Progress, Not Perfection

Aloha, friends!

I’m back from another sweaty session at the gym and thought that it might be a good time to update you on how all my fitness & physical/mental health stuff is going!

As I mentioned about a month ago, I’m having a mid-life crisis in the midst of a sort of life overhaul. I was feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and found my self-esteem and general happiness were in a steep decline. So after whining about it and feeling sorry for myself for entirely too long, I finally determined I needed to take action and implement some positive changes in my life.

And since I’m not exactly a prudent person, I roared forth, guns-blazing, and actually initiated a WHOLE BUNCH of different lifestyle changes… basically all at once. Heh.

  

Some of them are, of course, bigger and more significant than others, but I like to think that they’re all positive changes nonetheless:

  1. I started taking vitamins
  2. I started waking up at the same time (ish) every day
  3. I started using my Panda Planner again
  4. I cleaned up my eating and started tracking in MyFitnessPal again
  5. I started working out (4 to 5 times a week)
  6. I found a therapist

Actually, I found two therapists, as I realized I wasn’t really jiving with the first one. I’m only a couple sessions in with my new one, but I love her so far! And after yesterday’s appointment, I’m also attempting to add in a seventh thing, which is to try and meditate & practice mindfulness first thing in the morning.

I downloaded the Calm app, as well as one called Insight Timer, upon her recommendation, though it’s absolutely going to take time for me to to be able to quiet my mental chatter… my brain is really used to being busy, lol. Calm’s first guided meditation lasted like 9 minutes and it was extremely difficult for me to focus. Guess that’s why they call it a practice, though!

Embracing all of these things is also helping me in working towards my goal of establishing more routine and reliability in my life. I think that the impetus for a lot of my uncertainty, anxiety, and discontentment that has surfaced over the past year has been the biggest change that has ever or likely will ever occur in my life: becoming a mother. This is not to say that I don’t absolutely, 150% LOVE being Penny’s mom, I do! Nor is it meant to be any kind of slight against her — I think you are all probably painfully aware at this point that Penny is pretty much a perfect baby. She’s awesome, we literally could not have gotten luckier.

 

But even though I have an amazing kiddo, a husband, a supportive and involved family, a great job, a comfortable living situation… I’ve still struggled. And that’s where the mental health component really comes into place, because honestly, I’m not even sure if I can identify exactly what it is that I’ve been struggling with the most — my identities as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, employee vs. just as a person? The general shift in dynamics that has taken place within all of those relationships? Just, like, I dunno, life?

And then you toss in this whole extra layer of guilt that comes from the thought that I don’t really have any right to complain in the first place. I mean, there are literally millions of people in this world that have it so much harder and struggle with so many real, identifiable issues that I honestly have no experience with and can’t even accurately imagine going through. Stuff like going hungry. Being in crushing debt. Being in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship. Living with a disease. Losing a parent, a sibling, a child. The list could go on and on.

And when I start thinking that way (which is admittedly pretty often because I never want to give the impression that I’m ungrateful or unaware of the privileges I have been granted), it just makes me feel worse. Like I shouldn’t even be devoting my mental energy to my own problems. I should just, you know, suck it up.

Obviously, that’s not true. It’s not a healthy way to process things — for me, at least. Because while it absolutely is important to keep perspective (being able to establish perspective can be a powerful tool), the reality is that we all have baggage. We all have stuff we’re trying to work through.

And so my therapist was quick to remind me, and I am trying to continually remind myself, that the struggles of others does not invalidate my feelings.

I’m allowed to feel what I feel.

And I’m allowed to feel them about whatever I feel them about.

Now, whatever comes after feeling those feelings, yeah, that’s a little different. Having a feeling does not necessitate acting on those feelings. That’s kind of a whole other can of worms that I’m not going to explore today though, lol.

The bottom line is, I’m absolutely still just in the beginning phases of figuring all this ish out, trying to build up my toolbox so that I can figure out how to piece together all the various bits of my life in the best possible way, to give myself the chance to be my best self. I’m making progress in a lot of ways — therapy is opening me up, working out is making me feel stronger, cleaning my diet back up is helping me feel more energized (and I’m about 17 pounds down so far), and all three are helping me feel better about myself.

Now, I still have low moments, self-deprecating thoughts, times when I’m not really sure if what I’m doing is working, or if it’ll be sustainable longterm, or even what I’m doing at all, lol. But being human is complicated, and working my way towards health (in every sense of the word) was never going to be a straight line. So I focus on the good when things are good, I work to keep my head above water when it’s less good, and I take comfort in the fact that I’m making progress at all.

 

A Routine Life

So, those of you who have been longtime readers or followers of mine have gleaned at least a little bit about my job. I work for Yelp as a Community Manager right here on the ground in Northern VA.

While it generally speaking falls under the umbrella of “marketing”, this role is pretty unique, even amongst jobs at Yelp. It’s a full-time job (sometimes more than full-time, if I’m being honest), but I work remotely (even with the recent opening of Yelp’s DC office since I only go in once a week…ish, hehe) which means I have the incredible luxury of making my work situation pretty much whatever I want it to be.

Am I going into the office? Do I want to squat in a coffee shop all day? Put my desk at home to actual use? Or work from my couch with Parks & Rec playing through in the background for the 40th time? (YES, NETFLIX, I AM STILL WATCHING.) This freedom also extends to my schedule — I am not beholden to the same 9-5 situation to which many others have to adhere. And every day looks very different.

I might pop open my laptop first thing in the morning, head out for an in-person meeting, meet a friend for lunch, have back-to-back conference calls, and then have to go prep for an evening event. Maybe it is a day when I need to go into the actual office. Or I might sleep in, go out for coffee, run some errands, and then settle back in at my computer and work until late into the evening.

Anyway, I say all this not to brag about my job (which is admittedly awesome and I know I am very lucky to have it), nor did I intend for this post to be a deep-dive into what my daily life looks like (though this does remind me that I’ve been promising to write up another Day in the Life post for a long while now, lol.) I just thought that explaining what I do in a little more detail would help illustrate the point that I am trying to get at, which is this:

Because my life has so much flexibility, it also lacks any semblance of routine.

For over five years, I have rarely had to set an alarm clock. I don’t have a specific bedtime. I don’t eat meals at the same time each day. I don’t have a laundry day, or a meal prep day, or a date night. Save for a few rare regularly scheduled calls, my calendar never looks the same from one week to the next.

And for the better part of five years, it’s been pretty great. There have been tons of benefits that I have heartily taken advantage of — taking care of errands and appointments during the day, sleeping in, regularly getting to see my friends, and, of course, getting to be around my daughter so much more than the typical full-time working mom.

But it’s a double-edged sword, right? Because with all of those perks also comes the burden of not being able to predict how a given day might go, not being able to slide into the familiarity or comfort of “your old routine.” Which, granted, hasn’t really been an issue until lately.

But lately, I’ve been feeling pretty down, and thanks to the prodding of some of friends, I finally took the initiative to find a therapist to talk to — something I honestly should have been doing for a long time now. I have only just started therapy, but already in our short time together she has helped me realize how frazzled and frantic and overwhelmed I am. And while I’m sure it’s really, really common, especially for new moms, it’s still not something I like to admit. I mean, who loves admitting that they no longer know how to handle just like, life? Especially given all of the advantages that I have — a perfect baby, a husband, close family, a decent salary, all that aforementioned flexibility… I know I have a really good situation overall. Which is why it was kind of hard for me to admit that I’ve been feeling depressed & overwhelmed in the first place — because it’s like, with all the privileges I am afforded, I should have no reason not to be happy.

(Sidenote: My therapist did tell me to stop “shoulding on myself” (heh.) Like, to stop saying things like “I feel like I shouldn’t even feel this way because I have it so good!”or “I should just be happy because there are other people who have it so much worse,” since my struggles are my struggles and my feelings are still valid. This is actually a rather difficult concept for me to digest, and one I think I’m going to need to let percolate a little more before I really try and dig into it, but I digress.)

I know I’m not the first woman to feel like she is being pulled in a thousand different directions and finding it hard to cope. I think we’re all trying to find some way to balance all of the various roles we have to play: mother, wife, homemaker, daughter, sister, friend, coworker, manager, employee — and that doesn’t even touch the roles we form around our hobbies and interests: writer, blogger, photographer, advocate, bookworm, crafter, gamer… and ten zillion more.

I’ve been able to identify that the loosey-goosey, whatever, whenever approach I’ve had towards work (and towards my life in general) is currently adding to my feelings of overwhelm…ed…ness? And that I’m actually craving some structure, predictability, and routine.

Penny has actually already helped in this arena, quite a lot. I mean, sure, in the beginning, she made things even more frantic and crazy and unpredictable. But both Sean and I recognize that we are supremely lucky to have such a good baby. She sleeps well, she eats well, and she has a strong internal clock that has given me at least a modicum of a routine when it comes to her.

But I have a lot further to go. I need to create boundaries — my work & home & social lives all kind of blend and bleed together, and even though I have what’s considered a “lifestyle job,” I need to realize that it’s okay for those things to be a little more separate. I need to figure out how to focus on one thing at a time, be mindful of my current task, and then allow myself to move onto the next one. When it’s time to work, I want to be able to focus on work. When I’m catching up with a friend, I want to be able to focus on my friend. When it’s time to be with Penny, I really want to be able to focus on feeding/snuggling/playing with Penny.

Basically, I just want to do less of what I currently do, which is hard to even articulate properly but is a little more like… this:

*opens laptop* Okay, time to answer these emails about the event I have happening tomorrow, and then I’ll do the ones having to do with next week’s event, oh, next week I’m also going back to Atlanta, I need to call Southwest and add Penny as a lap infant to my ticket *opens tab to Southwest.com* Hmm, do I have time to get a pedicure before I go, oh crap, by the time I come back my car registration will have expired, I need to get my emissions test done *opens tab to Google gas station’s inspection hours* okay, scrap the pedicure, I don’t need to spend the money on that anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve checked Mint, better see where we’re at with this month’s budget *opens tab to Mint.com* oh man, there’s the tab to my Nordstrom cart, the Anniversary Sale is ending soon and this is SUCH good deal on Baby Bling Bows, maybe I should check out — no! I told myself no more baby bows *closes out of tab* *finally sends one email*

Ahem. So, you know, that’s not great.

Anyway, my “homework” from my initial therapy session is a two-parter: 1) to start thinking of ways that I can create structure and routine for my daily life, and 2) to try (tryyyyyy) to be more mindful, focused, and in-the-moment as I go through the day. I definitely have my work cut out for me with the latter part, but I feel like I’ve already been laying the groundwork for the former. Especially as my recent health initiative has me embracing a kind of morning to-do list, made up of things I should have been doing ALL ALONG FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE like eating breakfast & taking vitamins.

 
Plus, like I mentioned, Penny has me following at least some kind of loose structure at the beginning of each day — it’s just get a smidgen more complicated because while we have a steady childcare schedule, it’s not consistent from day to day. So the mornings when she goes to daycare are different than the mornings when she’s with my parents or mother-in-law.

My idea to help overcome this is to officially integrate fitness into my routine (I almost said “back into my routine” but who are we kidding? I’ve never had a true fitness routine hahaha.) For like, the first time in my entire life, I’m actually feeling a kind of… dare I say… desire to exercise. (Ew.) I don’t know if it’s coming from my weight loss, or because my therapist suggested or out of my postulations that I want to get healthy for Penny (I’m particularly concerned about my longterm heart health right now — but mayhaps I’ll delve into that at another time), but whatever the exact reason, I figure I need to capitalize on this rare, completely-out-of-character motivation.

So I went online and signed up for a free pass to a nearby gym this morning, and am doing the same at another one on Friday. Both facilities have kid’s clubs and are close by, so my hope is that I’ll be able to create a morning routine where I go to the gym at around the same time every morning — on the days when Penny is in daycare, I’ll drop her off first, and on the days when she isn’t, I’ll bring her with me. The rest of my day might still end up looking like a trash panda straight-up ripped into the garbage bag of my life, but at least I’ll be starting each off day with consistency and on the right foot.

This sounds great in theory, of course, but my visit to the first gym today (Gold’s) unfortunately didn’t leave me with a great impression. Partly because their kid’s club was insane — there was 1 adult and like 25 kids in there — and partly because of my own insecurities and discomfort over a) working out at all, and b) working out in public. But while that gym would have been my first choice based on location (it’s suuuuuper close to Penny’s daycare), I have high hopes for the second one. And I’m also looking into non-gym alternatives like boutique fitness places that offer childcare and Fit4Mom Stroller Strides. As long as I can hodgepodge them together into some kind of cohesive, regular routine.

Anyway, so that’s the latest in Gretchen’s Journey to Self-Improvement & Sanity™. I’m still feeling pretty positive and optimistic about being able to make lasting changes, but I’m trying to remain relatively guarded about it as well. Knowing my tendency to jump headfirst into things, only to abandon them later, I want to make sure I’m making manageable changes, and for the right reasons this time. That way, I hopefully really will be able to say I’m making positive changes to last me a lifetime.

Go forth!