My lessons from 2019 [Empathy]

The harder you push yourself, the greater the reward and the greater the potential consequence.

Our bodies, my body, can only handle so much stress.

Related to these two statements, I mention this metaphor to every single athlete I ever talk to: "Your life is a water bottle. You can only fill your water bottle with so much water (stress) so that it does not overflow in between sips. An overflowing water bottle equals stress you can not adapt to or manage. The kind of stress resulting in injury, illness, burnout and more nastiness."

Despite my young age of 33 years old, I'm learning that my physical limits and ability to absorb physical stress is slowly (and at times rapidly) closing in on me.

I have relished the opportunity to push my body and mind to the brink as often as possible over my lifetime thus far. I feel like I am now at a tipping point where I have one last opportunity left that brings a solid possibility of breaking me indefinitely or I can call it a day and freakin relax.

Your limits define you

Both mentally and physically, your limits are what define you to the outside world.

Your limit of empathy for others shows the world how much you are willing to compromise and be compassionate.

Limits of a steady exercise regime can show the world how well you respect your body and healthy.

These are not the only defining characteristics of your life, as presented to the world, but they are major themes that can define you to other people.

How I treat others. How I treat myself. These are the two major themes for me over the last 15+ years.

And interestingly enough, as my capacity to force my body into a state of severe suffering has diminished I find my capacity for empathy growing at an increased rate.

I don't believe there is a linear correlation between the capacity for empathy and physical suffering but I do believe I now have more room to let my empathy capacity grow at an increased rate.

The breakdown of your body is a real thing

I have meniere's disease, given myself brain bleeds, have had multiple surgeries, I'm completely deaf in one ear and I'm taking blood thinners indefinitely because of unprovoked pulmonary embolisms. Through all of these medical calamities I been given the gift of still finding a way to push my physical limits.

A portrait of me.

Suffering through PT.

Because I ripped my darn tootin' tendons.

There have been numerous times in my life when a real rest period is warranted, like now, but the general theme of my adult life has been to push myself physically until the breaking point. And then I break. I regroup and I push again.

I'm sure that most of the people closest to me would prefer I stop this cycle. Honestly, despite every setback I've had, I've never been interested in stopping. I've never wanted anything more than to keep pushing. This exploration of my limits has brought me to where I am today.

But maybe I'm reaching my limits of breaking down. Am I hitting the point of no return? Can I actually toe the "tipping point" or will my nature always push me into the chasm?

My current state of health and empathy for myself

I am currently broken. About 3 miles into my 50 mile trail run on October 5th, 2019 I knew I did something really badly to my body. I would later find out I had severely torn tendons off my pelvis (yes, they are torn off the bone and it is as bad as it sounds). And I've torn these tendons so severely that no one on the west coast of the country performs surgery on the issue I've created.

So here I am. Waiting to have PRP injections in my groin. I'm waiting to test out a procedure that's mostly innocuous but almost completely hypothetic in it's benefits.

There is no scientific literature that supports what I'm about to try for my groin (see link above for a meta analysis of the injections results). But there is very little down side as well. The goal here is to help my tendons heal so I can run again. And run far.

I've now had my run life date pushed back to the middle of summer 2020 and the potential for a race life future slated for the end of 2021. I have a few years to think about what I'm willing to do to my body when the doctors say I'm allowed (or kinda allowed) to push myself again.

What will be worth it?

That's the question.

The lesson on empathy

I must constantly ask myself, is this worth it? What will I gain? What will I lose? Essentially, what is the cost/benefit of my intention.

Will this choice help me evolve or will it break me and remove a primary source of joy in my life?

You have a choice in everything you do. Do you act on something or let it go? I can choose to elicit pain for my own pleasure or spend more time embracing the pain of others so they may find the pleasure they seek.

In my eyes, this is the ultimate test of empathy. Your capacity to suffer. For yourself or someone else.

The more suffering you've adapted to and grown from the more empathy you can show.

I think about all of the suffering I either enjoyed or endured over the years. How can my personal evolution from that suffering help me have more empathy for others (and, frankly, myself).

As 2019 comes to a close, the lesson I have learned is that if I test my limits of anything, it should primarily be my limits of empathy. This is how I should focus my growth.

My ability absorb stress is incredibly high. I've pushed my body and mind past reasonable limits time and time again. Now that I have almost two years ahead of me without the ability to push my body to it's limits, I ask myself how I can fill my water bottle with empathy stress. How do I evolve the way I grow?

Today is a good day to grow.

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Nick Brodnicki

March 13, 2021