Wouldn’t it be nice if “ought to” was easy? Wouldn’t it be cool if we defaulted to health and life-enhancing behaviours? There are people out there who do; I read about them and see their inspirational memes all the time. They are my goal; I would love it my default setting was life-affirming. Unfortunately, when things get tough for me, I tend to do two things: withdraw from the world, and engage in harmful behaviours. This is not a winning philosophy.
I’ve been struggling of late. It’s not nearly as helpful as some think to ask me why. It’s why I’m often reticent to share my feelings with friends, to say “Hey, I’m down right now, I’m sinking, I need a distraction.” The first thing they want to know is the why. What’s going on that’s causing me to fall? What has changed? What is it that’s making me depressed? I often answer as follows:
“It’s my biology. Bad neurochemistry. Nothing’s really up. Nothing has gone wrong.” And it’s the truth. It is my biology. I am prone to depression. But it’s not the whole truth. The whole truth is more complicated. It’s also more boring. At least, I find it boring. I find it boring because it’s repetitious. I sink and I do the same things, and think the same negative thoughts, and I’m tired of sharing because I suspect they’re tired of hearing about it, at least with the frequency that I live with it.
I don’t want my mental illness to be the biggest thing in my relationships even if at times it feels like the biggest thing in my life.
I am working on living with my chronic depression. I’m working on recovery from an eating disorder. I’m not throwing up and I’m at a stable and appropriate weight so from the outside it seems like recovery is chugging along. And, it is. But the difficult thoughts are hard to live with and so annoyingly constant.
So, there’s that. And there’s anxiety and life stressors and day to day living and when you add depression into it, it’s kind of a drag but everyone struggles in life and I’m trying not to think of myself as special because I’m challenged by my mental illness.
But I’m struggling with health and life-enhancing behaviours of late because when I’m challenged emotionally, all I want to do is default to the familiar. If the familiar is off-limits, as bingeing and purging and cutting now is, then another easy will do. And the easy is almost never the best choice.
“Easy” is eating too much in the way of simple carbs – I’m only eating simple carbs if I’m being honest – and smoking too much. It’s consuming far too much diet Pepsi and spending far too much time in my chair because the healthier choices seem like hard work and I don’t much feel like doing that when I’m depressed. Which is unfortunate since I’m regularly depressed so using that as a guideline for my behaviours is probably a bad idea.
The brain is a super-highway, made up of lots of smaller highways. The more you use a road, the easier it is to return to it. If you use it often enough, it gets an upgrade. It gets bigger so the ride is even smoother.
Bad habits have big roads. We like them because they’re easy and they offer a quick fix. The better roads are narrower and sometimes grown over. No wonder they’re harder to take and harder to stay on. Who doesn’t prefer well-groomed blacktop to rutted gravel? Stay on the crappy highway if it’s sort of working.
The thing is, choosing the path of least resistance that is also the path of unhealthy choices leads you nowhere good. It’s not a road that ends at Disneyland. It’s a loop, just circling you back through Guiltville and Dissatisfaction Corners.
I didn’t use to pay that much attention to my sub-optimal habits. They didn’t really matter. Who cares if you’re drinking two litres of diet soda a day when you’re also throwing up in the double digits? Pick your battles.
But working on recovery means making changes. In the early days, it’s enough to survive. Often, it’s more than you planned on anyhow. But as time passes, you realize that you have other things that need addressing. It’s not all mental. It’s not all in how you think and what the inner voices say. Fibre and water are important too.
I don’t want to make any changes. I want to smoke to much and drink too much pop and eat poorly and not get outside for fresh air because part of me, a whiny little girl who is sulking in my psyche, thinks I’ve earned it. She thinks that I’ve had it hard and that I should, now that I’m not regularly throwing up and trying to kill myself, be allowed to do what I want. And if I want to treat my body like a garbage dump then I should be allowed to do that. But it’s all of a piece.
It comes down to love. Loving yourself. Wanting to live. I loved, if not myself, then the people around me enough to try and stop trying to kill myself. I loved them enough to try and get stable. To try and eat sober. But that doesn’t get you all the way back to life. As it turns out, turning around your thinking patterns and behaviours, identifying your troubled thinking patterns and starting to work on them only gets you to the beginning. Stability and sobriety are not the same as wellness.
And yet stepping up to a life of wellness is not proving easy. I am resistant. I do not want to change anything I’m doing. I do not want to do what I ought to do. Haven’t I done enough already?
I want to be like those other people. The ones who care about the nutritional value of the food they consume. The ones who quit or don’t start smoking because it really is coffin nails. The ones who get out and embrace nature because they remember it feeds the soul.
The trick, I suppose, is just like anything else. You do it. You do it and the feelings come later. You do it even when it’s not easy. There are some who think you have to get motivated first, have to feel the feels first. I find that is not the case for me. I’m much more Field of Dreams. If you build it, they will come. If you do the work, the feelings start to follow. The new roads are a struggle but they keep you focused. You pay attention. When you’re on the super-highways, everything is done by rote. Nothing improves. Nothing gets better.
The first steps are the most important. You have to get to the starting line. You have to know you’re capable of surviving. You have to acknowledge that it won’t be easy and no one actually promised it would be. But once you get there, you have to take the next steps. There’s more to life than surviving.
If you want to start living in healthier patterns, if you want to move from the starting line, you have to stop waiting for it to be easy. Making good choices can be a hard thing to do. If I’m going to do the things I ought to do, I have to give up waiting, give up waiting for easy, and give up waiting to be incentivized. I’m going to have to pull onto the narrow and rutted road, regardless of mood, regardless of struggle, regardless of sub-optimal thoughts, and my wish to never leave my house and get started.
It’s strange how something so simple can prove to be so challenging.