There are some patterns that seem impossible to break. It’s as if no amount of meditation, no number of therapy sessions, and no level of self-awareness will put a wrench in my favorite (or rather, most loathed) thought processes. Now, for those of you who are psychology nerds like me, you’re probably thinking that I could benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to break these chains – and you’re right! I’m working on it, but wow it’s a slow process. For those who aren’t familiar with CBT but want to learn more, give it a Google since I’m not going to get into the foundations of this psychological approach. Now back to me!
Here’s the situation: I’m faced with a reminder of what I can no longer do. (Example: It takes me a year to run the same distance I used to cover in less than two months.) Here’s my reaction: I feel inadequate, incapable, and defeated. (Example: Why am I putting in all this work? There are so many people my age and older who can do much more than me. It’s lame to be proud of myself for such a little thing, and I should probably give up.)
This happens constantly. I’ll celebrate a victory until I compare it to a past performance or that of another individual, and suddenly my achievement becomes insignificant, or maybe even a source of embarrassment. It never feels like enough, so I never feel like enough.
I’m very aware of these triggers and my disproportionate responses. I bring them up with my acupuncturist, my therapist, my mother. I have strategies for breaking my patterns and establishing new ones that make me feel good about myself and what I can do. Great, right? I think so!
Then something new comes into my path that gives me something else to consider. I recently had the following exchange with my boyfriend:
“I ran another one hundred miles in the last year.”
“Not really. I used to run that far in less than two months. I know you feel like I’m kind of a runner, but I used to be a real runner. Like, I ran at least six days a week, not one or two. I was really into it. I had a satellite watch and recorded my pace and my milege so that I could track my progress…and this was long before Apple Watches were a thing.” I shared all of this in a how-impressive-was-I?! kind of tone.
He paused for a long time before finally (carefully) continuing. “I’m not sure I would like the running-obssessed Anne nearly as much as I like the version of who you are now.”
Since he dropped that idea in my path – the notion that I’m actually better off for not maintining this committment to my personal fitness – I’ve tried to wrap my head around it. Has my health forced me to evolve in ways that have made me an overall better person? I sat down to write this post twice since then, but each time the idea felt so foreign that I couldn’t articulate it. To be honest, I still don’t know if I’m making sense.
It feels big, though, and figuring this out might actually lead to progress. Perhaps believing that positve change can come from things we wish never happend is a meaningful move towards accepting my health…my body…myself. Maybe it’s the one thing standing in my way, or maybe it’s just another step on a long journey towards healing. Regardless, I’m ready to get on board.
I guess we all (or maybe just me) want something to show for our hard work. We want that proof, that thing we can see and touch and say, Yeah, I did that. I’m awesome. But rarely is that available. We have to learn to be satisfied with the process, even without clear indicators of progress, and not rely on these fabricated markers of what we define as success. We have to be willing to adjust the lens from which we view the world as our circumstances change so that we aren’t in constant oppostition with ourselves.
We can look back at a dark days and simultaneously be thankful they’re over and grateful they happened. We can find balance even in the midst of trying times by having faith that there’s a greater purpose, even when we can’t understand what that could possibly be. And if we can learn how to do all of this we can find happiness even in times of pain. (So simple, right?!)
I may have finally figured out how to express this idea, but I still don’t quite believe my words. As Bob and Dr. Leo Marvin say, baby steps.
Image found here.