In the last handful of years a lot of that has changed. I still drink beer and eat pizza, have terrible posture, watch shows like The OC. But in many ways I have developed great habits for my bod*. After high school I started flossing. About five years ago I got my first gym membership and started taking a multivitamin every day. Last year I trained myself to drink water and eat fruit; now I crave them both.
As a result I'm rarely sick and when I do get sick it seldom keeps me in bed. I've been fighting something for about four weeks now, all in all, and this week I've exercised three times and I only sent myself to bed earlier than 9:00 once in the entire time I've felt off.
I don't say all this to brag--please, if you want to compare life problems, bring it--but rather to make the point that I developed all of these habits gradually and, very importantly: by being merciful with myself.
None of these habits came about with nasty treatment of myself. They didn't come with DRINK WATER OR ELSE notes taped on the fridge nor with a goal of Do this every single day all the time.
That tactic doesn't work for this girl. There are only certain things that I can do effortlessly every day. Those include, off the top of my head, petting a cat named Dibbs (or any cat at hand, in a pinch), taking a shower and brushing my teeth, reading, and--lately--cross stitching.
And peeing. I'm sorry, that might be TMI, but I have a very small bladder.
All other things are not necessarily a given, depending on my energy, anxiety level, mood, food cravings. I am not guaranteed a good night's sleep, or any sleep at all; on occasion it just doesn't happen. I have been known to run five miles and then not sleep the entire night. I hate this, but I have accepted that sometimes this is the truth for my life. My dad reminds me on occasion that we share genes, and that he has struggled to rest for years. For a long time I got jealous of my mom, who can fall asleep almost instantly, and just recently I overheard her saying that she often wakes up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. We all have our stuff.
I can't guarantee that I'll eat a square meal every day, learn something new, do something that frightens me**, or even floss my teeth. And I love to floss.
But once upon a time I thought I would never floss. I thought it was painful and not worthwhile.
Then one day in 2003 I started flossing. I honestly don't remember why I did it. But I think it was my idea. And within a few months I was hooked. And now I advocate for it.
When I got a gym membership, it was of course to encourage me to use it, since I was paying for it, but I never told myself I had to go every day. I've missed several days of taking a vitamin, but most days I take one and I think my body appreciates it, given the fact that I don't eat broccoli as often as I could.
It occurred to me recently that I should be more merciful with myself when it comes to my mental health. By this I don't mean to let myself take it easy when I'm feeling anxious. That's not bad advice, and I certainly will be the first to throw suffering friends a bone and tell them to give him or herself a break already. Sometimes you need to get up off the couch and get a move on in order to turn your frown upside down, but other times, yes, a bubble bath is in order. For men and women alike, Friends. Your gender-role defying blogger here will not judge.
Rather, what I mean by being merciful with myself is that maybe I should get off my own back on days that I don't feel like the world's most put together, normal person. I should work on not chalking it up to a failure of a day, or a failed day as a person, as Bailey, if on occasion I feel off from the time my alarm goes off to the time I go to bed.*** Or if I feel the need to call a friend at lunch because I don't want to sit in silence. I need to look at that and say to myself, "So? Looks like you were feeling a certain way and you did what you could to try and handle it in a positive, safe manner. Don't beat yourself up."
When I see people's self esteem and pride deflate because they worked out for four days straight and then took one day off, or because they were "supposed" to read five newspaper articles a day and only read the comics today, I sometimes want to shake them and say, "No! That's not how it works!"
We live in a culture that preaches perfection, all or nothing, workaholism, more more more, get to the top make no exceptions.
It doesn't work.
We are human beings, not robots. Even robots malfunction.
Give yourself a break. Set healthy goals for yourself, absolutely. But, based on my own experience, if you set those goals because you want to and do them at something less than an all-day-every-day pace, I bet you will have better results in the long and short term. And if you're lucky, your goals will turn into habits, routine, pleasure.
Meanwhile, I'm going to try and not get so down on myself for sometimes getting down. I'll keep myself in check, yes. Self reflection is good and healthy, to a point. And I will keep my mentors close, to turn the reflection outward and get a reality check. But I am going to try and tell myself, "It's OK. You're feeling weird. It's uncomfortable. Then again, so are wedgies. You've got your friends' numbers in your cell phone; you are free to use them. But an emotional wedgie isn't helped with a self-implemented swirlie on top."
And then I will remind myself that sometimes the least I can do is quit playing the card game on the computer and clean my room. Or call a friend. Or write. And that is a victory. Even if I continue to feel weird sometimes.
*I love that word. Always makes me think of middle school.
**I gotta say, I think Eleanor Roosevelt was on the right track when she said that, but do I think it's practical? Not exactly. It kind of instills guilt in me instead, unfortunately.
***Please understand that if you do feel "off" all day, every day, for several days, it is very important to reach out and talk to someone about it.