I’ve been fascinated recently with how much we can learn from our bodies when we listen and watch and feel carefully. I’ve struggled with my weight for decades at this point, and throughout that time I’ve tried all kinds of ways to lose weight so I could “look” better. This was my focus when I was 13 and 14, and I’m embarrassed to admit that a lot of that mentality has stuck, though I can definitely say I’ve learned a few things.
Present snapshot: Even now, occasionally, I will get into these dark moods where I lament the fact that I will never look like Brittany Spears circa ’98 with some working out and a good diet. I’ve struggled with depression cycles for a few years, and I also have a lot of anxiety to handle at times (socially first and foremost). I watch a shit ton of documentaries and am easily inspired by the ones featuring certain wellness practices to immediately try out those strategies. Examples include fasting, juicing, going vegan, and various meditation styles. I’ve been able to adopt pretty regular practices that make me feel like I’m on track, but every now and then I will be blindsided by a mood or feeling sick and low energy or anxious, or any combination of these.
Luckily, I am nothing if not observant and introspective, so I’ve learned a lot about how my body will “speak” to me to let me know what it needs. So let me take a step back and sort some things out.
First of all, I’m not as “fat” as I’m convinced I am sometimes. Overweight, definitely, but I’ve been married for 11 years now and my husband still loves my body. More importantly, I’ve maintained a good level of physical strength and flexibility. I took a million dance classes when I was younger and have maintained a daily stretching regimen that is almost as good as getting a professional massage when it comes to body awareness and relaxation. I regularly go to the park or get on the treadmill and surprise myself with what I can do, either walking 4 miles or jogging a mile or two and walking the rest of the way. When I’ve trained a couple weeks, I can jog 3.5 to 4 miles without stopping. I feel pretty good about this, considering I spend most of my time sitting on my butt editing or playing video games.
LESSON 1: All of those fad diets and quick fixes I’ve tried have only served to make me bigger in the long run and throw off my hunger signals.
I think the first really drastic thing I tried was as a freshman in college when I went a few weeks throwing up almost everything I ate every day. I was seriously making myself throw up upwards of 10 times a day in an effort to lose weight. Luckily, I gave this up sooner rather than later.
I guess before that in high school I did the low carb thing. This was when the Atkins popularity was skyrocketing. It worked well, I lost weight, but over the course of the next year I gained it all back.
Intermittent fasting helped my sleep, as I wasn’t eating after around 7 pm, but I eventually gave this up too because of different scheduling conflicts and needing to eat later because of that.
By far the most drastic thing I’ve done in recent years was try water fasting. My goal was three days. At the end of the first day, I actually felt pretty good and energized. This gave me a second wind to keep going. I think it was the evening of the third day when I started getting these excruciating pains in my stomach. They were really bad, but I tried to hang on for a few hours. Eventually I realized I really needed to do something so I sipped on some salty canned soup to reintroduce food to my system. In retrospect, I understand I did this all wrong without any prep. Like I said, I jump into things quickly when I’m motivated, or “inspired,” as I think that’s the better term.
Ok, so you’re waiting for the lesson here, I suppose. The lesson is that when I simply give my body nutrition, I feel satisfied, not sick, and free from depression and anxiety. When I feed myself trash, I feel sick, depressed, and quickly degenerate until I correct the behavior. This is due to the fact that I have slowly over time dedicated myself more and more consistently to eating real food with nutritious content and choosing these foods over cheap, flavorful trash. The result is that when I start to abuse my body by eating trash, I get some serious warning signs both physically and mentally. The important thing is that it seems I had to show my body what the good life was about for it to start complaining about the bad. Once I introduced a consistent diet with lots of vegetables every day, it was like my body would cry and complain when I went back to ramen and crackers or candy bars out of laziness or something else.
The inspiration for this post comes from a recent episode that just blindsided me along these lines. When it’s my time of the month, I definitely crave trash more than usual. My husband was trying to be nice to me and make me feel better, so he brought home one of my favorite guilty pleasures, peanut butter crackers, and also a pint of my favorite ice cream. I devoured this stuff, along with some wine in the evening. A completely trashed day, basically. Within 48 hours, I transformed. Kind of like a werewolf in the movies. I experienced an intense depression along with racing thoughts and anxiety. I couldn’t stop obsessing about things that I thought I’d long since come to terms with. It lasted all day, and my husband was a champ the whole way through. (He’s learned how to weather me in these situations over time.) I made the connection in my mind with the drastic change in eating behavior and worked quickly to mitigate the effects and do a 180. The result? My body is saying, “thank you, thank you, now don’t do it again, dummy.” (lol, just kidding. Don’t hate yourself for making mistakes. It’s all a learning process.)
LESSON 2: A sluggish mind is usually connected to a sluggish body.
As I mentioned, I spend most of my time sitting on my butt working at the computer or playing video games. I feel a lot more comfortable socializing online through Discord than in person, so this has been my preferred way to hang out, even before the pandemic. I get this feeling…it’s hard to explain. It’s like everything comes to a standstill and I become acutely static. All motivation kind of leaves my body, not as intense as in a depression cycle but still jarring. I wonder what’s wrong, but I’ve figured out what it means for me personally. When I feel this way, I have a choice between two things, each of them better for different situations. I will either take a hot shower and feel better, or I will go to my yoga mat and lie flat on my back and do some stretches, maybe a few of my strength-through-stillness positions. I’ve learned that getting my body moving a bit, even when I don’t initially feel like it, will immediately improve my mood and energy level.
LESSON 3: I am in control of my happiness.
I can get frustrated with my husband and blame my mood on him, or I can rationalize an anxiety attack or depression cycle by blaming the world or other circumstances, but ultimately, I am in control of my own frame of mind. I will try not to get too preachy here regarding Buddhist practices, but this is where the invaluable habit of detachment comes into play for me. This is not to be confused with “tuning out” everything and everyone. Rather, it’s a recognition that the source of my suffering comes from my attachment to, and dependence on, entities outside of myself, such as my husband (most often), things like money, possessions, familial relationships, etc. It’s been a long road getting to a place where I recognize this truth for myself, and it’s very hard sometimes when I’m in a bad place to pull myself out, but it’s always helpful for me to reaffirm the fact that I have the final say over my peace of mind. It’s not my husband’s job to “make” me happy, it’s not anyone else’s job, either. And it’s unfair to expect that from them. We choose to be around people who bring us happiness because of who they are and what they bring to a relationship.
But if I’m going through a depression cycle because I don’t think I’m attractive enough for my husband because I’ve compared myself to other more attractive women, it’s not on my husband to “fix” this for me.
I used to fall in that trap, where I’d rationalize my flawed thinking processes by blaming my husband for not convincing me I was the most beautiful, sexy person on the planet. In my darkest cycles, I would even feed the victim addiction by trapping him in a place where I’d ask him to be honest, knowing full well that I couldn’t handle the truth in those moments, but that’s a whole other giant subject on emotional addiction for another day.
LESSON 4: Everything is transitory.
Another principle that shows up in many religions and spiritualities is impermanence, “this too shall pass,” etc. One of the most effective tools I have in my toolbox for dealing with depression cycles or anxiety is knowing that the feelings are temporary. Even if it takes months sometimes to fade, it does eventually fade. It is the nature of all things. I have had weeks where one day I’m wishing something would happen to me so I could leave this world forever and the next day I’m spending the most intimately connected hours with my husband ever. Or I will feel worthless because job boards have been empty but suddenly get an idea for a song or short story after watching a documentary.
The human mind is extremely resilient when it comes to even the most acute pain. Our instincts as human beings is to survive, and there are all kinds of incredibly complex mechanisms going on to support this goal that we don’t yet understand. (I’m sorry if I sound like I know everything, these are simply beliefs based on personal experience, nothing more.)
Sometimes our minds deal with pain in ways that are viewed as unhealthy, such as dissociating and entering into an imaginary reality that is easier to handle. I know this exists, and the pain that those families go through must be incredibly hard when it happens. I think it is important to use whatever agency we have in dark times to pull ourselves out of the holes, even if it is slow-going. I have felt personally that I can strengthen myself when I let go of the expectation that it is other people’s job to get me out. There’s nothing wrong with accepting support, but ultimately I believe in personal responsibility when it comes to latching on to that bit of agency, however small, and fighting with everything you have to come out of the darkness. At the same time, I recognize there are situations when that agency is completely gone and a person needs a lot more help, and again, I’m speaking from my own tiny realm of personal experience and have never experienced this kind of emergency.
Anyway, the wrap-up here is that I wanted to share with you some important lessons I’ve learned through listening for the signs my mind and body are constantly sending me regarding how I’m treating myself mentally and physically. From what I’ve read of other women’s experiences, it is both a blessing and a curse that a lot of us on the spectrum have exceptional introspective and observational tendencies, which oftentimes lead us to overthinking and analyzing the world and the people around us. My last bits of advice for mental wellbeing is to seriously limit social media time and introduce meditation or stretching or some kind of regular activity where it’s just you and your body/mind existing in the world. Let yourself be wrapped up in the mystery for a while without struggling for answers. Remember when you were a child and were able to just be in awe of something, not caring about the explanation, just the experience.
Happy October everyone. ‘Till next time! =)