Starting at the Bottom

I was going to post last weekend about how I was still more on the exercise bandwagon than off, even if I wasn't meeting my personal goal of exercising every single day. Then I missed two days in a row and fell into the slough of despond. I'm not sure if the not-exercising alone accounted for the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day I had last Tuesday, but it was at least part of it. Apparently, I can get away with missing one day, but more than one in a row is bad news.

The number of requisite activities for me to get through my life with any degree of grace and contentment seems to be growing as I age. When I was in college, I figured out that in a crunch (which happened at least weekly) I could skimp on nutrition or sleep, but not both in the same 24-hours. I once violated this basic principle and ended up in the student health center, whence I departed with a prescription to eat a decent meal (which I had just done, 6 or 8 hours overdue) and take a nap.

Now, it seems, I can't get away without sleep at all, unless there's a new Harry Potter book out (which is never going to happen again). Food is all the more essential, too, although my appetite if anything has atrophied since college. (Oddly, this has not stopped me from gaining weight. Darn metabolism!) I rotate between a basic stock of foods-to-eat-when-I-don't-feel-like-eating. The current meal of choice is a homemade fruit and yogurt smoothie. Today's concoction is classic strawberry, banana, and pineapple. I am pleased to report that I am overcoming my aversion to blenders. (I have an intense sensitivity to things that make loud whirring sounds, which is why I have an irrational aversion to vacuuming. I deeply empathize with dogs who go crazy running around and barking when the vacuum cleaner comes out. Even electric fans make me cranky. But the blender is worth it.)

Then I have to add on the things that I didn't even take into consideration in college. Like remembering to take my prescription medications everyday. And exercising. I think I got a fair amount of exercise in college just navigating campus, particularly since as a matter of principle I eschewed the elevator to the fourth-floor philosophy department office. College was were I first started to "get" that exercise was important, but it's taken me years of off-and-on application to actually integrate that into my life.

The trouble is, even though I know these things are not only good for me, but non-negotiable essentials of a life I can tolerate, much less enjoy, there are still days when it takes an incredible force of will to get my butt out the door to exercise or into the kitchen to nuke a Lean Cuisine. I know I will feel better when I do these things, but when the dark clouds roll in, it's hard work to turn that knowledge into action.

So when I find myself standing in the doorway of my room facing a day I wish would just go away and leave me alone, I walk myself through the bottom tier of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. I start with breathing, which is, my father reminds me, in the top one among the things we have to do. Fortunately, breathing is mostly automatic. But it helps sometimes to do it consciously. Am I breathing? Check.

Sleep: Nice try; you just did that. Sleeping all day after sleeping all night will not make you feel better. Trust me.

Shelter: Check.

Clothing: Check. Uh, sort of. It would probably help to change into something I'd be willing to leave the apartment in...

Food and water: But I'm not hungry! Doesn't matter; a girl's got to eat. And coffee does NOT count. (Although, for me at least, coffee qualifies as a basic human need. It's just that by the time I get around to thinking about my human needs, I've almost invariably already had a cup of coffee. It sort of falls into the automatic-like-breathing category. My second terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day last week was sprung by the mistake of starting out on decaf.)

Reproduction: Um, not today. Are you sure this is a basic human need?

Exercise (ironically enough, this falls under the heading of basic bodily/psychological comfort): BUT I DON'T WANT TO! I've had some doozies of battles of the will with my inner child over this in the last few weeks. I think I've gotten past the learning curve of recognizing that no matter how much I don't want to exercise when I start, I will feel better once I do start. But it still sometimes takes a mighty effort to overcome the whining voice in my head protesting, do I have to do this TODAY??? Yes. You do. Shut up and put on your sneakers.

The good news is that I'm in noticeably better shape than some months ago, when I couldn't even make it through one of my 15-minute workout for dummies without being sore for days afterwards. I've even progressed to where I can work two muscle groups back-to-back in one session, alternating these days with cardio days (mostly brisk walking). For some reason I have a harder time motivating myself to move on cardio days. I would guess that it involves leaving the house, except that it doesn't: I can do Veggie Dance Revolution for my aerobic workout in the comfort of my own home.

It does help that the weather seems to have changed from oppressive summer heat to pleasant early fall. Today, for example, it didn't take any coaxing at all to get myself to go climb Occoneechee Mountain. It did, however, take a new pair of socks, since I went directly from church, and although I carry an old pair of sneakers around in my trunk for such a time as this, I didn't have suitable socks on hand.

I'm still getting used to the idea that these basic measures make such a dramatic difference in the quality of my day. I am used to treating myself as a brain in a vat. Turns out, if you take care of the meat machine that carries the brain around, the brain is a lot happier.


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