In the middle of feeling sorry for myself about a laundry list of things in the past few weeks, a thought struck me. Actually, it started with the realization that my pants were getting too small.
I realized that the conditions are never the same.
Let me go back to the pants first.
Your immediate reaction to something you don’t like is denial. Blame. You rack your brain for a plausible explanation that might eliminate your culpability, because the idea of it being your fault is too painful.
First, I tried to blame the dryer for shrinking my pants. Except I don’t put my pants in the dryer. Then I wanted to pretend like maybe I’ve developed more muscle and that explains the difficulty of getting my thighs into the pant legs. But that wasn’t true either. My eyesight is still 20/20.
The pants situation was frustrating because I had been exercising and staying active and I mostly ate healthy foods. It didn’t make sense. Nothing had changed.
Or so I assumed.
I now weighed more than I did before my husband died. That life I had before the rug was pulled out from beneath my feet. I like to pretend that life was my baseline, which is absurd, since there is no possible way for me to ever return to that life. What’s the point of a baseline if it becomes a useless way to measure progress?
After Kenneth died, my grief diet was the best part of those dark days. I instantly shed 20 pounds without even trying, and I foolishly thought it would last forever. But nothing lasts forever, and as your grief thaws and your mental space changes, so does your appetite.
I started to realize that my assumption that “nothing had changed” was foolish.
Almost a year ago I stopped using my scale. It was driving me nuts; any fluctuation stressed me out and I obsessed over the numbers. So I took out the batteries and shoved it under my bed. I thought I would just eyeball my food portions. Eat well and exercise. Blah blah blah. That would be enough. I wanted autopilot.
It seems that’s what a lot of us crave. Autopilot mode. No additional thinking or working. We want life to stay on track without too much effort on our part. We want easy. We want painless. We want joy and happiness and all that good stuff without the hard parts.
Banishing the scale did ease my mental anguish over my weight. I guess you could say I was happier not knowing the numbers on the scale. Until the pants started to get tight. Then I was miserable.
Finally I had to admit that I had gotten careless. It was my fault. I was exercising, but it wasn’t every day. When you don’t write things down, and when you allow other tasks on your to-do list to come before exercise, it’s easy to lose track of what you were supposed to do. Portions. Healthy vs. unhealthy. Calories. Drinking too much coffee with too much cream. Not sleeping enough. Blah, blah, blah.
My problem was that I thought I’d magically get my ideal weight on the scale, and then keep it there. Freeze time. Not have to work for it anymore. I really thought I could keep something the same.
The conditions are never the same.
I conveniently tried to forget that I lived in an impermanent world.
My conditions are not the same as the days pre-Kenneth’s death. Notice how I refer to my life as pre-death and post-death. Two very distinct chapters.
As I am about to enter the 3rd year without my husband, I find myself in an odd space. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. I used to be consumed with grief. Now it comes and goes in short bursts and less frequently, often related to something else I’m upset about, like a secondary consequence of that fateful day. It feels like old news. I was a parent with him for 6 years. I’ve now spent nearly 2 complete years as a single parent. The day will come when I will have been a single parent longer than I parented with him, and each passing day seems to make that former life feel more and more irrelevant. There are people entering my life who didn’t even know him. The rest of the world has moved on but I am stuck with these memories.
Ethan recently told me in the car on the way home from swim class, “Nobody understands what this is like. Nobody knows how hard it is.”
“I know,” I told him, glancing into my rear-view mirror to catch a glimpse of his concerned face.
Our car became silent, the sadness palpable.
“But we have to keep living,” I continued. “We can’t stop our lives because it’s unfair that people don’t understand. We would just suffer more by getting left behind.”
I told him that I loved how he chose to be happy no matter what happened. Then I tried to guess how many freckles he had on his nose. I add a couple to the number every time I pretend to count his freckles. He laughed.
Everything veers off course in life. Especially our minds. I feel like I’m frequently chasing my wandering thoughts, constantly herding them away from straying down dark paths. Shifting my mind’s leanings. Perspective. Talking down feelings. Talking up other feelings.
Today I woke up and the thought of having Easter with just me and my sister made me depressed. We used to have big gatherings with my grandma and aunts and uncles and cousins and my parents and siblings. This year, it was literally me, my kids, my sister, her husband and their newborn. It felt like every year the family size is dwindling. People have died. People have become estranged. People have moved. People have grown older. Traditions continue to evolve. Some are disappearing. A new generation emerges; my generation is taking the baton from the previous ones. Suddenly I realized that I wasn’t the child anymore. I was responsible for giving my children an experience. An idyllic childhood full of memories. I am supposed to do this without their father and I sometimes wonder if I can do this. Sometimes it feels impossible. I yearn to have my grandma standing over a pot of Arabic rice that she made for us every holiday. I want her to boss us around as we shape dough in the palms of our hands and prepare Arabic Easter cookies just the way she used to dictate to us. I want my husband to sit next to me on the couch as we watch the kids pillage through their Easter baskets. I was once here for the experience, and now I have to provide the experience. My mortality lingers like a shadow following behind, not quite out of sight, visible just enough to remind me that time is slipping through my fingers like sand and I can’t hold on to it. Everything has changed but I didn’t want it to.
A few hours after my sad realization about family memories of years past, I went to service at my temple and listened to our reverend talk about joy and suffering. The essay we read talked about both being required in life–you can’t know joy without suffering. I realized I needed to rein in my wandering mind again. There was no time for being sad or depressed or moping around. I’M GOING TO DIE SOON. That’s it, I thought. I had to go home and start working on my life plans. I’m letting my mind get sloppy again. The sad thoughts make me lazy. I needed to make shit happen. I couldn’t sit passively and waste time on the crap I couldn’t change. I needed to be strategic about how I was going to live fully. (Yes, I’m that crazy. And yes, I started making charts and lists and writing out plans.)
My Pants Situation was a reminder that I have strayed off course and I needed to find my way back.
The conditions are always changing.
Of course my weight was not going to stay the same–especially if I wasn’t going to put in the effort to stay on track.
My body is not the same as it was two years ago or five years ago or even ten years ago. I’ve never gone this long not being pregnant or nursing in the past 9 years.
I’ve never been this old before.
I’ve never been this pressed for time. This stressed out. This tired.
I’ve been super busy writing in the past year, and I’ve spent a lot of late nights working and not being the most diligent about what I was eating, when I was eating, and how much. The “no eating after a certain time” is hard when you’re up at all hours trying to stay awake to finish projects.
I haven’t gone this long without a partner in the last 11 years. We kept each other in check. It’s all the honor system now that he’s not around to hold me accountable about running days and food portions and snacking. My children and parents would never tell me that my pants are getting too tight. They have the Shallow Hal syndrome. My mom recently tried to convince me that the marshmallow rice krispies treats she brought over were healthy because she put flax seeds in them. Yeah. Um…
So many things can throw us off track. Like moms with junk food. And Easter candy. Holidays. Parties. Somebody brought something into the office.
Vacations. Whenever I go on a trip, it completely throws of my mental game. Vacations usually entail a lot of eating. My exercise routines get disrupted. Packed agendas. Unfamiliar cities. Time zone differences ruin sleep patterns. It creates new conditions that I have to mentally overcome, and for me, the mental sticking points are often much more difficult than anything physical. It sometimes takes me months to resume ideal habits.
It’s easy to stray.
It’s easy to take refuge in denial.
But the pants were the last straw. A big wake-up call for me.
I’m trying to be more strategic in my thinking. I heard a podcast once about “relentlessly solving problems.” Finding infinite pathways and simplifying one’s battlefield. Really focusing on what needs to be done instead of getting bogged down with negative emotions and the useless ways of trying to make ourselves feel better (i.e. blaming, complaining, etc).
The great Jean-Paul Sartre said, “We are our choices.”
Choices give me control, and I like control. I find the idea of choice liberating, even if it doesn’t promise an instant solution.
I’m not looking for a fad diet or anything crazy. I need something that I can sustain.
And because life is all about choices, I can’t spend hours each day working on my body. I have too many other things going on. I choose to also have other priorities. But I also choose to do what I need to do to get back into a smaller pants size.
I’ve been busy this past week implementing new strategies. I’ve been writing things down. Daily weigh-ins. Every single thing I put into my mouth gets written down and calories calculated. Planning meals. Reviewing goals. Exercising more. I had always been exercising, but when you write it down and keep track, you are better able to see the hit or miss nature of our habits. Writing holds us accountable. It makes us reflective. I am convinced that I can work through any problem with a journal and a good pen. Sometimes in life you can’t see yourself clearly until you document the evidence and let it marinate in your head.
In a way, I’m glad that my pants got too small. I don’t want to become too comfortable. In my experiences, it is in those moments of comfort when we aren’t prepared for our conditions to change and we get blindsided. I’d rather be ready with the skills to get back on track no matter how lost I get.