July 30, 2015 by Julia
As a person who gets stuck in analysis of The Big Life Issues, I’ve been discovering the healing power of action as if for the first time. Instead of allowing dread, discouragement, or uncertainty paralyze me, I continue forward with what I know to be a good choice, whether I am feeling it or not. Soon enough, the positive feelings follow the positive action. I’ve never been a fan of the “smile so that you feel happy!” approach, but there is something to be said for doing right in order to feel right. I used to wait until I felt strong enough, but sometimes you can’t feel strong enough until you’re in the middle of it, and the only way you can get there is to begin. There is incredible strength to be found in the famous Nike slogan: Just Do It.
I recently read in the novel I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes, “Dark omens or not, life has a way of cornering us. A person either stands up or he doesn’t.” I folded over the page to make a note of it. The protagonist, a spy who is facing an apocalyptic mission he didn’t choose and which he suspects may kill him, decides he must address it head-on rather than run away or mourn the end of the world. He is no hero in the volunteer sense – he was dragged into it, which prompts the “life has a way of cornering us” part of that sentiment. That is the part that speaks to me.
I know from experience that it is not only better to stand up and face the challenges that have cornered you (large or small)…it is easier to stand up. I mean that. I think there is a public perception that people who can’t get up off the couch are being lazy, or are enjoying their down time. But that head space of feeling incapable of dealing with stuff is bad for me. It is actually easier on my brain and body to do the dishes than to dread doing the dishes…or make that phone call, or eat the healthy option, or get some exercise.
Some days days for no apparent reason I feel dragged to the earth and everything is difficult or anxiety-provoking. That may be hormones (one benefit of having lady parts is that you can always blame your hormones and it’s probably not even a lie), or it may be depression, which I’ve been diagnosed with and take medication for. It’s hard to say what those dark days are about, because I would say in general I am “doing okay.” I keep up with life and people, for the most part, and there is so much I feel grateful and happy about. Besides, I’m convinced that just about everyone struggles mentally on a regular basis. How could they not, in this world?
I don’t really know how most people feel, though. I don’t know if life is easier or more enjoyable for non-depressive people, or if I am totally normal and am actually quite happy in comparison to some, but just make a big deal out of stuff. Maybe there are no “most people” or “average ways of being.” So I keep taking my medication in the belief that it will keep the most irrational anxiety away, which does help keep the crazy away, and if that is equal parts placebo effect and chemical balance, I don’t much care. I just do what the doctor tells me to do and assume that I am better off this way. (For the record, you should probably do what your doctor tells you to do, too.)
Right now, I am good, and I don’t worry about that changing. We are too busy, and it feels nonstop and like I might lose my head, but I love the things and people we are busy with, and I look at my life and feel blessed, and if I am falling half-dead into bed every night all summer, it’s okay. Our days as a family feel mostly well-spent. Part of that is because I keep standing up instead of collapsing. And then I find that things are actually okay and I no longer feel the need to collapse.
Cleaning is a good way to deal with tough life stuff. When I don’t know how to deal with a problem directly yet, I clean first. It clears my head and burns off negative energy. Even if I am miserable the whole time, at least I am working toward a goal. I will find myself in a better environment when I am done, which helps a heck of a lot. Environment is big. So I put things away all the time, and I stick to my schedule of chores come hell or high water. I trust as I work, work, work that I won’t regret it later. And I rarely do.
I am also learning more and more that exercise and healthy eating affect my well-being, and that if I want strength and happiness to be part of my life, I need to feel some modicum of self-control over what I eat, and I need to move my body as much as I can. If I can make myself do a session of yoga even when I feel at my lowest – scattered, overwhelmed or disgusted with myself – I am empowered by the end of it. Again, the physical action brings out the feeling – not the other way around, as I’ve long assumed is usually the case. Proving to myself that I am capable of physical endurance even while mentally distressed, I start to feel more confident about facing the mental challenges of life, too.
And the eating…oh, the eating. Always a struggle. I’m more of a binge-eating type of person than a deprivation-type of person, but the truth is, I don’t enjoy the bingeing any more than I enjoy the extra weight I’ve carried around these past few years. I have been torn, because I am not doing what I want to do when I eat too much. But I also get stuck on my resolution to never diet again, and to only lose weight for the “right reasons.” I don’t want to be competitive with other women, or get too vain, or be grumpy and starving, or obsess about it, and so on…
But, as I said before – the dread of what I know to be the best choice is much worse than the acting on that good choice. It’s worse for me to fear lifestyle and diet changes than it is for me to actually make them.
And I’ve come to realize that health, a desire to be “attractive enough,” and a simple desire for more natural self-control around food are the right reasons for me. I would like to throw on a t-shirt and cut-offs in the morning, and not worry that I look like a raw chicken sausage. Really, weight gain makes it harder to get ready for the day, and I hate time spent in front of the mirror. And if I can come at weight loss from the angle of feeling good, in part because of the addition of more fruits and vegetables and exercise – that is one of the most powerful motivators of all. So what is the problem here, if I would like to get back to my best, most healthy weight? (Just Do It.)
Food is one of those things that makes us act in ways we don’t wish to, so when I am a bit shaky about something I’d rather resist eating for the moment, I’ve decided it’s okay to make it unavailable to myself until the habit of healthy self-control is embedded enough. For example, I know that I don’t want to eat Pop-Tarts throughout the day, so if I toast one in the morning for Jack that he doesn’t eat, I now throw it away pretty quickly, because I know if I leave it on the counter I will find it too hard to resist. (It is very rare that a child of mine changes their mind about a food on that same day.) And by that action I feel empowered. I am acting on what I wish for myself, and that is okay. (Just do it.) Part of me hates the person who throws the cake in the trash – I’m like, c’mon! Stop being such a Puritan. And that is some perfectly good cake. What a waste! George Costanza had the right idea with that eclair. Self-denial as a way of life annoys me. BUT.
Again: I am acting on what I wish for myself, and that is okay. My health and appearance are worth the few dollars I might be throwing in the trash. (Of course, it’s better not to spend our dollars on more food than we can eat in the first place. But these things happen constantly in a house with young kids, who have ever-changing appetites and tastes.) To eat the rejected food myself will make no difference in our finances. It’s kind of silly that in America we spend so much on food, and then spend more money to lose the food stuck to our bodies. So really, if I can throw away the food I don’t really want to eat, I am saving money in the long run – whether it’s in therapy bills or monthly gym fees!
Okay, that was a bit of a tangent. Ahem. Feminist truth No. 33: Our culture puts way too much importance on a woman’s weight. Give us a chance to talk about it, and it will be like you cut a major artery: blood will start spurting everywhere, making a mess.
The other Just Do It scenarios I encounter on a regular basis involve playing with the kids when my brain and body are tired but they really need me, or getting up and taking a shower in the morning, or writing when I have no subject in mind but am suffering the need to write. Also, being a good friend or family member who takes the time to engage in her relationships, even when my natural impulse after a long day is to hibernate with trash TV or quality reading material.
These are all activities that I love, deep down, that I believe are good for me and my loved ones and our lives. So sometimes the only thing left is to do them.