I am not a healthy person, on a number of levels.
I’m 290lbs at 5’11” (for the sake of context, 6’3″ Gwendoline Christie is 185), I’m in a constant battle with depression, I sleep too much, eat too much, and my apartment is an absolute disaster. I’m talking depression nest levels of messy.
And on the mental health side of things, it’s hard for me to even write that where others can see it, because I don’t tell people these things. I don’t like admitting to being overwhelmed, imperfect, anxious, or unsure.
I constantly say yes to others at the expense of myself and my own personal time, even when I know that I won’t be able to do my best for someone because I have too many other commitments. Commitments that end up falling by the wayside, or being forgotten, or getting delayed, and I berate myself for being a failure and a flake.
I don’t write enough. I always tell myself that. I’m never writing fast enough to meet my own unreasonable goals.
I had a rough end to 2019. I was visiting my parents. My mom has early onset Alzheimer’s. She’s was diagnosed in her late 50s, is now 62, and can no longer hold a coherent conversation. She needs assistance in the bathroom at times and help changing her clothes. My mom was one of the brightest, funniest, most independent people I knew. I spent two weeks at home, extending my trip so I could give my dad a break from looking after her. Constantly anxious and sad, I turned to food as a comfort, as I so often do.
It was depressing.
When I got home, I spent almost a week wallowing on my couch after work, unmotivated, not wanting to do anything. Think about 2020? About goals and desires for the New Year? No way. Normally New Year’s Eve/Day are my two favorite days of the year, but this time I couldn’t be asked to care.
My friend C was the one who snapped me out of it. Or at least half-snapped me out of it. We’d both spent the past year wanting but only half-trying to lose weight. She only has about 20lbs to go to reach her goal weight, but my healthy is still 135lbs away. I hadn’t put real effort into self-care in 2019. I’d done it in half-assed spurts–started getting my nails done, started taking care of my skin intermittently. Definitely did not eat well or exercise at all.
She’s the one who said we should think about our goals and plans for the year. I immediately listed writing goals–finish book, send out short stories, write X, Y, and Z scripts–and ended with a “yeah, that sounds good.” She was quiet for a second and then said, “Okay, but that’s all writing stuff. What about self-care?”
It hit me then that I was doing what I always do. Putting work before my health. Prioritizing accomplishment over the path it takes to get there. Placing writing at the center of my identity.
As we were talking, I made some vague health goals, like “lose 100lbs” and “start keto.” Things I thought would make her happy to hear. (Putting others before myself…)
Then I started thinking about it. I started thinking about where I am (about to be 32), my physical health, my future. The fact that I’m diabetic, and the influence that my terrible eating habits has on that aspect of my life. The fact that I probably have sleep apnea because of my weight, which contributes to oversleeping and constant tiredness, and also damages heart and brain health.
What was going to influence those writing goals? What was going to influence every other thing I wanted to do in my life?
In the book The One Thing, authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan direct us to ask a single question: “What’s the One Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
What would make my life, overall, better and easier? What’s the one thing I can do to make all my other desires more possible?
Be a healthy person.
I called C up and started talking to her again. Told her I was cutting my writing goals back to one of those scripts and the book, told her I was going to start keto, get an exercise game called Ringfit, and start using the neglected treadmill in my house twice a week. I even went one step further and resolved to use my tax return to hire a personal trainer for the following six months.
In terms of my mental health, I decided to stop reading about minimalism and start living it, which begins with a Konmari sweep of my apartment in advance of moving. Marie Kondo’s philosophy is one I love and her method is one that works for me. I have to pare down anyway–I’m going from three bedrooms to a one bedroom, which means chopping out two rooms worth of useless clutter. I want my move to mean a genuinely fresh start.
All this to say, my goal for the year has changed: I want a clean space, a clear heart, and a healthy body.
Yes, this means a year of not producing writing at the same level I typically demand of myself, but frankly, demanding I produce at that level wasn’t working anyway. It was the same old cycle. Spurt of effort >> spurt of progress >> lose motivation >> berate myself >> wallow >> spurt of effort.
Mary Robinette Kowal says that when things were hardest for her in terms of depression or life in general, her writing goal became ‘write three sentences, every day’.
It echoes a sentiment from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, in which he compares a 1% improvement every day over the course of a year to a 1% decline every day over the same period:
“Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1% worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero.”
I would rather write three sentences every day and have three sentences worth of progress every day than have one big burst and then nothing at all. I would rather dedicate my primary energy to changing my habits this year than have another year of waffling and wallowing and not getting anywhere.
Moreover, as a healthy lifestyle becomes habit in and of itself, it will take less energy to maintain it. As I get into the rhythm of meal prep, exercise, and regular cleaning, those actions will become more automatic, freeing up mental space to write more in the long term.
A year taken “off” from my pie-in-the-sky writing goals might make them more attainable in 2021.
I’ve finally decided what this blog is going to be about, over the next year at least. I’m going to dedicate myself to myself, and see where it takes me. Hopefully it’ll be somewhere interesting, and you’ll like to come along.