About a month ago, I made a decision to dedicate much more of my time to health, wellness, and body positivity. At first, it was a breeze. I felt happier, had much more energy (with way less nausea and abdominal discomfort), became motivated to make the most out of my days, and even landed a new job! (Which, if you read my last post Depression and Joblessness, is a HUGE improvement to my quality of life).
Lately, though, it’s been a struggle. While I absolutely love what I do and wouldn’t trade my new job for the world, it doesn’t exactly cater toward a rigorous gym schedule, nor does it make it easy to eat right (since I have to get up so early, I’m lucky if breakfast is a pop tart on the car ride into the city). While I tried to wean myself off of caffeine, I soon found that it was next to impossible to get through even the first few hours of my day without at least a small cup of coffee, because I go to bed (on average) at 12:00 and wake up at 5:00 the next morning. And the icing on the cake (pun definitely intended) is that, when I finally do get back to my apartment at the end of the day, all I want to do is scroll social media and eat cupcakes for dinner in some kind of a sick attempt to de-stress with junk food and laziness.
Again, I’m not complaining. I love my job. I feel like I hit the lottery with this job, actually. I’m not ungrateful, nor do I blame my job for the abuse I’ve been putting my body through. I have weekends off, after all. So why don’t I take that time to hit the gym and prepare wholesome, organic meals for the week? At the very least, why don’t I take that time to rest?
I attend a weekly small group with my church on Tuesday nights, and this week’s discussion happened to be about the struggle to obey our physical bodies (essentially, listening to what our bodies are telling us they need and prioritizing those needs). In my assessment of my own struggles, as well as others’ testimony to similar issues, I think the difficulty in prioritizing our physical needs can largely be attributed to one (very broad) category: typically beginning sometime in our teens, we’re socialized to believe that we’re not worth it.
(photo by Brittney Birosak)
I know that sounds like a harsh, sweeping claim, but read on. Hopefully I’ll be able to explain myself (if not, you can yell at me in the comments for being an assumptive, over-generalizing jerk).
When I say that we’re socialized to believe that we’re not worth self care, I don’t mean that we’re socialized to hate ourselves (that’s an argument for another post). What I mean, quite simply (and slightly less drastically) is that we’re taught to believe that obligations are more important that our well being, that rest equals laziness, that time at the gym or taking a quick nap could be better spent doing something else, something more important. College students share hilarious and witty diagrams on twitter that illustrate the reality that you can’t have a social life, enough sleep, AND get good grades…you must choose which is more important to you. All nighters are encouraged, even praised, and the bodily abuse that young adults put themselves through during their undergraduate career are painted in a comical light and accepted as reality.
This is all fine, until we’re hit in the face with not-so-funny statistics, such as the fact that the University of Pennsylvania has seen ten student suicides in the past three years, or that suicide is the third leading cause of death for college students in the United States, or that, in 2014, 29% of teenage suicides in the U.K took place on exam day or in anticipation of exam day/receiving the results of an exam. (Office for National Statistics, University of Manchester).
“WHEN I SAY THAT WE’RE SOCIALIZED TO BELIEVE THAT WE’RE NOT WORTH SELF CARE, I DON’T MEAN THAT WE’RE SOCIALIZED TO HATE OURSELVES…WHAT I MEAN, QUITE SIMPLY, IS THAT WE’RE TAUGHT TO BELIEVE THAT OBLIGATIONS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN OUR WELL BEING.”
And this is just beginning documentation of the early years of young adulthood…these problems don’t go away once one starts “adulting.” The only thing that changes, in this case, are the things that we place before ourselves. Instead of papers and exams, we follow the call to work, relational obligations, money, and even household chores before we follow the call to answer our bodies’ physical and spiritual needs. We guilt ourselves for spending time to regenerate from the ruthless drive of daily life. We start drinking coffee in our teens because it’s “trendy,” only to become dangerously hooked later on. Due to our overpacked schedules, we’re almost forced to eat the quick and convenient fast food that is presented to us in under 5 minutes without even having to leave our vehicles. This, again, is due to the social “trend” of draining our minds and bodies to benefit factors outside of ourselves.
Yesterday, I had a day off from work. Since I woke up two nights ago feeling a tight, torturous, knot-like pain in my abdomen (again, cupcakes for dinner) I decided to spend my day off “refueling.” After a successful morning at the gym, I came home, laid down with my cat, and fell asleep. When I woke up from my hour nap, I felt a harrowing twinge of guilt. That’s right, guilt. For resting. ON MY DAY OFF.
Why? Because there were dishes in my kitchen sink that could’ve been done during that hour. I could’ve already been showered, dressed, and at the grocery store by this time. There’s basically a scroll of things I could’ve had done, or at least begun doing, during that hour, but instead, I wasted it on myself.
Christian readers: Elijah was literally ORDERED by God to rest and nurture his body before he could go out and continue his awesome work. Heck, GOD HIMSELF needed to rest on the seventh day. You are worth the time for rest, and you can’t be expected to carry out your calling before caring for your body.
Non-Christian readers: You, too, deserve more than processed food, coffee as a meal, and quick, easy, but less than nutritious fuel for your body. Take the time to cook for yourself, to treat yourself, to listen to what your body is asking of you. No matter your obligations, remember that none of it can be done to the extent of your ability without affording yourself the time and energy necessary to be well.
EVERYONE WITH A BODY: LISTEN TO IT. You are beautiful, and well worth the effort.