I always looked forward to being in my 40's (and beyond), because I couldn't wait to know the things that only can be known with time, age, and experience. And I find it particularly amusing that the minutiae of life is what is currently sustaining me in a joyful way. I have become delighted with the slow, compounding benefits of small consistencies. I know, I know - not very sexy, but it is the truth.
Let me back up. I've been dealing with a painful lower back / sciatica for about a month and a half now, and while I'm getting better, for a while I was convinced that my vertebrae were crunching down on one another (pro-tip: don't let Dr. Google diagnose you). After some painfully ineffectual PT sessions, I finally decided* to go to my wife's spine guy.
He showed me the x-rays, and I was certain he'd accidentally pulled up the wrong images. Y'all, my spine is fucking beautiful. While it was true that my right hip was hitched up, he explained that this was due to muscle spasm, not due to a spinal deformity.
"Frankly, at your age, I'm surprised that I don't see more degeneration."
Thanks, I think.
What, if anything, does this have to do with these small consistencies that have me so giddy? For years I have been doing some variation on the same exercise routine most mornings. Either a quick yoga video, or my own set of stretch / strengthen exercises based on what's stiff when I wake up. These have got to be the least impressive-looking set of "exercises" on the planet. I'm embarrassed to admit to such little effort. I mean, a "workout" that one looks forward to is no workout, or so I'm told.
But I tell you what, looking at those x-rays, and the sparkle in my doctor's eyes when he talked about the strength of my back, its flexibility, and lack of age-appropriate degeneration, I realized that this little routine of mine that I so easily disparage has given me years of a healthy back.
And it got me to thinking about what other joyful little consistencies** might having been adding up over time. When I looked, I found that I'd added a ton of these little routines to my life. It feels weird to say, but I really do take care of myself, mentally and physically.
Actually, it's not that weird to say, it's weird that I've been doing these things for years, and I still had it firmly embedded in my sub conscious that my size was evidence that I'm not dedicated to my self-care. I've always viewed these small consistencies as selfishness, yet I've persisted with them because they always felt so... important.
And this brings me back further, to a time when I just didn't know how to consistently give myself what I needed. I'd been trying to diet, and failing miserably. I'd been trying to beat back a creepy, and then dangerous, depression, and failing miserably. I'd been trying to find happiness in my first marriage, and failing miserably. Looking back, I think that I was just too young to understand, and everything around me - the fetid air of perceived female perfection, the oppressive requirement to obey with strict fidelity all of the tenets of my religion - suggested that quitting was not an option, that I would have to continue carrying on with these failing projects until I succeeded or ground myself into dust. There was no other option.
Around the age of 27, I started asking different questions about what I needed. Like, if I was unable to stick to a diet, then maybe I was going after the wrong problem. If I was depressed and unhappy with my marriage, then maybe my beliefs weren't all that helpful. Maybe I needed to address the fact that I didn't want to live anymore.
Once I got the appropriate mental health care (my GP wasn't enough - I needed a psychiatrist and a therapist), I started to slowly turn things around. Once I was on more solid ground, I saw how closely I'd come to letting myself slip away. So, I made a promise to myself: I was going to start doing the things that consistently supported my joy and mental health, and I was going to stop doing things that didn't bring contentment and happiness. I gave myself permission to adjust before I fell apart. I gave myself permission to give up. By the time I was in my early thirties, I'd given up on my religion, on dieting, on overt self-hatred, and on my first marriage.
I'd also reorganized my physical health under the heading of mental health, which meant that the care of my body would center on wholeness, not on my size. This was and is difficult, because in this world, my size is a 911 call, a problem so outrageous and severe that it must be fixed at all costs. Amputation is always on the table. Yoga is not nearly enough. I should be eating kale while preparing for a marathon, just to get my life on track. But I have no desire or aptitude for running, kale is at best a garnish, and, most importantly, none of these things address the terror I feel when I am small. Which means they don't. fucking. serve. me. What does serve me is a method of exercise that allows me to be strong and (generally) pain-free at the size I am, while I continue to patiently root out my triggers and fears.
What I sometimes lose sight of, in the middle of all of this quitting, is that my intention and motivation is to find the things that work. And that is why my little consistencies are so joyful. For 15 years, I have patiently, persistently, consistently, thoughtfully searched out that which does serve my well-being. Time and time again, I experience doubt - hands-shaking, white-knuckle, I-have-no-business-believing-in-myself doubt - about my decisions, but the small, clear voice inside of me will not let me give up on myself. I am the one thing I do not, and will not, quit.
And sometimes I'm reminded, with a simple x-ray, that maybe, just maybe, I know exactly how to care for myself.
*was nagged half to death
**which I keep typing 'inconsistencies' because, while I do them regularly, I certainly don't do anything with perfect attendance - hell, I wrote this post instead of doing yoga