Just me, the lizard, and the wall.


One of the side benefits of my nearly perverse love of steep learning curves and difficult challenges is that it sometimes feels like endurance training for hope and optimism.

Back in April, my acro partner got sidelined by an injury. Thankfully, they are well on the road to recovery. The upshot is that, for the last couple of months, I've been training without the benefit of a human being to toss in the air. Fortunately, it turns out they are a fantastic coach, and so I've had someone yelling at my rear end (sometimes literally) whenever I needed it.

So, I decided to focus on my handstand...which for me is an exercise in facing a fear, dismantling a trauma, and recovering from an injury of my own.

About five years ago, I heard the most magical phrase ever uttered in broken English by a grumpy aging acrobat...

"You doing self!"

I was beginning to nail my handstands without assistance, and it felt good. As the old clown in the troupe, it felt like moving the word impossible out of the way so I could get somewhere interesting.

Fortune being capricious, I only got to visit that interesting place for a short time. Not long after, I got injured during a show.

A pratfall went very wrong, and on stage in front of about 200 fans who had no idea at the time, I stopped "doing self" for a long time to come. On the bright side, they had no idea and loved the act. I got a standing ovation before I collapsed backstage.

It took a couple of weeks before I realized how thoroughly I had managed to screw myself up. You can use your imagination for grim details. The outcome was being derailed for a few years while everything healed enough to even try to do the extremely physical side of what I love to do.

Which brings me back to the last couple of years, where circumstances gave me an opportunity to really focus on getting back into my body and pushing it's ability to do silly things.

While pushing my limits, I learned lots of interesting things about myself. One thing that is deeply relevant is that I have a traumatic trigger which reliably fires in a very specific body position, because my lizard brain associated it with my injury.

People do this sort of body learning all the time, and the ways people work around it are fascinating. Most commonly, smart people learn how to avoid being in the place that makes their limbic systems have such strong negative opinions.

In my case, there are two problems:

  1. That position is a handstand, and it's my goal.
  2. I am not a smart person.

The upshot is that for the last year I've been literally throwing my body at the wall, seeking to be in the place that makes me feel very much like I'm gonna die in horrible and completely irrational ways. If I could make one recommendation as you chase your life's passions, it would be avoiding full-blown panic attacks while you are inverted. Scientifically speaking, it's a terrible situation in which to torture test your fight or flight responses.

It's about as horrid as it sounds.

I kept chipping away at the problem, literally throwing myself at the wall hundreds of times trying to train both my body and mind that this was possible. My lizard brain doing pushups along with me, eventually getting too tired to say much.

Poor little creature was born to run, and I was making it sit there and watch as I tried my damnedest to prove it was wrong about this very impractical thing I was trying to do.

There came a point where it was pretty clear that the only thing keeping me from succeeding in my task was the fact that I was stopping it from happening. Knowing this was really demoralizing, because it meant that I knew it.

No magic feather was going to make me fly up there. Just me, the lizard and the wall...all dancing around which one of us was right.

Four months later was last Monday.

The wall was there, reassuring me that it would not collapse under my bulk. The lizard was there, yammering the now monotone chant that I might die. My acro partner was there, more melodically encouraging me to do the damned thing.

And my foot slapped the wall for the first time.

The wall kept its promise and caught me. There was no fear. The lizard was finally convinced.

It was by no means a total victory. I bounced off the wall and immediately returned to Terra Firma. My foot is sore, I'm exhausted, and I've still got months of work to do.


For the first time in a long while, I nudged that damnedly heavy word, "impossible" out of my way. Maybe just for a moment. Just long enough to see that there was still something on the other side of it.

Something interesting.