The other day Brian reminded me that Daylight Saving Time is this weekend, and that it would be getting dark earlier. I said, “Good, I need to hibernate for a while.” My body’s actually been telling me that it’s time for a break since shortly after the Hutchinson Island half-ironman, when I took a week off and then tried to ease myself back into working out, only to find that I felt sluggish and slow, even though I wasn’t really trying to push myself all that much. And then my emo knee started whining and I got sick for a full week, and since then I’ve just been like, “Fuck it.” I did the 1/3 Great Floridian Triathlon last weekend and then I haven’t touched a sports bra since.
I’ve pushed myself pretty damn hard over the past year or so – not just in training but in everything – and it’s time to rest, to sleep in and eat the stuff I don’t normally eat and spend time on the couch doing nothing. This is a good thing, something that it will benefit me as an athlete, as a human being and as a creature of biology. But I’m not going to lie – it’s been a challenge for me. I’ve been thinking about why this is, because I don’t think I’m alone in doing what Brian calls “shoulding on myself.”
1. I have a chronic case of existential FOMO.
A couple of years ago, I wrote briefly about this embarrasing incident in a Publix where I choked on a piece of steak and had to run around the store and wordlessly get a stranger to give me the Heimlich maneuver. The whole thing took about thirty seconds but felt like for-fucking-ever, and when it was over I felt like every single atom in my body had been shaken violently.
Those thirty seconds ended up changing me in this really profound way, because I became acutely aware that my life is finite, and that it could end at any time. I’m not guaranteed old age, or even middle age, or even the next day. And when that awareness slapped me in the face, it really prioritized things for me. I started pursuing goals I wanted instead of putting them off until a mythical Some Day, and I let go of a lot of the pointless bullshit that was causing me to put limits on myself.
Sadly there’s only so much you can do in a given day, but damn if I have not tried to do as much as I can.
2. I’m incredibly competitive.
I know that when people talk about competition in the context of women, it’s always about being the skinniest or the prettiest or the one who can command the most male attention. Well, to hell with all that. I’m competitive in that I want to see just how fast and far I can go, and I want to beat as many people as I possibly can when I race. Sometimes I even try to win.
I use the presence of other people to draw the best possible performances out of myself. A friend who did a triathlon with me once said that every time she saw me out on the course, I was all, “Eye of the tiger.” I’m not a particularly intense person but that changes when it comes to training and racing.
I love this about myself, by the way. I love the way my focus narrows until it is little more than a hot, white point of intensity. What I’m now trying to learn is how to manage it so it doesn’t burn me.
3. I expect a lot out of myself – perhaps too much.
Another friend posted this essay by Elizabeth Gilbert the other day and I was shocked by how much of this I could relate to, mainly because I’d never quite thought of myself that way before. I was a chronic underachiever as a kid and a teenager – you know, the typical plight of the gifted child who learns way too early in life that it’s possible to coast by with minimal effort. I spent most of my twenties sucking on a bong. And now I’m not like any of those earlier iterations of myself but the self-image persists, and I always feel like I can and should do more.
I suspect these feelings are heightened by my age, as I’m at that stage of life where it feels as though everyone around me is having babies. (Actually, strike that – everyone around me is having babies.) I’m not anticipating having any of my own, but I can’t deny that I feel a little guilty about my relatively stress-free life when it seems like all of the women I know are barely holding it together due to their new roles as mothers. Like, I’m tired because I had a six-hour training weekend, where they’re tired because the baby is teething. It’s not the same.
So maybe I take on more as a way of compensating for that? It wouldn’t be out of the question. After all, not only do I live in a society that is obsessed with women’s reproductive choices, but I was also raised in a subculture where we were encouraged to start having babies as young as possible, and to have as many of them as possible, because that was our primary value as human beings. Maybe I’ve internalized the belief that my life and choices are somehow worth less because I don’t have kids, and I feel the need to make up for it by doing more.
4. I have high standards for myself.
Like I mentioned earlier, I used to be into coasting with minimal effort but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to really understand and appreciate the value of working hard and doing my best. Coasting was all about making me seem as though I had it all together, but that kind of mindset prioritizes the way I look to others and not how I actually am.
Now I find intrinsic value in looking at something and knowing I worked hard to make it happen. Sure, I like praise for my work, but the ultimate reward comes from within and knowing, honestly and sincerely, that I did the best I could do.
For me, my high personal standards have to do with self-respect. I like the way Joan Didion puts it in her essay “On Self Respect,” how she writes about being “unable to escape the devastatingly well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself.” I may be able to trick others into thinking certain things about me, but I will always know the truth about myself, and in the end that’s the only thing that matters.
Again, I consider this to be one of my better qualities, but without being tempered by perspective, it can become all-consuming and even damaging.
When I worked this all out, I came to realize that the very qualities I like best about myself – ones I’ve worked hard to develop – are also the ones that sometimes need to be put away for a little while, at least while I recharge my brain and my body for a little bit and think about how I’d like to proceed in the coming year.
By the way, part of thinking about how I’d like to proceed has to do with this blog. I’ve had this blog for four and a half years, and while I have no intention of shutting it down, I do think I’m suffering from what commenter Grace called “beat fatigue.” It’s hard for me to care about the latest Photoshop outrage, or the newest kind of shaming, or whatever body part has been gifted with a ridiculously twee name. (I still don’t know what the fuck a “thigh brow” is.)
And while the major feminist media is generally silent on the matters of women’s sports and fitness, I know I can count on them to pipe up whenever something super-offensive happens, so no need for me to write about those things, especially when I can just post links to those posts on the Fit and Feminist Facebook page.
It’s more than just “beat fatigue,” though, and it’s more than just the natural life-span of a blog running its course. These days I’m less interested in criticism – in any aspect of my life, not just this blog – and more interested in figuring out what can be done to fix things. (Mind you, this is not to say that there isn’t value to be found in critique, just that I’m not really all that interested in being the one who makes the critique anymore.)
So I’m thinking a lot about that, about how I’d like to proceed with that in mind. I’m sure it will lose readers and page views, because if there’s one thing I know for sure it’s that outrage is the currency of the Internet, but I don’t think I care too much about that anymore. What I do care about is being engaged in my work, feeling like I’m doing something positive in the world and continuing to connect with people who read this blog, and so whatever happens next with the blog, those will be my priorities.