For years, I would deal with feelings of stress by comfort eating. My busy and success-driven life was so regimented, and so much based on the image I wanted to portray (fit, healthy, lean) that every day seemed to fill my entire being with unbelievable pressure.
The pressure would simmer quietly beneath the surface, most of the time. It wasn’t possible or necessary to acknowledge it when I moved from minute to minute or task to task with a military like precision. Nothing and nobody – and certainly not my own quiet inner voice – could sway me from my mission to be successful, to be more, to be the best. The best at what? Anything! Everything. And perhaps as a result, nothing.
But sooner or later even the busiest day would come to an end, and I’d be once more at home and ready to “relax”. Perhaps you can understand what I mean by “relax” as opposed to just – relaaaax. The problem with “relaxing” is that you negate the possibility of achieving actual relaxation when you approach it like another task that must be checked off before you can get to sleep and move on to the next busy and important day.
It just doesn’t work, does it?
Try too hard to switch your mind off, treat your down-time like an obligatory something you know you should do and you do kind of want to do but just not as much as you want or need to keep living life at your frantic pace, and the outcome?
It’s not good.
And the pressure builds. Every. Single. Minute. Until eventually, inevitably – and perhaps even daily – you crack. A tipping point, if you like, is reached and it is simply impossible to keep going without releasing the incredible, explosive and urgent feeling of overwhelm.
For me, I found my release in food. For a long time. Binge eating various starches or sweets allowed me to block out everything in my head and heart and just enter total escapism.
It made up for the false “relaxation” and it allowed me to ignore the fact that I didn’t know or had forgotten how to truly just be. Forgotten how to be quiet, to be reflective, to be still. Forgotten how to be me. The ‘me’ that I knew how to be was busy. Driven. Focused. She never stopped and was constantly admired by others for all that she took on, all that she managed to do before others even made it out of the house in the morning and long after they’d gone home. For all the balls in the air.
when the balls come tumbling down
Perhaps you too are an expert juggler.
You do the work thing, the business thing, the relationship thing (although that often seems to end up at the back of the queue), the house-keeping thing, the kid thing, the daughter/sister/mother/friend thing and you do it all with a smile on your face most of the time and with a simple and dainty shrug of your shoulders anytime someone marvels at how on earth you manage.
“Oh, it’s fine”, you say with a laugh. “I’m fine. Don’t be silly, I don’t do that much!”
Inside, you glow with pride at the acknowledgement of how you do manage more than everyone else, at how you are in fact superwoman. At the same time, you burn with resentment at the relaxed and carefree approach your admirer has to life, compared to you at least. And you wonder -
How did I end up like this? Today, this week, this month, this year, my life, was supposed to be simpler. About cutting back. So why am I busier than ever? And why can’t I seem to stop?
And you tell yourself -
I just have to finish this project. Or pay off that debt. I just have to follow through on the commitments I already agreed to. I can’t afford to stop just yet. Soon I will. Oh yes! Just another little while at this place and I can slow down. It will be worth it; I know it will. It will.
And in the meantime -
You keep going.
You push yourself to do more, and more, and more. But it’s only the necessities, really! Only what has to be done! Other people just don’t have as much that they have to do. If only you could be like them, but you can’t. At least not yet.
So, until then, you (wo)manfully do what has to be done.
And the pressure builds. Every. Single. Minute.
Sometimes you’re not aware of it at all, in fact when you’re busy and caught up in doing you’re rarely aware of it at all. It’s only when it comes to not doing and to trying to be that it hits you.
Like a tonne of bricks falling on your head. But instead of letting the balls come tumbling down – which maybe you should – you try to hold them up. Despite the crazy, immense, just-won’t-go-away pressure of it all. And eventually, inevitably – and perhaps even daily – you crack. A tipping point is reached and you need to escape.
With food, perhaps, like I did for so many many years. Maybe it’s television. Old movies. Wine. Flicking through Facebook, or emails, or blog posts. It’s something, no doubt, that you used to enjoy now and then as a genuine means of relaxation. Except without realising it, it became the only way you knew how to “relax”. It became your out, your release, and you got to a point where you had to have it nearly every day.
And one day, perhaps this day -
You realise you haven’t truly STOPPED since you can’t even remember. And that you’re not sure you know how to now.
stopping the madness
It’s not going to stop of it’s own accord.
It’s never going to stop, unless you do. And those people you envy for not having to be as busy as you are, for being able to truly switch off and enjoy life while the best you can muster is an urgent “relaxation”?
Those people don’t have any less to do than you.
They’re not any less demanded-upon. And they too have stressors of various kinds, they have debts or career worries or relationship woes. Insecurities about themselves and what’s to come. And probably, most likely, they too have some secret way of dealing with stress that they feel unwittingly bound to. Forget about them, and stop comparing yourself because that’s how you got into this mess in the first place. The constant need to do and be more, to live up to expectations.
It’s a hungry beast that will never ever be satiated. Ever. And here is what it comes down to, this and only this -
Are you happy to become the person you will inevitably be 5 years from now if you don’t stop this madness?
Yes? Or no?
For me, it was no.
In my mid-late twenties I decided that no I didn’t want to one day become a Mum battling an eating disorder, trying not to pass those bad habits onto my kids. And whether or not I became a Mum, no I didn’t want to be a me hiding from stress in never-ending bouts of comfort eating. Nor did I want to be a me who lived life at a pace where there was a constant and urgent need for this sort of outlet.
It’s the simplest and the hardest thing to do, making the decision to become something different to who you are. And you can plan it and task-manage and break it down all you like, but until you definitely and 100% decide within you that enough is enough, it simply won’t happen. So for this at least, stop with the lists. Stop with the micro-management. And just STOP with everything you think you need to be doing and consider this -
Who do you want to be 5 years from now? A year from now? Heck, a week from now?
This, you may not like hearing. Or perhaps it’s the best thing for you to hear right now -
The only way; the only way you’re going to be that person is if you become her now. NOT when you finish that project, pay off that debt, follow through on what you said you would do.
What you said you would do, what you committed to being, wasn’t it once upon a time about enjoying your life? About living in the moment?
So put down the food/remote/iPhone/iPad/wine/whatever and answer me this -
Isn’t it time to stop the madness?
Life is Now. Press Play.