Starting Over: Going from Zero to Sixty (or at Least to a Grumpy Thirty)

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 canstockphoto25096122been 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.

canstockphoto13308001A 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.

canstockphoto35027190.jpgThe 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.

canstockphoto48648947Eventually, 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.

36 thoughts on “Starting Over: Going from Zero to Sixty (or at Least to a Grumpy Thirty)

    1. There’s always a fine line between being kind to oneself and numbing/distracting activities. I’m feeling better – had a better run yesterday, which always gives the brain a boost out of potential depression. I always forget though, that it takes me longer than I expect to recover from anything – physical or psychological. Patience has never been my strength!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We humans are funny creatures. We dig deep to try and figure ourselves out and then, when those insights could come in handy, we forget we have them. Glad yesterday was a better day. Onward …

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I can so relate to this — I’ve often thought my epitaph should read: “She had a lot of things to do today.” 😅 So glad your daughter came through the medical crisis. Sometimes it’s all we can do to keep on keeping on. Courage!


    1. Thanks – we were very, very fortunate when it came to my daughter’s outcome – still on a monitoring program, but very lucky.

      Being a list-maker, I always have things to do and I’ve come to resent this as I get older. Also, writing from home means I have to put on blinders when it comes to chores or else I’d never get any writing done. It’s a struggle, but I’m un-learning the habits of constant “busy-ness”. Some days are better than others!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Amen! Your perseverance is paying off. I’m hearing the Michelle I have come to know come through, You’re doing great! Survival mode is what I’ve always called it…you are learning and it is and will pay off. Keep smiling, that too will become real. The good news: your daughter is healing…and so are you.


    1. Thanks, Sybil. Survival mode has become such a badge of honor in my family of origin, that I’m trying to learn to live beyond that. I’m making up a new word in my aspirations of wellbeing: sur-thrive-al mode. I’m trying very hard too, to embrace my daughter’s diagnosis without a sense of foreboding (what’s next?). Still, it’s all a work-in-progress, isn’t it? See you soon!


    1. I’ve indulged in some metaphorical screaming, but it’s a tough balance between immense gratitude while still feeling the effects of intense anxiety. Still, I think of all the tools in my toolbox: exercise, sleep, nutrition, a deep sense of peace when reading or writing, gardening – and can’t help but feel grateful that I know what gets me sorted.


  3. I don’t know you except as a sister on this planet, mother of a daughter and scrappy soul so I want to stroke your hair (maybe you’d hate that but I like it) and and suggest you stop beating yourself up. This shit JUST happened to you and it sure sounded intense. Yes, be good to yourself. And so relieved about your girl.


    1. Thanks for the kind thoughts. It was quite apparent to me that I was rushing myself back to “normal” life. Despite the fact that my daughter was bouncing back remarkably, the cost of me keeping a rein on my anxiety for that long would take a little more time to recover from. The minute I recognized that I needed some time was coincidentally the exact moment when things started to get better. Still, it’s always a fight to return to good habits.


  4. Michelle,
    Keep breathing and consider that a success. The key to happiness is to lower your standards. Add me to the list of those who are relieved about your daughter.


    1. Thanks, Katherine. I like to think of it as “softening” my standards – allowing more time to get where I’m going, having tolerance for failure, and not being put off by the struggle. Although I’ll be the first to admit, it makes life a little more challenging than it might be.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been away from blogging and missed what was going on, just read your post and … OHHH, Michelle! I’m so glad she’s okay, that you “beat the odds” – and I so identify with how you’re feeling. After the Hubbit survived his December accident, and got through rehab, and came home, I pretty much fell apart. Still haven’t had the something-or-other to write about it, but I was just sitting here, wondering whether it was time to go back on prozac – give up, in other words, better living through chemistry and all that – because I don’t know if I have it in me to be happy. Then Google fed up an article (it’s in The Atlantic) about how happiness is an imaginary construct and we’re not actually designed to experience such a thing. For some reason that has given me hope. Maybe I can do what you’re doing and just pick up one foot, and put it down, and then pick up the other one, and so on and so forth, until I arrive somewhere. Well, you’re doing more than that, but you get my drift, I’m sure.
    Catch me on Skype sometime, okay? I’d so love to connect properly.


    1. Since I know a lot of people who have benefited from better living through chemistry, I don’t see it as giving up, but as utilizing just another tool in the toolbox. If it is what helps you move towards things that make your life better, then go for it. Since I have a terrible sensitivity to drugs, I have to use other tools, but the “do one thing” mantra has always been useful when I’m in a depression. Invariably that one thing leads to another, but you don’t even have to think about the next thing, just the one thing. It’s stupidly useful.

      As for happiness, I think the language has become so loaded around the concept, that we forget that we get to define what that looks like for us as individuals. Happiness for me is a good night’s sleep, time to read, or a day when I’ve been really productive. For someone else, it might be a new pair of shoes, time with a loved one, or a day at the beach. Sometimes, it’s simply a moment. I’ve been reading about the difference between happiness (based on circumstances) and joy (based on who you are and how you feel). Joy seems to be the thing to reach for, but my personality laughs in the face of it.

      I’ll be in touch!


  6. Nice “write” that I can relate to, Michelle. I enjoy doing this type of writing but I always wonder if readers find my writing whinny and gloomy. Like you, I get a lot of responses to these types of posts but they are hard for me to do. Although lately, I just write what I need to write and don’t worry (much) about what others think. I have also noticed that whatever I start writing about, it always makes it way to what I really need/want to say.


    1. I just read another one of those blogging advice articles that called writing about oneself one of the deadly sins of blogging. Since I write a personal essay blog, that’s what I’m going to write about. I think what others find useful is when one can frame the lesson, have some circumspection, and be relatable. Of course, I never started out thinking that – I just wrote whatever I felt like writing, but it is my nature to find the lesson.

      Writing about oneself is like any kind of writing – readers want the story and most stories have a beginning, middle, and end (or at least a point of some sort). And your point about writing helping you find your way to what you want or need to say is one of the reasons I write here as well. Once that idea emerges, then the essay can be reshaped/edited around it, so that it reads more smoothly.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. That’s me all over, Michelle. I figured out that sometimes it’s just too hard to think about 30 minutes of exercise. On those days, I just tell myself I am only committing to putting the exercise video in the machine and nothing more. Once the video starts, I tend to follow along mindlessly. For some reason, people listen when someone is in their face telling them to do something. Before I know it, I am moving. At some point, my Type A personality takes over and pushes me to finish what I started. As for food, I gave up logging my intake too. I’ll go back to it eventually, but it wasn’t working, so I’m taking a break. I think you’re right. We’ll get there just because we’re tenacious.


    1. It sounds like you have the “do one thing” process down. It could also be “show up”. That’s another challenge for me, since I desperately want to hole up for a couple of months and avoid social interaction. But I show up and things turn out okay.
      I was bummed about the tracking thing, because for years, I’d never be able to follow through, managing 2-3 days at a time and then getting irritated. So I committed to do it for a month and I did it and it helped me drop a few pounds, which made running so much better. But it’s just as hard returning to an old habit as it is starting a new one. Sticking with one thing at a time for the moment.


  8. Michelle. On a Saturday morning with a cup of coffee and not s lot going on in my head I came across you. Fate. I was blown away by this particular blog. Amazing love it. So honest and perceptive. Going to read more for sure but now that Saturday morning has a purpose. You woke me up from my torpor . Thank you


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