Meanwhile in the fish bowl . . .
Big fish big fish let me dive in.
Can’t there’s no space for both of us to swim.
This morning while doing sit-ups at the gym a personal trainer strolled past and asked if he could show me a few alternate moves to isolate and work multiple muscle groups at once. “No thanks, I’m pretty sexy on my own,” I said. Haha. No, I didn’t. I said, “Sure,” but what I found more fascinating than the new moves was how I mentally responded to being pushed. As he stood over me counting rep five, my lower abs muscles started to burn like crazy and I let my legs relax, as he smiled, “Nope. Keep going.” As I continued, my lower abs clearly pissed, I noticing anger brewing and I immediately and aggressively wanted to quit.
Now, I come from an anorexic and bulimic background which involves a whole mental screwed up world of deprivation, pushing myself to run, forcing myself to eat, not eat, binge or throw, up while Lillie’s taunting voice constantly belittled me. (Lillie being the voice of my eating disorder) Lillie also taught me not to listen to myself because I could not be trusted. Who cared if I didn’t feel like running three miles during lunch even though I had three hours of basketball practice post school. My feelings and what I wanted didn’t matter because Lillie told me I was going to be thin and that overshadowed it all.
Our culture fosters overriding our feelings and applauds when we push a little more.
“Just do it,” Nike tells me, advertising a forever long road in the background and a women dressed in full running gear off for her hours of exercise. How long will she be gone? No one knows, but she’s chasing the yellow lines that some carrot dipped in mustard must have made while be dragged lifelessly into the sunset.
I say this with love because I was an athlete. When I played basketball in high school I remember doing suicides- sprints back and forth starting from one side of the court to the free throw, side, half court, side, other free throw, side, full court, side. I remember how much I loathed them while hunched over gasping for air for our twenty second rest before the coach would yell, “Again,” and we did it all over again, and again, and again. I remember shooting, “I hate you,” stink eyes at the coach and muttering swear words under my breath while the astute sprinter next to me sang song, “Attituuude,” in my direction, which only made me want to punch her in the face.
Competitive sports and my ED constantly pushed me further than I wanted to go every time and as a defense mechanism I developed a circuit breaker in my brain. Circuit breakers by definition are designed to trip and turn off power when an electrical circuit is overloaded with too much current. This safety feature is in place for dangerous resulting situations like fires, explosions, melting, and even electrocution. Thus the job of the circuit breaker is to break the circuit to protect it from causing damage. Hmm . . . so the circuit breaker in my brain could be a protection mechanism from the danger of overloading and the resulting psychological damage like brain fires and such.
When I graduated high school I didn’t touch a basketball for five years. Something I had loved had become political, full of pressure, and devoid of fun. The same happened with my disorder. In the beginning, it was exciting- having a goal, moving towards something- but it too became exhausting and unrelenting in its pressure.
As I started giving up the ED I noticed that I had developed a circuit breaker for my life. Whenever someone pushed me at all it would snap and I’d say a mental screw you, and check out.
Obviously, exercise still has an associative thread to my ED. Haha. I picture myself with a trainer.
Trainer: Ok now you’re going to do twenty squats.
Me: Um. No. Screw you. (walk away)
Nonetheless, what I observed this morning was the circuit breaker snapping. I mentally paid homage to the “Screw you” door and the “I quit” door but then I wondered . . . what lie behind those doors? If my brains circuit breaker snaps when I’m pushed in exercise where else does it snap in my every day life? Where else does this preconditioned neuropath way show up when I’m pushed, and how does it keep me from achieving or growing.
So, being inquisitive and fascinated with monsters, I opened the doors to see what freakish thing lay behind them. Out flooded past belief systems like talking rice grain seeping through my fingers “You’re not good enough. You’re weak. You’re a failure. If you don’t try you can’t fail. Feign indifference then nothing can hurt you. This discomfort will never end. I will control you. You’re worthless. You look like an idiot. You can’t do it. Enjoy your punishment.”
“Huh, that’s weird,” I thought brushing the last of the rice grains to the floor. When I asked each belief, “Is this true,” I know they are not, yet they still showed up behind my doors.
Through the process of healing dysfunction the tendency is to pendulum to the extreme opposite before balance is found. For example, when I was too emotionally open and without boundaries, my first tendency was to build fortress walls to keep everyone out and thus keep me safe. When the pendulum finally found a happy balance I was able to craft fences with helpful and necessary little door hinges. In much of my life today I’m positive and balanced, but it’s funny how I’m reminded so quickly, when I’m triggered by exercise, that I do have a circuit breaker that is still in operation.
Back at my house, after my encounter at the gym, I found myself thinking, “Is this something that I could work on? Might I take some training classes with him so that I can explore my mindset, reroute the messages so the circuit breaker doesn’t snap? What would that exploration look like?”
I rolled it around like a stone as I ate standing up in the kitchen. My mind peeled apart the messages behind the two doors and I realized that goals were a root of the predicament. For most of my past pursuits the focus was all about the destination and not the journey- how skinny was I going to be, and a slow developing distaste for competitive sports. When I found joy in what I was doing I was more likely to push forward, even in the face of discomfort, because I saw the situation differently. The situation I was excited about became a malleable process of growth like chunks of clay used to create a masterpiece. When I was only focused on the destination I missed what the clay felt like in my hands, how I had to begin again with patience and persistence, and how amazing it felt to be creating. In the past I’d rarely ever enjoyed or felt the journey was worth it until/or unless I got to the destination. Upon arrival I’d give a big hurrah, get uber excited for a moment or two, and then the emptiness would set in again and I would need something else to accomplish to feel worth it.
This feeling of worthlessness, of not feeling good enough, is a human problem. When I didn’t feel worth it I protected myself by staying small and in my comfort zone. I was a fish who completely filled its small tank so that I could feel large and important. But that’s not what I really want. I want to be an awesome little fish in a huge fish tank so that I have expansive room for growth, so that my growth can be magnificent and not stunted.
So lets leave the fish in the big tank and get back to the circuit breaker. In my past it seemed that I developed a circuit breaker when I was being pushed slightly against my will, when I felt I needed to do something out of obligation. For example, when my basketball coach was pushing us, or when Lillie was berating me for being fat and lazy. Sometimes I forget how far I’ve come from that fifteen-year-old girl and that I have a huge capacity to make different and healthier choices because they make me happy, not because I am tethered to obligations.
Will I ever have the crazy ideal body I’d like? Probably not, because I am not willing to devote an obsessive amount of time and energy towards it and I’m ok with that. Lately, power walking on the treadmill while listening to podcasts has usurped boring and annoying runs. My body feels happy and my brain feels happy.
Having a perfect body is not something I want with a vengeance anymore because I know from experience it doesn’t bring me real joy.
On a forward thought when I’m pushed in my writing or in acting it’s a different story. I’m able to process being pushed and critiqued in those arenas because they are what I do, who I am. They have roots and are the things that bring me joy and freedom. The difference is that I’m excited about my huge goals in these arenas and I want to learn and grow. I love doing them and/because I am not obligated to do them.
So maybe that’s where the key lies to the circuit breaker. When I am doing something out of love I can handle more before my brain short circuits and has to be reset. When I am pushing towards my big goals I feel like I am the awesome little fish in the big fish tank flaring my elegant rainbow wings rather than feeling like the big fish in the small tank suffocating as my fins press against the glass.
Next time you are faced with a circuit breaker situation ask yourself these questions:
1) Why am really I doing this?
2) Do I have a strong excited desire to do this?
3a) If not, and you still want to do it ask yourself, “What would need to happen for me to feel happy about doing this?”
3b) If not, and you realize it doesn’t bring you joy, then please go find something that does so you can be happy and love what you do.
You are too wonderful not to let the world see your colorful fins. Dream big. Live with joy. :)
Little fish little fish let me dive in.
Sure, we can twirl our magnificent fins.