While I don’t exactly feel like the same woman who wrote it, the words of ‘Reclaiming Life’ still ring true in my ears. The belief that you either make your life or life will just happen to you, is very true. I don’t believe in destiny or fate, but I recognize that the time we have here on Earth will be what we make of it. If you don’t make the most of your decisions and actions, then enjoy a boring life on the sidelines.
I’m not recommending that each day has to be lived as if it was your last. The reality is that chasing the highs of experience can only last so long before you become burnt out. Lazy days, boring days, duvet days are all a necessary part of life. Maybe today you don’t conquer the world, or that to do list, but that’s okay. Give your body and mind time to rest and to heal, and when you wake up the next day get back to creating the life you want.
Personal experience has provided me the insight to life lived with my foot both on and off the gas pedal. Countless days spent unable to get out of bed or leave the house. To suddenly wake up and feel like the world has finally been lifted of my shoulders. This is life with mental illness. A roller coaster you can’t get off, but with effort, you can work to managing into a full life.
There was a period of my life that I continually aim for. A time when I was truly living, in balance and harmony with my body and self. This was when I saw the Goddess in the mirror. Looking back it seems as though this time could be easily achieved and replicated again.
Five days a week I was in the gym, usually every morning. The other two days I was nose to the yoga mat in my living room, watching at home yoga videos off YouTube. Some days when my energy was low, I would just speed walk on the treadmill, book in hand, for thirty minutes. Other days I’d pump out an hour on the rowing machine, rocking out to a four-to-the-floor beat, time flying in my zone.
My passion for cooking came about, and I cooked everything I consumed. Only healthy ingredients, healthy portion sizes and real ingredients. My mantra for 90% of what I ate was ‘if this ingredient has an ingredients list, I won’t use it’.
That meant fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, fresh unprocessed meats and minimal carbs. Bread and pasta are foods that I enjoy, but learned that in moderation I could have in my diet in a healthy way. No pre-made, pre-cooked, sugary fast foods or anything fried. Only healthy meals that I could make.
My mind was sharp and focused during this time. If I wanted something in life, I set achievable goals and did it. I was accountable to only myself. Setbacks were no longer earth shattering failures, just delays or detours to living my best life.
Dating was comfortable and pleasurable. Quality time with friends and family, sharing a good home cooked meal, was enjoyed and encouraged. Filling my brain full of positive, entertaining knowledge took over my old shower sing-a-long songs. My life finally felt my own. I was in control of all of it. This was bliss.
For almost a year this was my life. But slowly over the weeks and month’s the bliss eroded. The balance started to shift from invincible to exhausted. My new job meant a huge change in my diet. Stressful days meant wanting more sleep, an in turn less time or motivation for the gym. Before I could recognize the shifts and correct them, my life became miserable. My body ached and I was tired all the time. My mind wasn’t as clear and much less focused. This was not what I had worked so hard for.
Now years later I find myself in search of bliss. This time it comes with great caution. Before I operated with the notion that if I do the right things for my body and mind, then success would follow. Now I have different information. I operate from a much more pessimistic view. My illness comes with cycling, it’s why I can’t get out of bed for three days, and then wake up with the energy of having consumed three Red Bulls at once.
I haven’t been to the gym in months, and only cook occasionally. Each time I have the motivation I second guess myself how long it will last. I’m always waiting for the drop in the roller coaster, the brakes at the end of the ride. I still can’t seem to understand and accept the “so what?” concept. So what if I fail? So what if I wake up one day and don’t want to be my best self?
Will this hurt anyone? Will this mean anything in a week or a month? A year? Why do I assume one bad day will derail everything? I had some tough days when I started out before, and the middle of that story turned out pretty great I think.
How is it that post diagnosis I can look back at some of my perceived failures in life and forgive myself? That I can recognise I wasn’t 100% in control, or I was operating on bad information from a jumbled mind. That I didn’t always fail each time I stumbled, I just lived life on the other side of the coin?
Why can I not, today, forgive myself for my future failures? There will be failures. History and experience have taught me that. Why does feeling helpless at the hands of a self-sabotaging brain paralyze me from trying my best to manage my illness? Why do I feel helpless when I know I’m not?
Why can’t my logical brain kick my irrational brain, point and shout “Hey pay attention! This information is important!”
Time spent thinking “yes I should.” “Yes I can.” “Maybe tomorrow.” “Find ten things you need to do before you start the thing, so you’ll be really ready and therefore more successful”. The truth is simple, just get up and do it.
Steps necessary to start exercising?
- Put on pants.
- Put on shoes.
- Grab your keys and leave the house.
- Put one foot in front of the other and start walking.
We build up simple things in our minds so much that we become paralyzed by the idea of action. Then we feel guilty for inaction. Why? Just tie those shoes and go! You can’t fail at going for a walk, unless maybe you’re drunk.
For five minutes of your life, live as if your actions to do not have consequences. Make yourself believe that you can accomplish without struggle or resistance, lie to yourself if you have to. And then somewhere down the line of repeating one foot and then the other you recognize that it wasn’t hard. It didn’t hurt. You didn’t fail. That paralysis seems silly, and I truly hope you shake your head and laugh at the doubts. Let your brain see the proof, that you can accomplish something without the world collapsing around you.
Tomorrow when you wake up, replace the thoughts “I should” with “I’m going to …” Be quick about it, don’t let your brain give you an out. When you think “I should go brush my teeth.” GO! DO IT! Don’t give your mind a chance to say “yeah, but how about making coffee first?” Chances are with minty fresh breath you won’t even need that cup ‘o joe anyway.
If you think to yourself on the drive home from work, “This weather is great, I should go for a walk.” Do it! Walk in the house, put down your purse or your briefcase or your backpack. Grab a pair of comfy shoes and hit that sidewalk! If you have a dog, or a partner, or kids, invite them along. Spend time unwinding from your day, enjoying the weather, appreciating that your body is doing all the work and is giving your mind a chance to settle. Involving a loved on gives you both an opportunity to wind down, to reconnect and hopefully that better mood will inspire them to help with clean up after dinner. 😉
If you’re anything like me, you could have a week of preprepared meals, you’ve already made, in the fridge. Or you have half a jar of pickles in the fridge, some frozen peas, a couple cans of tuna and a bag of rice in the pantry. I’ll look longingly at the peanut butter thinking I only need a spoon, then remembering I’ll be right back here in an hour, I grab the bag of rice.
Thirty to forty minutes later I’ve spiced the rice and tuna mixture according to whatever smelled and tasted right. I commend myself for remembering the peas in the freezer, they add a nice touch of freshness to this odd concoction. The choice to add chicken stock to the rice water was a good one, and will fresh garlic ever cease to be a must?
Is this the best meal I’ve ever cooked? Hardly. Was grabbing the rice instead of the peanut butter the first foot in front of the other? Absolutely. Rice measured out I reached for the chicken stock and just kept going from there.
Sitting down to my surprisingly edible meal, I start to make a grocery list. Ideas for food that I could have this week that would taste a hundred times better than what is on my fork right now. Tomorrow I’ll go get the groceries. If I don’t feel like cooking when I get home, at least I’ll already have left-overs. And if I didn’t make it to the grocery store? Well I have the left-overs and a pre-made list for the day I open the fridge and decide “I’m going to get groceries.”
Balance. Accept the good and the bad days. Acknowledge that sometimes your brain is wrong, that these thoughts of failure and being helpless are not reality. Say yes, jump in, step forward and begin to rebuild the momentum for life you’ve lost. See that grocery list on the fridge not as a failure, but setting your future-self up for success.
Now, if you’ll excuse me. Instead of refilling my coffee cup and editing my work for the tenth time, I’m going to brush my teeth, put on some runners and take my dog for a walk. Hopeful that these are the first step towards bliss.