3 steps to managing in modern times
I woke up this morning feeling shockingly good. I realize that’s an odd thing to say. For the past week or so, I’ve been feeling “out of sorts,” just, not like myself. This “off” feeling has really affected my writing, which is why I haven’t published in a while.
Not that I haven’t been writing- oh, lawdy, have I been writing! But none of it was worth sharing. Sometimes when I’m writing I just can’t find my thread, the thing I’m really writing about. My idea may be rooted too deep inside me and I just can’t dig it up.
I get scared that what I’m trying to say won’t make sense to another human being, since it hasn’t made sense to me. Other times it’s more mechanical: I can’t write a decent sentence to save myself; subjects and verbs dance across the page all higgledy-piggledy, refusing to line up into coherent sentences. They tie themselves in knots, leaving me to choose between taking the time to unknot them or press on, the writing devolving into a physical exercise of tapping on the keyboard whichever route I take.
When I feel this way, my first impulse is to try to fix myself. I ask, what might I have done that’s chipping away at my inner comfort? Have I left some important task undone? Have I forgotten a friend and neglected to own up? What is it that doesn’t sit right?
If none of these questions strikes a nerve, I’ll go a little more chemical in my inquiry: what have I been eating? At my age- 52, what I like to call “early middle age”- what I put into my body and how I exercise it have effects more pronounced than when I was a younger person. A lifetime of sugar highs and excess calories cannot be undone in a day, but like all things worthwhile, taking small steps consistently pays off. I drink a lot less alcohol these days, as I know it turns into sugar quickly, wreaking havoc on my liver. And who wants to ruin the next day by waking up with a pounding headache- the aftereffects of alcohol poisoning, which is what “getting drunk” is, anyway? Not me, baby! Those days have (blessedly) long passed. When I eat bread or pasta, these indulgences also fewer and farther between than in the old days, I look at it almost the same way. Plain white flour just doesn’t have enough structure to it to satisfy a body over time. Veggies, which I love, cook and eat in almost every form available, provide significant nutrients, but it’s in protein consumption where I fall off the bus. I’m an occasional meat-eater, more a fish and chicken girl, and even those perhaps too infrequently. These substantial possibilities need to be procured fresh and prepared within a short time to maximize their value, and how many times a week is it safe to leave the house these days anyway?! There are other options, of course- beans, tofu, plant-based pseudo-meats- some of which are new to me, requiring that I research recipes and learn new techniques to prepare them. It’s not that I resent the learning- cooking is a glorious expression of creativity! But how do I squeeze it in between my work and family obligations? Especially during a pandemic when people are losing their jobs, and- God forbid!- their loved ones? Sometimes it’s just too much.
Once I started keeping a food diary, a tool at which I would have scoffed in my younger days, I realized I had given myself a handle by which I could consciously manipulate my eating habits for the good of my daily performance and well-being. My food diary is how I learned I don’t eat enough protein, an issue I now at least try to address daily. My brother, the molecular-biologist/tri-athlete/genius/family man (what a slacker!) has probably been considering his food intake this way his entire life. My own relationship with food has always been fraught with issues of self-judgment and control. Using a food diary is only one of the baby steps I take every day to separate the actual power of food from my mistaken belief system around it.
If, even after I look at my eating habits, I still can’t find the “thing” affecting me, I’ll can move on to the last option on my list: acceptance. Some days are just “off,” for no reason other than they just… are.
While I tend to eye that conclusion with suspicion, it’s often the right one. We are not always responsible for the way we feel on the inside. There are pressures squeezing us from the outside, and from all directions. We are in the grip of a global pandemic. Recent changes to our daily lives came at a speed and magnitude few of us have ever experienced before. Changes like the cessation of work and the structure it used to provide our days throw us off balance; the awkwardness of keeping distance between ourselves and those we love hurts; the politicization of wearing masks to keep each other from getting sick is beyond insane! This a hard stuff.
On days when I don’t feel grounded, I need to back off the self-judgment and practice a little acceptance. I force myself to stop spinning. I stand still, breathe deep, then offer myself a little love in one of the many methods I have available: writing, drawing, designing a new jewelry or clothing piece, or perhaps the most powerful of all- calling a friend.
To remain healthy - or at least functional- amid our stress, we must put our own needs at the head of the line. We must practice good self-care: eat healthy foods; exercise; relax. Without it, we cannot be of service to ourselves or our people.
We must find ways to turn off our negative self-judgments- give yourself some credit! Everyone is tap-dancing as fast as they can, and no one is doing it any better than you are. We must stop fighting the things not in our control.
One of my favorite phrases is, “Bend with the wind.” Maybe you prefer, “Go with the flow.” But, however you want to say it, accept your reality, and know you are doing great.