronic shoulder, elbow and wrist pain. Even back pain. Studying law was torture. I had to use voice to text software to write essays, get extensions on essays for disability, and use a scribe for my exams…and yet I never gave up. I kept popping ibuprofen, writing law and organising extracurriculars like a law society and newsletter for my CV. I even had time to run a pen and paper RPG. But it was killing me.
I ate a bowl of porridge in the morning, with an egg. For lunch I had a tin of fish, a slice of bread and some fruit. For dinner, I would have a small amount of rice and beef, and lots of vegetables. This was not enough for a man of my activity level, and I was wasting away. I had a BMI of 17. Naturally, low bodyfat and good facial aesthetics got me modelling work and promotions work. But it appals me how ill I was, and how no one ever told me to eat more.
My girlfriend and her folks were so worried, her fitness minded dad (180kg squat, 3plate bench) bought me mass gainer. Her uncle said I was eating about 1800 calories a day. When I finished that year of college, I had organised a scholarship to Shanghai University. That summer, I joined a local gym and fucked around on machines. The jocks laughed at me, until the owner told them to shut up. That was an auspicious start. I put on about 5kg those 6 months since I started on the mass gainer, taking me from 68kg at 6’0 to 73. It helped with the chronic pain. But I wanted to be strong.
I was on the beach with my girlfriend, and I wanted to be able to lift her up in a princess carry. Given that she weighed about as much as I did, it was only possible in the water. When I came back from China, I said, I’d lift her up unassisted. I asked an image board: how can I do it? “not being so fucking weak they said” “ do the big 4” they said. “Read starting strength and watch these videos.”
So when I got to China, I went to the shitty college gym without air conditioning, and I squatted in the smith machine with a Philipino and a Bangladeshi guy, and a load of Chinese bodybuilders. I joined their Shanghai University fencing team to continue my college fencing . I signed up for a track meet in the 100m and long jump. I didn’t really talk to many people, and concentrated on studying international business and Chinese. I hit the clubs a few times, at least.
After a few weeks, I could squat 100kg in the smith machine. I stuffed my face at every cheap canteen meal – huge quantities of food. Usually alone. On top of that, I drank about 2l of milk or yogurt a day. The gym didn’t have a squat rack. Instead, the people deadlifted and used the smith machine. Eventually, we rigged up the dip bars as a squat rack, but it was an inch or two too high. Who cares about safety when you’re trying to get big?
After a month or two I was able to deadlift 100kg. I had a Chinese girlfriend on the side. I looked pretty normal. I wasn’t as horrendously skinny. If I had stopped stuffing myself, I would have been doing well. But I kept going, focused on the goal of lifting my girl when she came to China. I began to get bloated and fat. A medical in January for a visa renewal showed a fatty liver – the doctor said “eat healthy, take medicine.” But I kept eating and lifting. Particularly as I had broken up with the Chinese girl. There were times I didn’t even leave my room for days, except to eat and lift.
When I was pushing 20bf% and 86kg, people were much less friendly. I’m used to coasting on good looks to make up for mediocre social skills. But without those, life was harder. I had become a Rip nut hugger of the highest kind. Fuck mobility, fuck athleticism, it was all about getting my highbar squatmourning and deadlift, and OHP up.
I could squatmorning 110kg for 3×5, deadlift 160kg for a single and OHP 55kg for a triple. I could bench 85kg for a single. These weren’t bad numbers for a rank novice with limited athletic ability.
While I was away in China, the woman had taken up comfort eating again. She put on 14kg, almost more than I had. She definitely wasn’t doing SS+GOMAD either. When it came down to it, and she came out in the July, neither of us were in great shape physically or emotionally. Towards the end of the holiday, when we had each walked off about 2kg, I lifted her up in an Confucian temple. I did it again, outside the Beijing stadium. My crowning achievement of the year was lifting up a fat woman.
When I wrapped up the year and headed home (very abruptly, as it turned out the company I was working for would not help me renew my visa once I finished working for them), my biggest emotions were shame and pride. I thought I looked good, when really I looked like a fatass. I thought I was a good athlete because I could squatmorning close to 130kg for a single. Coming home was never going to be easy, but I threw myself into college and a law journal. I applied for big law firm after big law firm. I thought international business experience, top marks in law and a willingness to learn would get me a job. But times were tough: jobs were only going to the children of clients, or prospective clients. The truly exceptional got offers, but these kinds of people had enough balls to reach higher: they went from our small no-name college to Ivy League Law in America.
I became more and more depressed: my self-worth was tied up in getting these big law jobs and squatmornings. The journal wasn’t going well, and like a huge fucking tryhard I got through on 4 hours sleep, editing law journal submissions then finishing business and law essays. But instead of pushing through, trying harder pushed me under: missing lifts, missing deadlines.
I felt guilty for sleeping around in China. I felt guilty about everything – letting down my parents, my colleagues. Living in a filthy apartment that I couldn’t keep clean with the resources I had. I felt I was running out of options. I threw myself into study as a way of numbing myself further. My perspective became warped. I thought I could get out of it by trying harder.
Suicide eventually seemed like a real option, and I kept everyone in the dark about it. It would be getting drunk, and lying down on a train track. There was a bend in the track nearby, overhung by a bridge, which would conceal me. I would get drunk and insensible to pain with codeine. I’d put my neck over the rail, and camouflage myself. I hope to spare the driver the trauma of killing someone. It would be the first train of the morning.
When I look back it, the whole method of suicide seems comically final. Like I wanted to die so completely it would form a singularity of tryhardness. From beginning to end. At least I wasn’t the first of my friends to successfully kill themselves.
I couldn’t study for my Christmas exams, and with the help of a good friend, went to a doctor to get a referral to hospital for a psychiatric assessment. I waited alone in the hospital for 23 hours, and eventually got seen. I can’t really remember a whole lot about it, but I wanted out immediately. Nobody knew about until a week after. Not my girlfriend, not my parents. I started on medication to give me more energy to get my life together, and moved in with some good friends.
That’s when I discovered that I could just quit. I didn’t have to grind through reps, meetings, essays, I could just walk away, delegate responsibilities, delay. I could finally learn to care less and stop being such a massive fucking tryhard.