Trying Too Hard

I can feel myself getting frustrated again. Picking at all of my perceived imperfections. Comparing myself to everyone I see, and feeling like I come up short. This cycle has become so familiar, but it doesn’t get any easier with repetition. One week I’ll feel good, motivated, like I’m making progress. Then the next I’ll feel utterly desperate about the futility of all the work I do for personal growth and self improvement. It’s particularly pronounced when it comes to my life-long struggle with body image.

Despite my best efforts to avoid the triggering, toxic images I used to purposely flood myself with online, somehow they’ve started creeping back in again. Perfect little vegan fitness models and casual yogis. It’s bad enough that they have bodies I could only dream of, but it stings in an especially painful way when I see just how much MORE work I put in for so much less satisfying and aesthetically pleasing results. I know I have a distorted view of my appearance to some extent. And I don’t think I look bad. But after years of diligent, intense, advanced exercise routines, I expected to actually look like someone who prioritizes fitness in their life. Not just someone who works out for 20 minutes once or twice a week.

Even when I’ve felt for years like I couldn’t possibly do any more exercise in a day, I’ve slowly added on more and more things. It never makes any significant or noticeable change though! All it does is make me feel obligated to continue at this more draining routine for fear I’ll somehow gain weight if I stop, even though I didn’t lose any when I started. I’ve recognized for a long time now that this is an extremely unhealthy mindset that impacts my self-esteem, my physical health, and my social life. Still I feel helpless to change it. My fear of looking worse than I do now is all-consuming. I feel resigned to this unsustainable, ever increasing physical workload that will never do anything for me besides keep me where I already am. A place that does not even bring me satisfaction or happiness. It’s no longer about progress, it’s about avoiding an even more pronounced level of self-hatred and disgust.

One thing I have been trying to convince myself of, is the importance of slowing things down/lessening my reps and speed in order to focus on truly good, mindful form and activating the right muscles when I’m moving. Logically I do believe this would be more beneficial. But that disordered, self-hating, fearful side of my brain panics at the thought. But what if I slow down and gain weight? What if I can’t pick it back up again? What if I do go back to what I’m doing now, but am stuck with whatever weight I may put on forever?! It’s these unhealthy thoughts that keep me from changing anything despite my dissatisfaction with my results or lack-there-of.

In the last ten or more years, I’ve never allowed myself a proper “rest” day from exercise. There have only been a handful of days I haven’t worked out, but even those days are not true rest because I workout extra the days before and after to “make up for it.” My ego takes some form of pride in this fact, while also cursing all the people I see taking regular rest days multiple times a week and looking 50x better than I ever have. I’ve just been believing that there is something wrong with me. Their bodies just work better than mine does somehow. Surely if I took rest days, I’d have made even less progress.

I’m beginning to finally open myself up to the possibility that isn’t the case. I was already toying with the concept of rest being valuable and important so that my muscles actually get a chance to heal and build themselves up stronger. I don’t really notice myself gaining muscle mass or strength with the way I’m doing things now. I basically stay where I am. In addition to that, I’ve been reading a lot about the effects of cortisol and weight gain.

I assume I have ridiculously high levels of cortisol in my body at all times, just based on my stress level. What I didn’t realize is that this may not be solely due to my anxiety disorder. Exercise naturally raises cortisol levels, which isn’t a problem in moderation and can even be beneficial. However, excessive exercise can lead to unhealthy levels of cortisol. I don’t think it’s up for debate whether the amount of exercise I’ve been subjecting myself to for the past ten years is “excessive” or not. Have I been shooting myself in the foot this entire time?

It seems too good to be true to imagine that I could do less and have the same or an even better body. My self-flagellating mind simply cannot accept that possibility. Then again, working harder hasn’t seemed to work out at all the way I thought it would. Maybe I really am doing myself a disservice by pushing myself so much. What if I was able to do less, better quality exercise, enjoy my workouts again, have more free-time, feel less tired and stressed, AND look/feel better in my body? It’s so difficult for me to contemplate, let alone begin to test.

I know if I really want things to change in my life and in my body, I’ve got to actually start doing things differently. One of the big road blocks in my way is the fact that to truly know if the changes I implement are working, I need to see where I am right now and monitor that moving forward. It’s so unbearable for me to weigh myself or, god forbid, take photos or measurements. *shudder* But I’m afraid if I don’t, I’ll be too afraid to change anything because I might gain weight without realizing it. Dear god, I need a therapist so badly. Unfortunately I live in the greatest country on earth and that isn’t a feasible option for someone working full-time in the MENTAL HEALTH INDUSTRY!

My sheer ability to ramble on for so long about this topic is evidence that there is a problem. I want to follow that little spark of excitement and curiosity that tells me to switch things up. I know it’s worth it. I know it would be good for me mentally at the very least. I wrote something that struck me as profound last night while I was journaling: Fear is a powerful motivator. I am just afraid of the wrong things.

Haze of Change

Senses sharpened by a shift in reality
the surreal sensation of sudden change
unstable ground under cautious steps
keeps me tethered in the present moment

My soul lurches back and forth between
ecstatic excitement and utter terror
at the prospect of all that's to come
should I dare to let myself hope?

Surely it's psychotic to leave this safe haven
this resting place that's given me such grace
the soft embrace of a found family
have I formed ties strong enough to last?

Still, it's been so long since I've felt this stirring
this passionate flutter of energy inside my chest
for once I want to let myself follow it
to fully embrace my innocent, hopeful heart

I've finally felt the hand of fate guiding me
I can't bear to ignore the voice of opportunity
even as it beckons me beyond my boundaries
to new places tinged with fear and uncertainty

Perhaps for the first time, I feel ready to be brave
making the right choice doesn't mean it's easy
left disoriented and dazzled by unknown possibilities
it's been the hardest decision I've ever had to make

The Endless Cycle of Introspection

Sometimes it takes an impending change to jolt us awake. It feels like I’ve been running on auto-pilot for quite a few years now. I’ve begun to wonder who I am and what I really want again. The misty idea of where I’m heading has become all together obscured. Do I even want to keep moving in this direction? Have I been moving at all? Why did I start wanting all these strange things I’m pursuing? When one change comes, for some reason, it starts to feel more possible to change everything, to choose a different course entirely.

It feels so scary to let go of all the goals I’ve been clinging to and clawing at for all this time. But there comes a pivoting point where I have to ask myself if the person that wanted those things is even still me. I think the brain likes to default to routines and rituals to conserve energy. It’s tiring to always be asking yourself why you’re doing the things you do. It takes a lot of brain power to start something new.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to contemplate recently is my seemingly life-long body goals. I think right from the very beginning, I never truly believed I’d achieve them. Although, I thought I’d get closer than this. The image in my head is still a high-school girl. The popular one with the perfect body that all the boys try to talk to. The older I get, the more obvious it becomes. That image is unattainable. My window of opportunity (if it ever existed) is quickly closing as I stare down the last two years of my twenties. Am I still going to be chasing the “perfect” body when I’m 50? Perhaps it’s time to start loosening my death grip on that aesthetic before this uphill climb starts to become a desperate, inevitable decent.

Why was it so important for me to look a certain way in the first place? All my inner longing has just left me years of unappreciated youth and a blindness of my own strange form of beauty. I’m sure I’ll look back on the body I’ve had with envy soon enough and wish I had enjoyed it more instead of wishing it were different. Still this battle has lasted long over a decade. It feels so foreign to let it go, not to mention the crushing sense of failure and acceptance of defeat.

I guess overall, I’ve realized that all I really want is to enjoy where I am, wherever that might be in any given year, at any given moment. That’s all any of us can do. Anything else is just wasting time we could have spent being happy. But after 28 years of immense self-hatred and dissatisfaction, I don’t know how to turn my inner dial to “happy.” Sometimes I’ll catch myself realizing how much better I’d feel if I dropped all of my self-imposed obligations and just let life be what it is. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s true freedom.

My ego is always quick to chime in and say, “BUT YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” It yanks me back into old habits much easier and more frequently than I find those moments of surrender. The older I get, the more apparent it is that I’ve let the driving force of my life become fear. Fear is what inspires nearly every action I take, every thought that swims in my troubled mind. I’m always afraid if I don’t do this, that will happen, or if I do that, this will happen. I’d much prefer to move from a place of curiosity and love. But fear is such a primal force. It is so powerful. It closes down my ability to love, to access that higher self inside. I’ve known fear so much more intimately and often than I’ve known love. I’m terribly sad to admit it. Do I still have time to change that? Was it ever really my choice?

Some days I feel like I have an immense amount of free will. It seems completely possible to change course and fall into new patterns. But other days it feels like I’ve never had any say at all. Everything I am and everything I have been feels like a heavy weight around my neck. Standing still is all I can manage. It’s hard to believe I can simultaneously be every aspect of the self I embody. All of the shifting selves I’ve ever seen staring back at me in the mirror. Were all of them me? Or am I none of them? Can it be both?

Getting to witness the unpredictable and constant nature of change is one of the privileges of growing older. There is a point as a teenager where it really feels like you finally know it all. But life doesn’t stop. You keep going. And you realize you never knew anything, that maybe you never will. For me there was a beautiful, mysterious comfort in that realization. What a relief to know all the dark certainties I once held about myself and the world were just illusions, transitory passing clouds of perspective.

A big part of me has stopped trying to pin down or predict what is coming in life. Maybe that’s why it suddenly feels more possible to consider enjoying the present. When you aren’t sure of anything, it becomes much harder to move with aggressive conviction in any one direction. It seems much more practical to just enjoy where you are in the journey. Life was never a trip from point A to point B. It’s an expedition, an adventure through uncharted territory. Tomorrow I may push aside the brush to find a beach or a desert or a cliffside or maybe just more endless forest. It’s frightening, but it’s also what makes life worth living.

Love & All Good Things Are Coming

Raising my vibration
calling good things in
conjuring the confidence
to step boldly into a blurry future

Transcending shame and
the thick soot of regret
the alchemy of self actualization
requires trust and patience

Faith isn't feigning certainty
about the most fortunate fate
it's the conviction I'll be okay
no matter what comes

A new coat of courage
with tags still attached
no refunds, no returns
the high cost of change

Shedding the illusion
things can stay the same
the chance to choose transformation
before you're caught by it

Growth can be uncomfortable
but it's best not to fester for long
in skin that has become too small
trapped inside stagnant complacency

Cracking myself open
to discover what lies within
offering compassion and 
forgiveness to all I find 

Comfort Zone

This place has been my home
a small space softly glowing
with the warm smiles of family
my heart clings to the walls

I've never learned how
to head for new horizons
when I'm already comfortable
and happy where I am

Weighed down by the fear
of forfeiting something special
feeling selfish for being curious
for daring to hope for more

But lately I've heard the voice of intuition
the gentle breeze against my back
nudging me forward into new experiences
telling me now's the time to move on

A sentimental pang strikes and resonates
slow and deep like distant church bells
the empty echo of loss inside my chest
the painful letting go of something precious

I hope some small place remains for me
in the hearts of those I have to leave behind
there is nothing more frightening than
being unable to turn back

Never before faced with such a hard decision
but deep inside I know it's already done
in the past I've always waited to be
pushed out by circumstance

It's so much easier to leave
when you aren't given a choice
I never knew bravery felt so much
like not being able to breathe

New Opportunities

Big changes are like the breeze
creating little whirlwinds of unease
small rippling waves made on
the smooth surfaces of the mind

The gapping maw of an unknown future
unable to imagine what may come next
hands shaking with anticipation
palms made damp by possibility

Holding down the hope that
begins rising to the throat
the droning drumbeat of "what if"
holds a steady tempo of new terror

White knuckled grasping of what is
the daunting decision to sail past
the distant horizon where the sun hangs
necessary gambles in the game of life

What might be lying just out of sight
paradise or peril, it cannot be predicted
the fear of failure tastes metallic on my tongue
but there is no turning back now that I've begun

Expansive

The mind becomes stuffy
when its hampered by routine
consciousness is stifled when
made to wear a harness

Rituals that helped us excel
become prisons of invisible walls
that we cannot see and are
left unsure of how to escape

It's hard to move forward
when old systems are still in place
binding us by faulty data
gathered long ago

We must endlessly shed
what no longer serves
a dizzy cycle of development
dauntingly eternal

Past Selves

People always say you should be
someone your past self would be proud of
I see the dark eyes of the girl I used to be
and wonder what she would think of me

I have to smile because she would not be proud
the person I am and aspire to fully embody
will never be someone the teenage me admires
her fearful heart is too tight to hold space for this form

She would think that I'm weak and foolish
for giving up on all the things
she always thought we needed to be happy
and being happy anyway

She would cringe and moan about
my smiling open heart pouring over her
although she would still approve
of my all black attire

She would have never wanted
this simple contentment I've found
the surrender that saved me is her failure
another indomitable spirit crushed by time

And I hope this trend continues
that who I am today would not even
be able to grasp my future self
in her magnificent, frightening expansion

I want to look back in ten years
and know that I have let go of the illusions
I am still chasing after in my ignorance
in favor of something real and inconceivable

Then again maybe it was never
our teenage selves we were trying to impress
those moody, jaded, muddled versions of us
that were impossible to deal with

Each year I am peeling back layers
reconnecting with the blissful, grateful innocence
of the small child that had been slowly covered up
full of love and curiosity and wonder

Now she would be proud of me
I can feel the look of awe upon her face
as she looks up at me across the span of time
eyes lit up by a joyous smile

I think growing up is not linear
phases of gathering knowledge and growth
are paired with the careful work of returning
to the pure, effervescent essence we've always had

The Descent

when does routine
become a restraint
a heavy weight around your ankle
dangling over the balustrade

no prison more insidious
than the bars built up in our minds
silently erecting new walls each day
to box us into smaller and smaller spaces

somedays it's a revelation
to realize I'm the warden
that these limitations
have been self imposed

the power of self-possession
is a perplexing puzzle to ponder
the overwhelming responsibility
of deciding my own destiny

the never ending balancing act
between benefit and burden
mind numbing monotony
and clumsy chaos

learning to trust
those internal cues
telling you it's time
for change

instead of stuffing myself
into stifling rituals that no longer serve me 
resisting the endless cycle
of inner evolution

it's so scary to let go
of what's carried you this far
even once you begin
to drown

it's so tempting
to keep pretending
that perfection can be reached
if you keep pushing

I'm still learning how
to leave the sinking ship
before it hits
rock bottom

to take notice of the decent
and bravely face the bitter cold
of unknown waters
once again 

Cycles

My sorrow comes in cycles
waxing and waning with the moon
regular intervals of lapping tides
frigid dark waters against a jagged shore

long desolate seasons of solitude
convince me that joy was never mine
the cosmos close in around me
a heavy weight upon my sunken chest

when the sun finally emerges on the other side
of that cruel and endless winter wasteland
happiness breaks over my heart
like a revelation

my sleeping soul cracks open
shivering with delight in the warm heavy air
finally freed from its cramped cocoon
to absorb the majesty of the world reborn

open and unafraid, buoyantly held above
the stark reality of the season past
the second side of my dual nature
shaking off the bizarre burden I've been carrying

why was I so sad before?
what was it that I'd been pained by?
now suffering seems so far away
was it ever here at all?

I don't recognize myself
as I look back through the snow
and the aching, bony trees
caught in the swift, sharp wind

the summer beckons me forward
into a bright mirage of green
where nothing can cause me harm
where this time the cycle has surely stopped

each moment maintains its own eternity
forever paralyzed in each part of the pattern
immovable sadness giving way to boundless joy
always and again