50 years: here’s a time when you have to separate yourself from what other people expect of you, and do what you love. Because if you find yourself 50 years old and you aren’t doing what you love, then what’s the point? ~Jim Carrey
Over the past year, as I’ve approached turning 50, I’ve put a great deal of energy in all ways into renovating my life. I’ve always lamented the change in my health after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, but in many ways rose above the impact by immersing myself in cerebral, sedentary pursuits. Successfully.
As one might expect, other parts of my self suffered by this neglect. Over the year it took to diagnose the MS, I gained 80 pounds (36 kilos) and gave up all of the forms of physical activity I had previously enjoyed. Some by necessity, some by attrition. The extra weight bothered me and over the past 16 years I’ve lost (and regained) the same 25 pounds (11 kilos) about 10 times. Other health problems began – hypertension, aching knees, shortness of breath, blah, blah, blah. But through it all, I carried on with my psychology career, achieving satisfaction professionally, if not personally.
Last year, before I turned 49, Bill and I had a serious conversation about ‘optimal health.’ This was a repeat of a conversation we’d had 10 years before which had ended in both of us laughing uncontrollably about ‘optimum health being just around the corner’ as we sat stuffed to the gills, smoking, and without any intention of moving for eleventy-three hours. Did we do anything about it then? Noooooooo…
I decided, as we had this deja vu conversation, that this was the year. Before I turned 50 I was going to be in the best health I could be. For myself, for my husband, for our grandsons, our daughters… but ultimately, for me. So I started preparing. I did research. I had a complete check up including a consultation with an MS specialist visiting Kuwait. I consulted dieticians, I talked to experts on all my options for attaining ‘optimal health.’ Now, 12 days before my 50th birthday, I can say that I utilised every possible scrap of support I could find. I quit smoking, I stopped eating fat, sugar, most carbohydrates, and quit inhaling dairy products (hardest thing ever. I LOVE cheese). I started doing “Dance Central” with Kinect and XBox. (You should see me (but never never will) get down to Lady GaGa or Nellie Furtado). We started parking on the far side of the parking lot from the mall and walking further. I started tracking my physical activity using “Active Trainer” and held myself accountable by posting to my FB family about my efforts. I began Neurofeedback Therapy for the severe hypervigilance reaction that’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and began practicing relaxation meditations for better sleep.
In January 2013 I started the Couch-to-5K app, and in less than 9 weeks was running 5K. (I managed to do the ultimate workout in the Maldives. What better way to cap an effort like that except to do it in Paradise and then go snorkelling to celebrate?) I then began the 5-to-10K app, hoping to fulfill a Bucket List item by running a 10K with Amazing Middle Girl in August. I was militant about my eating, militant about making time to exercise, and militant about my goal. I kept it “in front of my eyes” as they say here.
So far, so good, right? I’m off the hypertension medication, I’ve lost 85 pounds (39 kilos), and I am running, biking, walking, and dancing as much as I like. No shortness of breath, no knee issues, no problems other than what one might expect of nearly half a century of living. Sleep got better (as good as it can get with MS), the flight/fight/freeze issue abated to normal (totally amazing change!) and I basked in the happiness of the reality that ‘optimal health was just around the corner.’
In the last two weeks, life has gone to hell in a handbasket. First, I had to quit in the middle of a run almost three weeks ago because it’s just. too. hot. Maybe if I were 20, I could have risked continuing, but I really didn’t think there was much value in finishing the run and dropping dead from an aneurysm or heart attack. So much for ‘optimum health!’ So Bill did the chivalrous thing (which he’s so good at) and doubled me home on his bike. Work got really, really busy as it sometimes does, with multiple projects, workshops, clients, and admin duties all coming together to make late nights and early mornings. And no running. Bill bought me a bike and we took to roaming the streets for 15 – 20k on alternate mornings, but riding a bike in Kuwait is tantamount to Russian Roulette, and I just can’t control my anxiety about being hit, meaning I really don’t enjoy it. (I actually do enjoy running.) Since this (getting hit) has happened to several of our friends, we know of others who have been hit/run over, and I nearly got shmucked in a roundabout on the second morning we rode, I think it’s a justifiable fear. So that activity kind of faded to Friday or Saturday morning when everyone else sleeps in. And, no running.
So here I am today, having just gotten off the scale. I’ve gained weight after 13 months of losing. I knew I would because I’ve been aware of the fact that I am dealing with all this stress by eating. Just like I used to. I admit to being really discouraged. It’s been a year that I’ve been managing my inner self successfully, yet at the first “bump” in the new road, I’ve fallen back on old, destructive, mindless habits. Stuffing my inner need for self comfort with food.
I’ve actually been aware over the last week that I’m doing this emotional eating, and it’s been kind of strange taking a helicopter view of my behaviour. I recognize cognitively what I’m doing, even as I head to the fridge for a bedtime “treat.” Argh!!!
The combination of circumstances – not being able to run, the increased stress at work, the lack of time for selfcare, and the psychological choice to allow my Mental Supervisor to go off duty have conspired to bring me to the place where suddenly, I’m very afraid of undoing all the work I’ve done to get here.
How will I remedy this situation?
I’ve purchased a lovely Nordic Track treadmill from a departing expat, I’ve looked at my schedule and ruthlessly added dates with myself, cancelled other commitments, and written myself several notes which I’ve put as reminders in my calendar. They’ll randomly pop up, helping me to stop and take stock of where I am and what I’m doing. (By virtue of being nearly 50 and totally forgetful of anything not world-shatteringly-important, when that random note pops up, I will think, ‘How cool! And I’ll feel all warm and fuzzy until I remember that I put it there.)
I know these things will help, and getting off track for two weeks after a year of diligence is not the end of the world. Yet I find myself deeply discouraged at how quickly old habits return. Apparently, it takes more than 8 weeks to change a habit… at least some habits. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to be anything but militantly diligent. I’m trying to put this in perspective, but I have to say, it’s provided me a lesson in the ridiculousness of some of the things I have said to my clients in the past about habits, and lifestyle changes.
Maybe, in the end, that’s the real value in this lesson in my own life. Possibly, I will be a better therapist.
I can hope.