The impossible task of “hanging in there”

Harald Riise is the man who holds the world record for longest dead hang from a pull-up bar, and his story is pretty incredible.

Riise has cerebral palsy and has been in a wheelchair since childhood. He started wheelchair athletics when he got his first handcycle at twelve years old. Later, he became known for wheelchair pull-ups posted on his social media page. In some of his videos, he not only pulled himself up with his wheelchair but also kettlebells chained to his body. He turned that notoriety into a successful public speaking career and eventually into motivation to try and break the world record. 

In preparation for his attempt, he trained up to ten hours a week in exercises designed to extend his ability to dead hang. He worked on grip and upper body strength, focusing on the forearms and shoulders which would take the most stress during the attempt. Beyond his physical preparation, he also trained mentally for the toll the effort would take emotionally. He credits this mental training as much a part of his success as the work he did physically. 

On the day of his attempt, as the pain in his arms became almost unbearable, he said,  “[he] longed for the attempt to be over.” However, when he implemented his mental training, he was able to calm himself down and remain collected so he could focus on the remaining work ahead of him. In doing so, he was ultimately able to break the record.

So, what is the current record for longest dead hang? Sixteen minutes and three seconds. 

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If you expected it to be longer, you may never have attempted a dead hang before. Holding yourself in a hang, fighting against gravity and your own body weight, not to mention overcoming circulation and blood flow issues as the arms are raised in a tense position above the heart, is really really hard. The suspected world record for a one-handed dead hang is somewhere between just two and three minutes. The body simply can not sustain itself in that position for substantial periods of time.         

Which makes it ironic that we tell people going through an extended period of hardship to “hang in there.” By its very nature, hanging in there is not an easy thing to do, and after a certain point, it becomes physically impossible. Even under optimal conditions and specific training, there comes a moment when strength fails, resolve falters, and one has to let go.

If this is starting to sound bleak, or maybe even personal, it is probably because over the last two years, we have all been told to “hang in there” a lot!

Somewhere around the midway point of the 2020-2021 school year, I started responding to the question “how are you?” with “hanging in there.” We’re now at the midway point of the 2021-2022 school year. I’m still, “hanging in there.” 

Hang Out Plush Toys Kermit The - Free photo on Pixabay

I wish we approached metaphoric “hanging in there” the same way we did the physical act of hanging on, with a general understanding that at a certain point it becomes impossible. We are not designed to hold on for extensive periods of time. Which is not to say that we’re meant to give up, but rather that we should get comfortable with the idea that in the face of extended hardship, “hanging in there,” is about as unrealistic a sentiment as they come. 

Instead, we would be better served by actions and strategies that allow us to prepare for and then endure the hardships we will invariably face. Like Harald Riise we need to work not only on grip – like our grip on reality and getting a grip when we’re falling apart – but also on our mental acuity to push past our limits when faced with a challenge. 

In these pandemic times, many of us stumbled backward and blindly into the need for mental wellness. Mental wellness was not suddenly a side effect of the pandemic, but rather something many people were casually neglecting (or at least not giving much intentional thought to) until they were really suffering. It is good that more attention is being given to mental health and emotional wellness as a result of the ongoing stresses of pandemic life. 

However, while strengthening our ability to emotionally stay the course will help us sustain longer than we may have otherwise, it is also not enough to allow us to “hang in there” forever.        

When Harald Riise let go of the bar, he said the first thing he experienced was not euphoria but rather a tremendous pain in his forearms. The excitement over his achievement only came after a moment of intense relief that the pain was subsiding. After some recovery, Harald Riise will be able to hang again and may even attempt to break his own record someday. 

But in order to “hang in there” a second time, he must rest. For all of us attempting to continually “hang in there,” we must rest. Letting go is not giving up. It is absolutely necessary to fortify our resolve, our willpower, and our courage to “hang in there” again.

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So what does this look like? 

It looks like bad days – and being ok with them. 

It looks like shedding some of the things that weigh us down when we have control over carrying or not carrying them. 

It looks like knowing when it is time to give it another minute and when it is time to rest.

Not long ago, I spoke to a friend about various, ongoing challenges. After patiently listening to everything I was worked up about, she asked, “So what are you doing for yourself through all of this?” I was stumped. There wasn’t anything that I was intentionally doing for myself. Even working out and making healthy meals at night, both tasks I generally loved, felt like checkboxes I just had to get through as part of my day. I told her I didn’t know. 

“You have to do something for yourself, every day,” she insisted. “You can’t just spend all your time trying to overcome these obstacles. You’ll wear yourself out.” 

It was so simple, but I took it to heart. For a few weeks after that, I started adding to my calendar one thing a day that I was doing specifically to make myself happy. I sent people flowers, got a pedicure, took a bubble bath, ate the most delicious cake I could find, went to bed early, watched my favorite movie, called a friend to catch up, went for a walk, gave myself 30 minutes to do absolutely nothing of importance, played ping pong with my husband. 

It felt like letting go of the bar. It felt like not having to hang on anymore. I was not immediately euphoric, but I was immediately relieved.         

And those small moments fortified me to “hang in there” again when circumstances required it. 

kermit the frog and pink panther plush toys free image | Peakpx

It is time to give up on the idea that the only way to endure or overcome is to “hang in there.” Physically and emotionally it is impossible. 

I’m no longer “hanging in there” when someone asks how I’m doing. 

I’m struggling. 

I’m tired. 

I’m taking things as they come. 

I’m prioritizing myself. 

I’m finding silver linings. 

I’m looking for something good today. 

I’m banging my head against the wall in frustration. 

I’m celebrating that it was a better day than yesterday. 

I’m figuring it out. 

We all are. We have been for a long time now. Recognizing that means we won’t just have to “hang in there” forever.              

3 responses to “The impossible task of “hanging in there””

  1. I see this says Blog 33, was I cut out of the other 32? I always received your wine posts. Thanks this is a great one. Will pass it on to friends who need the message. Loved my hug on Sunday, so happy to see you and Josh

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    1. Not Blog 33, “Bin” 33. It’s just the new name of the blog because it started when I was 33 years old. 🙂 You haven’t missed anything! I wouldn’t let that happen.

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  2. Good morning! This is what I woke up to and it’s already made my day. 👍Wonderful positive thoughts. You are an amazing writer and express yourself beautifully. Thanks for the helpful reminders. Hang . . . Oops! Sorry. May we say, “Stay the course”? Seriously, do whatever it takes to take care of yourself!! Better days are coming. ❤️👍👏

    Liked by 1 person

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