She persevered. There it is, the epitaph for my gravestone. One would think the outcome would be pure, unmitigated success for all the trying I do. All the workouts, reading, goal-setting, and writing I’ve done in my lifetime would suggest a svelte, erudite, accomplished human being instead of this awkward lump just trying to get through the day without tripping over herself. It turns out, the only way I see positive outcomes is by redefining for myself what success actually means.
The last month and a half, I got steamrolled by a family medical crisis. Before that hit, I’d been training for a 5K, improving my nutrition, writing up a storm, and feeling pretty good about the direction my life was taking. I was able to see some progress and was learning to focus better. Then life happened and training runs became sitting vigil in a hospital. Writing became short missives in dealing with my fear and anxiety. Good nutrition became whatever showed up in gift baskets. Sleep was 15 minutes in a chair or on a polyvinyl couch, manipulating airline pillows so my neck wouldn’t hurt.
The primal fears never came to pass – this time, we beat the odds. Our bags are unpacked and we are home as if nothing ever happened. Life is normal again.
Two days after we got home, I started training runs and counting calories. My heart wasn’t in it. I wrote a few blog posts, opened my novel on the computer 246 times and closed it again. I still wasn’t sleeping well. I stopped running, I stopped tracking, I stopped writing. It was hard to care. I felt defeated, because it felt like all the work I’d been doing had been for nothing – I was starting over again.
A naturally sunny person would revel in a good medical outcome and having the opportunity to start over again. But I am more a dark-side-of-the-moon person. It takes a lot of effort to move into the light and to embrace positive habits. Worthiness is not second nature. It requires a lot of self-talk and a one step at a time approach, which is exhausting and infuriating for someone who lacks patience. This is all to say, that it’s hard (and yes, hear that with the requisite tone of whining).
The formula for starting over or starting anything is always the same: do one thing. And then do it again. Once the one thing is habitual, add another thing. Give it a little time. Review, adjust the things you do if some habits are working better than others. Re-jigger habits until you’ve ironed out the bumps. Do the next thing. So simple. So incredibly difficult.
The first step for working out for me is always showing up. Arrange to meet a friend for a walk. Go through the doors at the gym. Decide to stretch for ten minutes on the living room floor. Do the thing. I did the thing. I went to the YMCA, got on a treadmill, left 20 minutes later angry at the world. It was a terrible run. I felt awful. Everything hurt. I felt I’d lost so much ground just in the course of a month. So I went home, binge watched a terrible TV show while eating my body weight in ice cream.
The next day, I met a friend for a walk. I could hear myself blathering on and had an out-of-body experience of wanting to tell myself to shut up. It was our usual patter, but I wasn’t in it and was happy when it was over. Normal felt awkward.
The following day, I showed up at the gym again, arriving out of sorts and planning on feeling like absolute shit again. I galumped my way onto an elliptical for warm up and begrudgingly shuffled over to a treadmill for an interval run. As planned, it felt awful. But not as awful as before.
Rinse and repeat.
The encouraging bit of this tale would be to announce that I’ve just come in first place in a 5K. But that would be a lie. I’m not sure I could even finish a 5K at this point. I’m begrudgingly heading to the gym this morning with apprehension and no small degree of grumpiness. But I’m doing it. I have a high tolerance for doing things, even when grumpy. A nicer spin would be to call this resilience.
Eventually, I know it will be better. But part of me feels the foreboding sense that life will force me to start over again. And I’d be right, because that is the nature of being human. Something will always happen and knowing that, I know the skill of being able to start over is indispensable and necessary. Perseverance is the gift.
I have to remember that gift when I lift weights and feel like a weakling or when I write and seem incomprehensible or when I’m trying to be kinder and call someone a dipwad while driving or when I count calories only to discover I could have fueled a small factory with what I ate. Sometimes success can’t be outcomes. Sometimes it just has to be in the trying and the doing. Dragging oneself, kicking and resentful, into the light is sometimes the best we can do.