Recently, I’ve been feeling relatively okay. I’ve struck something that feels like balance and I’m actually noticing it as such.
I often get stuck in oscillations between striving for perfection and giving up. I’m either eating as perfectly as possible, hitting all my RDAs, or relying on fast food to get me through the day. I’m either following a planned-to-perfection guide for keeping up on housework or I’m doing the bare minimum and letting my husband pick up the slack. Since I’ve decided that my back pain is aggravated by running and downward facing dogs, it’s been difficult to find a reason to get off the couch.
My emotional state goes through similar cycles, shifting from normal to rock bottom. It’s annoying and exhausting and makes me feel crazy. It puts undue stress on me and my relationships. Despite the fact that I recognize this, I’ve felt powerless to combat this tendency to bounce from fine to terrible to fine again. How could I possibly have any sort of control over this? Isn’t it just part of who I am?
In one sense, yes, this is me. It’s who we all are. Everyone has highs and lows. We aren’t always aware of the emotional states of the people around us. I shouldn’t beat myself up for feeling blue, nor should I compare my insides to other people’s outsides.
On the other hand, I don’t believe that I am incapable of striking a better balance between extremes. I don’t feel like I am a hostage of the wiring and chemistry of my brain. While the physical make-up in my head does play a big role, I also believe that I can make certain choices about how I will view myself in the world and how I react to situations and that these choices can shift my perspective. Such a shift can impact me in a positive way.
I have to confess that were I not the author of these words but a reader, I might be tempted to discount that previous paragraph as a load of hooey. And I would probably also decide that even if it were hooey, maybe it could still help me. Then I would do a lot of Googling to discover how to cultivate a more balanced mindset and create an elaborate plan with daily checklists to complete. I would be amazing at checking off my daily tasks for a week, before fizzling out and feeling worthless. But this time, instead of reading that previous paragraph and making a plan to be my most amazing self, I wrote that paragraph. This time my story isn’t about how I became amazing, it’s about how I recognized what it means to strike a better balance for myself.
This story begins with Memorial Day weekend, 2016. Someone comparing their insides to my outsides may have been discouraged about themselves. I baked my friends cakes for their birthdays and cuddled their babies and congratulated them on milestones and had all the happy times. But in the safety of my own home, I had an emotional crash, complete with tears and dissatisfaction and undefinable longing. It was a bad weekend.
I recovered, but I was on extremely high alert. Every time anxiety tightened it’s hold on my chest, I started searching for warning signs of my next crash. I enlisted my husband as a spy into my own emotional state, asking him to gather intelligence and report back if there were signs of changes.
Then I started a new self-improvement project. Like always I did good for about a week. Like always I fizzled out. And I felt…okay. This fizzle even coincided with the 4th of July, a three-day weekend that, by all outward appearances, was a lot like Memorial Day: cakes and birthdays and milestones and celebrations. This time, though, I didn’t crash. I didn’t feel dissatisfied or like there was a terrible void that needed to be filled.
I had a realization as I flicked through my secret Pinterest page for July, which I tongue-in-cheek call “Better Living Through Pinterest.” I noticed I had pins for green smoothies and salads alongside pins for cakes and chili dog casseroles. I thought, “Hmm, that seems balanced.” That day, I went home from work and did all the chores I had avoided over the three-day weekend and still sat down for an hour of Netflix. I didn’t worry about a checklist or how the evening could’ve been better or the fact that I should’ve counted the calories in my dinner or avoided grabbing a breakfast sandwich at McDonald’s or done some sit-ups. Instead I felt oddly accomplished and at peace. And that feeling continued the next day when I had a smoothie and salad for breakfast and lunch instead of fast food and did my chores and sit-ups as I watched guilty pleasure television. It dawned on me that this balance felt right and good and I didn’t need to beat myself up because I spent time reading Big Brother tweets instead of my library book. This, albeit brief, respite from my struggle between striving, failing and rebellion feels like something that I need to recognize and cultivate. I feel like I am in a moment of grace that I’ve granted myself.
The challenge becomes carrying this balance forward. How do I cultivate grace and resiliency? How do I balance striving, failing and rebelling as I advance toward the next decade of my life? How do I continue to have a positive attitude on the days when it feels like getting out of bed is a major accomplishment?
I don’t know how to answer these questions. I also don’t have a complicated plan with daily checklists. And, at least for now, that seems like the best place to start.