Monday, February 4, 2019

On Expectations (Falling Short, Being Kind, and Recognizing Reality)

My goodness. I am out of shape. And not taking care of myself. And it's been going on way too long. 

I've been trying to figure out how to write this post without it sounding like 1) I am asking for a pity party or 2) I am making a list of excuses.

The latter is easier to deal with. I don't have anything to excuse. I don't owe anyone my fitness or even my health. I don't need to explain my own choices to anyone except myself, and I know that and believe it.

As for the pity party, I'm really not trying to do that, either. First of all, the time for pity (if it was warranted) has passed. Secondly, I don't think what I am about to write makes me pitiful. I'm sharing it not because I'd like pity but because I suspect I'm not alone in the (potentially fatal) flaw of not being honest with myself about what's really going on, and without an honest accounting of the realities around us, how are we supposed to make any real progress?

So, here's the thing. There was a point where I was pretty fit. (I was never thin, but this isn't about that.) There was a point (not even that long ago), when I was routinely running 10k, lifting weights multiple times a week, playing roller derby, and regularly getting 15,000 steps a day without even really trying. I didn't get winded climbing two flights of stairs, and I didn't have trouble getting up off the floor after sitting down to read a book with my daughter.

I was, looking back on it, taking care of myself pretty well. I drank water, ate vegetables, and generally did the things I was supposed to do to take care of this one body I get.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped doing that. I stopped running. I stopped eating well. I stopped lifting weights. I stopped even walking with much regularity or intention. And I started doing some other things. I started panting at the top of stairs, struggling to get up off the floor, and generally feeling like I wasn't treating myself very kindly.

So, today, I stopped and really tried to figure out what happened. That's when I came to a realization. Here's a simplified timeline of what I recognized:
  • June 2014- I broke my ankle and had to have surgery to put it back together. I wasn't even allowed to bear weight until August. It took a lot of physical therapy and struggle to be able to flex my ankle and rebuild my muscles, and I wasn't truly back to full physical function for almost a year. All the while, I was writing a dissertation.
  • June 2015- I got pregnant. Still writing a dissertation.
  • July 2015- I miscarried that pregnancy. And dissertations don't write themselves.
  • August 2015- I got pregnant again. I was put on exercise restrictions due to some minor complications. But those restrictions didn't extend to dissertation writing.
  • November 2015- I successfully defended my dissertation. 
  • May 2016- I had a baby. Then I started experiencing symptoms of post-partum depression and anxiety. I had daily panic attacks for most of the summer that eventually spaced out to weekly, then monthly, then occasionally. 
  • August 2017- I bought a house. (This becomes important in a moment). 
  • September 2017- I found out I might get laid off from the position I had been in for six years and had planned to do the rest of my life: my full-time, "continuing status" (basically tenured) community college professor position . . . and I had just bought a house. 
  • December 2017- I found out I was definitely getting laid off. 
  • January-May 2018- I had to teach my final semester, knowing I was losing my job and with it the only professional identity I had ever had or wanted. It destroyed me. 
  • May 2018-present- I have been trying to pick up the pieces of my sense of self, make up for my lost income through a scramble of freelance and adjunct work, and generally find out who I am on the other side of it all. 
Today, for the first time, I thought about all of those realities in succession. I recognized that what started as physical impairments that greatly altered the way I used my body (the ankle break, the pregnancies) cascaded into mental and emotional turmoil (the PPAD, the identity crisis) and that it became a chicken and an egg of what would need to come back first to help me recover the other.

Would regaining physical fitness help me become emotionally clear or would I need emotional clarity before I could get physically fit?

I imagined what I would say to a friend who came to me worried about her lack of fitness and self-care if she was failing to recognize the series of events that had led her to that place. Then I tried to tell those things to myself, and that's how I ended up writing this post.

Look, I know that it hurt no one but myself to stop working out at the moments that I most needed to be strong. I know that continuing bad habits (or continuing to ignore good ones) did nothing but dig me a deeper hole to climb back out of. I know that doing things like eating well and exercising more would likely have improved the state of mind I was in throughout many of those events.

But I also know that I am human, and I am trying, and that? That was a lot.

Intellectually knowing what the best choices are doesn't equate to having the emotional resources to make them, and I've been bereft. I haven't had the tools to do the work even when I knew what work needed to be done. It didn't matter how many times I looked at the blueprint.

Is it better now? I want to say yes, but the truth is, I can't really be sure. I know that it's easier to keep a habit than to make one. I know that the almost four years that have passed since I was last where I wanted to be, health-wise, have represented a physical aging that I can't undo, a collective impact that won't be erased.

All I can do is start where I am, and I think that starting where I am with the full recognition of where I've been is probably the best chance I've had in a long time.

If you are falling short of your own expectations (in whatever it might be) and you need a prod to take stock of where you've been and be kind to yourself because of it, I hope this can be it.