Staying On Good Terms with Myself
As I work on shoring up my fitness this month, it is not lost on me how difficult it is to stay strong and healthy when you’re working. Throughout the years of my career, I certainly had periods of fitness, like the times I trained for a marathon, or even just when I decided I needed to lose a few pounds. But consistency, in both exercise and good, healthy habits, is not easy to maintain when you’re on a working schedule. With so little time, so much stress, and so many things to do, it’s just tough to keep up. It turns out that the same is true for mental health, and I’m remembering that as I look at my habits and at what’s important to me in this season of my life.
I’m learning that moving my body, achieving fitness goals, and getting good sleep does wonders for how I’m feeling about myself and the world around me.
I’ve grappled with low-level anxiety and depression since I was a kid. It was kind of the tenor of my family, and it was certainly where I went emotionally when there was chaos around me. But I’ve also been very lucky. First, I found two amazing therapists—one when I was in my early 30s and needed to understand how to unravel myself from my family drama; and the other when that work was finished, and I needed to push my own limits more. I have also been fortunate to have truly supportive friends and members of my chosen family, a wonderful career, and the perfect dosage of Prozac. All of that has given me a strong foundation and practice in managing my emotions but, like physical fitness, it’s not something that’s done once and then we all live happily ever after.
In many ways, being in the world after my career is probably more challenging to my emotional state than the stress of working was for all of those years. When I worked, I had less time to think about how I felt, to wonder about the meaning of life, and even to doubt myself—although I certainly did plenty of that. Now it’s like starting over in many ways, and staying on good terms with myself is one thing that will help me with all that I’m trying to do.
But keeping up my emotional fitness isn’t quite as intuitive as staying in good physical condition, at least not on the surface. Still, I’m learning that moving my body, achieving fitness goals, and getting good sleep does wonders for how I’m feeling about myself and the world around me. Beyond that, I realize I need to pay attention to how I’m feeling and when I might not be as optimistic as I could be. Otherwise, it sneaks up on me and takes me down a notch before I even know it.
When we’re working, we have to soldier on even if we do feel bad, which honestly is not a horrible way to live. If we indulged every feeling, every moment of anxiety or depression, we’d never get much done. But when my days and weeks were filled with a too-tight schedule of stressful meetings, ignoring my feelings never turned out very well. I’d end up snapping at the wrong person or wake up in the morning feeling depressed and not realizing why. My point is just that, in the same way that I want to keep my physical body strong and resilient, I want to keep my emotional state sturdy, as well.
Like a lot of people who experienced anxiety and depression from an early age, I know how to manage it. I can usually figure out what triggered it, and I know that getting quiet and just letting myself feel what I’m feeling is better than pretending I don’t. I know that I can’t “snap out of it,” but I also know that it’s not going to last forever. It’s like working with any other part of our lives that has its own ups and downs. Despite some of my struggles, I feel glad that I’m familiar with my emotional terrain. In this new phase of my life, understanding how and why I feel what I feel is comforting. Staying on good terms with those feelings is as important as any set of push-ups I’ll ever do.