This month, as I recover from my latest race, I’m focusing on releasing myself from the comparison trap that’s so easy to fall into. I’m ignoring the 21 miler I saw someone recovering from the same race post to Instagram today and the half marathon PR posted by someone else. Instead, I’m doing what’s best for my mind and my body, taking it slow and enjoying some more unstructured time. I challenge you to release yourself from the trap, as well. Drown out the noise of what others are doing and take care of your health.
By Calesse Smith
In the uncertainty and volatility of our lives, we often desire to hold very tightly to the few things we can control. However, I have come to see that the tighter we grasp these things, the faster they tend to slip through our fingers.
It is a common story, relatable to many. For years, I manipulated food and exercise because my life felt scary, unpredictable, and constantly in flux. I couldn’t have told you right then in the throes of my anxiety that’s why I did it, but through therapy and retrospection I see now that this manipulation was my coping mechanism. Growing up, my family moved all over the world because of my father’s job, and I was constantly being thrust into new schools, where I attempted to make new friends and find my place in an already established social hierarchy., Over time, already a natural introvert, this began to take its toll on me. I never knew when the next move would be, when I would have to drop everything that was comforting and familiar, and start from ground zero once again.
In middle school, I joined the cross-country team for the very first time at the international school I was then attending as a way to make friends in another new place — this new place was a country where I didn’t speak the language and the culture shock was crippling. I quickly discovered I had a natural knack for running. Through running, I found a lightness, a freedom, and a sense of belonging I couldn’t find anywhere else.
Over time, however, this sense of freedom morphed into a terrible feeling of imprisonment. An activity that had once felt so empowering and liberating now was something else to chain me to some metaphorical anvil. My desperate control over food came not long after, and the two – running and food, and my control of them both — gained power and a tight hold over me. On days when I didn’t have practice, I made sure to get in an equal amount of time of some kind of physical activity. And God forbid it was an assigned a “rest day.” That wrought havoc on my entire day.
Over a decade later, I have been working hard to finally release the grip I’ve held over food and running, and the grip they have held on me. This cruel, predetermined dance is over. I am turning off the music. I am not a marionette, my thoughts and actions determined as if by some invisible hand manipulating the strings.
At last, I release my desire to control these things that I thought were helping me to cope with the uncertainty of my life at the time. I am not that insecure 13-year old at the mercy of her father’s decisions to climb the professional ladder. I have my own dreams and big goals and I won’t let food and running limit my potential any longer.
My life is much more stable now. I have worked at the same school for 6 years, I am happily married, and I don’t need to rely on controlling food and running in order to make it through to the next day. Today, I have a much better relationship with food, exercise, and my body. But yet, there remains much work to do. Work I chip away at day by day. Some days, it is easy to hold my hands loosely palms up, releasing my instinct to control. Other days, when life seems more stressful, ambiguous, and chaotic, I feel my fingers begin to close again. It is alarming to realize how automatically I reach for those old habits that comforted me during a time of duress at the first sign of a challenge.
One day, I hope to be able to find true release; to surrender all of my compulsions to control and restrict and manage. That day isn’t today, but I know that I am one step closer to arriving at that destination. For now, I do my best to let go, resist the urge to grasp at straws, to retreat to a previous version of myself that is no longer who I am today.
Our May writing prompt is Why Care?
May is Mental Health Month. Join us in supporting the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “Why Care” campaign by sharing your mental health story and why you care through this month’s prompt.
From the National Alliance on Mental Illness
The WhyCare? campaign is an opportunity to share the importance of care in our relationships to others, in mental health treatment and services and in support and education to millions of people, families, caregivers and loved ones affected by mental illness. Demonstrating how and why we care brings more to awareness by showing our actions and connections to others. Care has the power to make a life-changing impact on those affected by mental health conditions.
To learn more about Mental Health Month visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website here.