Exercising. Writing. Walking the dogs. Cleaning the kitchen. Preparing for dinner.
Even my parents could never make me feel as guilty as I do about needing to do things. Interesting, now that I do not have a full-time, pressure-packed career that I feel more “shoulds” than ever. Perhaps it’s the seemingly sudden realization that I have missed an entire summer and the start of fall from surgeries. Maybe the disappointment of my return to being physically active is frustrating my body and mind. (Nothing like feeling sore after a 20-minute stroll to make one feel really old.) Hitting the wall the first day of NaNoWriMo was a stunner.
How hard can it be to write 1,700 words in a day when I can throw out 1,200 words per hour with writing prompts? Turns out pretty damn hard when your characters are too close to home; the situation you place them is leaking personal psychological overtones; you want to write more about buildings and the weather than the characters and plot. Writing stops being fun.
As if I had not revealed enough about myself in my 100th blog post, I have decided to do something I swore never to do and blog about a highly personal emotional issue. The reason? This is directly related to my weight/fat/body issues. It’s OK to stop reading, but I promise no history of severe mental illness is involved. No dark family secrets are lurking.
<Thirty minutes have passed.> I have difficulty identifying my emotional states, especially negative ones, and even more problems understanding why I feel the way that I do. Unlike some folks with this issue, I can empathize with others and describe what they are feeling. In fact, it’s part of what made me a good primary care doc. I could tell how they felt and reflect back to them my understanding. Ask me to do that for myself – fuhgedaboutit. How does this relate to eating? For me it probably has been the largest contributor to my binge eating disorder and disconnection from my body. Unable to articulate and express feelings, I dealt with unpleasant (and probably pleasant) emotional states and the tension generated by compulsive overeating and eating to numb the sensations. Oh yeah, I developed all sorts of unusual body sensations (starting in my teens) that I knew were not explained by disease. Very frustrating later on as a doctor, having physical symptoms you know are not caused by physical illness. Throughout high school and college I threw myself into sports. The rougher, more intense and competitive, the higher chance of injury – the better. Looking back, these activities were a great distraction for my mind and body, which also helped store much calcium in my bones. 😉 Unfortunately, I did not continue athletic endeavors once medical school started and never caught a pathological love of running to quiet my body. Fortunately I did not develop other impulsive behaviors to numb myself – drugs, alcohol (close call there in medical school), cutting, perverse sexual activities, etc.
I do know that my difficulty with certain types of self-expression constrain my writing. Hey, I’m great at the technical stuff even though I rebel at structure. My sentence structure when attempting non-fiction limits my ability to connect with readers. Heaven forbid I try to write more imaginatively or delve into the feelings of a character that might touch on a sensitive (to me) topic. From a not-at-all famous line in a poem written to a high-school crush, “I can’t tell you how I feel because I don’t.”
Expressive writing, as described by James Pennebaker, is shown to improve many health outcomes, especially if negative emotions are included. Repression in one’s attempt to write expressively – not so good. I try to make expressive writing part of my writing practice. I should make it part of my daily writing practice or at least 3 times a week. Just like I should be walking every day now in addition to using the recumbent bike. Just like I should NOT have sampled Halloween candy just for grins. (It wasn’t very appealing, by the way, and only left me feeling, um, bad – I think. LOL)
I have refocused my NaNoWriMo novel so that it will be more fun. I am keeping the psychological bull in my personal journal. But, I thought there might be someone out there who would benefit by me “coming out” about my difficulty dealing with negative emotions and the impact on my body. Perhaps one person can benefit from knowing the toll it takes from holding back emotionally. That the impact can vary from preventing you from connecting with your body to being unable to connect authentically with others. If this sounds familiar, it isn’t hopeless, and you aren’t alone. Don’t try to go it alone.
Back to my starting line: How many “shoulds” are there in your mind right now?