Today I was lamenting the fact that I am, once again, out of shape. I haven’t run regularly in more than a month, I barely remember how to get to the gym, I’ve been eating whatever looks good regardless of how fattening it might be, and I’m 10 pounds heavier than my comfortable weight. What frustrates me most about this is that I could have written this same description at least 25 other times in my life.
“Well, you know, it’s a cycle,” my best friend and running partner said when I was whining to her about it this morning, and I know she’s right, but this does not please me. Simply by definition, things that come in cycles are going to come again—and again and again, seemingly just to torture us. I don’t like this. I prefer to face a tough task, figure it out, and wave it goodbye as it leaves my life forever. I like that sense of achievement, that feeling that I’ve outsmarted something difficult, and that I can check it off my list—forever. But it turns out that rarely happens for me, especially when it comes to “body issues.”
I was 13 the first time I gained weight. I had been an active kid, diving in the summers and doing gymnastics the rest of the time. The year I got too cool for these endeavors coincided with my entrance into the cycle of all cycles—puberty. From that day forward, my body has been doing whatever it felt like doing, whenever it decided it was time, with me always at least a couple of months behind in my understanding of what to do about it. Menopause has been the final, disrespectful blow to this seeming lifetime of my body changing when I least expected it.
I’ve been fat, thin, in shape, in terrible shape, and on my way to some other shape. And trust me when I say I don’t have an eating disorder or unrealistic expectations. Especially at my age, it isn’t really even about how I look. It’s just that, at nearly 65, I’m old enough to know the weight range that feels best to me, the one in which I have the most energy, the one at which I feel the strongest, and the one that puts me right in the smack dab middle of “typical” weights for someone my age and height. Still, the cycle continues to haunt me and the evil voice in my head often wants me to give up, let myself be in whatever shape I’m in, and reach for the remote and the bon bons.
If I looked at it in its most primitive form, this ebb and flow is probably the basis of everything.
But today, when I was trying to once again develop another of my unrealistic and unsustainable ways to lose this extra 10 pounds, I really took in what my friend said. It’s a cycle, like everything is a cycle. I could probably write this exact essay about the arc of my emotions, the ins and outs of my relationships, the energy I feel or don’t feel about writing and about the job I used to have, and the enthusiasm or lack thereof that I feel for home improvement projects.
If I looked at it in its most primitive form, this ebb and flow is probably the basis of everything. I can see it in simple, concrete situations like actual expended energy. If I run five miles, I need to rest so that I can run another five miles in a day or two. The down time is as essential to the result as the speedy 10K I might run if I’m in good shape. The same is true with work. One of my favorite parts of being a teacher was the fact that there was a cycle to the whole thing. We started slowly, sped up to midterms, eased up a bit at Thanksgiving and then pushed hard to winter break. Then we got to rest, regroup and reconfigure. We could do it exactly the same way the next semester, or make big changes. Even then, I often felt a little dejected and uninspired when the semester was over—energy spent, goals met (or not). Still, I didn’t think, “Gee, maybe I’ll just quit working because there is a point when I feel uninspired and ineffective.” I knew it would get better. Everything does.
I feel like that regularly in my relationship with my partner. Even though we love each other deeply and share lovely common goals and dreams, when we’re tired or burnt out, we contribute less to the relationship and it exists rather than thrives. It never occurs to me to quit, though. It just reminds me to change things up, to remember how important it is to pay attention, to listen harder.
So I’m doing that this week with these body issues. I’m focusing on what I’m eating and how much, and I’m ignoring the voice that says, “I’m not going for a run today because it’s going to be hard.” I just go for a shorter run or a long walk and try not to chide myself for gaining weight or feeling lazy. It really is an ebb and flow, like the tides. I’m reminding myself that in these down times, when I feel heavier or less motivated than I want to, the process is still working and that I’m always headed in the right direction, whether I’m controlling it or not.