I can’t remember the last time I sat down and wrote. My memory isn’t terrific, but it’s been a while. When isolation started in March, I didn’t think about how long it would last. I just responded to the changes how I could. I became a workaholic, in the fear that I would shortchange my job the work it needed done. There was so much to do and so little time. It felt like if I didn’t obsess over it to the exclusion of everything else that I would never catch up–it felt like I had to keep doggy-paddling to keep my head above water. The problem with that mentality is that it can’t last over time. That expenditure of energy can’t be sustained. I burned hot for three weeks and I burnt out.
I had to accept that I was human. That I would be sleepy, distracted, hungry, thirsty, needing to pee and take breaks. I had to accept that it was impossible to expect myself to spend eight solid hours of my eight hour work day doing only work, nothing but the work, so help me gods. Before iso, being at work meant being in the work building, and I had plenty (some might say too much) grace for myself for my varying levels of ability, productivity, distractibility from day to day. And on my worst mental health days, I followed the guideline of “If the best you can do is to show up, then congratulations, you’re doing your best.” Bare minimum, being at the work building was the definition of working.
Working from home, I didn’t know how to define my work day outside of when I was actually doing the work. The stress that was coiled tight as a spring in my neck, compacting the top of my spine, relaxed considerably when I realized that I could define my work day as an eight hour stretch of time during which I focused mainly on work tasks. That it was ok to take breaks, to eat, to spend a few minutes here or there talking to a housemate. In essence, it was ok to be human. I gave myself permission to have a more sane expectation. And things went surprisingly well. Within a block of hours, I could delineate the time however I determined most useful. And if that meant working for a six hour stretch, taking a two hour nap, and returning refreshed to work my last two hours, that was okay. The world didn’t fall apart, and I felt better. I discovered the joy of working from home and the flexibility of hours it allowed. I could work at 5 in the morning or 11 at night. Such wow! So very! Amazing how these things work out when we let them.
That was overworking. Here is overeating. Many of us eat because we’re bored, happy, sad, lonely, and every other reason–oh, and, ya know, actually hungry. People joke about gaining the Covid 19 like the Freshman 15. Before isolation I was doing really well controlling and slowing winnowing my weight down by using strict calorie counts. I used Luna bars to act as my primary meal foods for breakfast and lunch, fruit and popcorn as my light snack foods, and then had a healthy dinner. Most of my calories were usually weighted toward the end of the day, but I didn’t feel hungry or deprived because the bars are dense and full of protein. I also let myself indulge in little ways, like mixing hot cocoa powder into my coffee. When I got bored with two bars a day I switched to yogurt for breakfast. Those yummy Chobani flip things.
From August 2019 to March 2020 I went from 218 down to 194. I started out exercising but that habit dropped off as it usually does for me, and I found it easier to stick to the calorie control part of it by simply keeping bars nearby. They taste good enough, but not so amazingly delicious that I want to overeat them. (They’re no Reese’s peanut butter cups.) I had my ups and downs but my weight stayed within the 192-196 range, so I called it 194 for short hand. When iso started and everyone was gaining, I focused on simply maintaining instead of losing. I was happy to stay in my range and not see any spikes. I sometimes ate outrageous amounts of junk food, but I always tried to even it out. And I’d been doing a surprisingly good job at it. March April May and most of June I kept stepping on the scale with that little bit of dread and seeing that my weight continued to stay in that 192-196 range, and the relief that accompanied it like an exhaled breath.
So color me surprised when I had a heart stopping weigh-in at 199. The idea that I could be about to crest back into the 200s, after I had worked so hard to stay below that number, was a bit terrifying–and of course, if it happened, would feel extremely demoralizing. I looked at my habits and tried to figure out what changed. It wasn’t dessert food that was doing it. It was fast food. Because the bargain meal is designed to overfill, make you feel like you’ve received a bountiful harvest and are rich in food. Maybe when they first conceived a value meal, they thought, this will surely be too many calories to consume in one sitting. If an American can eat until full and still have food to throw away this proves how rich and bountiful a nation we are.
Meanwhile, our mothers taught us to finish our food. Told us we had to make happy plates if we wanted the dessert. (Rewarding food with more food, way to go, culture.) We were told there were starving children in Africa who would be grateful for the vegetables we hated. (How many of us questioned what good it would do a kid in Africa for me to eat my spinach?) Fast forward to the gigantic fast food meals and that built-in mentality to finish everything and there’s your disaster.
Now I already had a few good habits in place. I often opted for just the sandwich instead of the meal, cutting out the side entirely. And I would sometimes choose the healthier option if there seemed to be one, like the grilled chicken sandwich instead of the burger. But I do go in for the giant soda, because I need the caffeine (all my meds make me sleepy). So looking at my habits I figured out that I could splurge about once a week, if Doug or Shanti wanted to grab Taco Beuno or Burger King for a lunch together. But more than once a week was just too many calories. I was strict with myself and I was rewarded with the utter relief of seeing 196 on the scale again, not the dreaded 199.
Of course I realize that all these numbers are of infinitesimal import in the greater scheme. That 192 is in fact farther from 196 than 196 is from 199. I know. But in a quarantined world where we have control over so little, this is one thing I can affect. 199 was my line in the sand. My recognition of my own hard work and my promise to myself not to crest 200 again. The number, in the greater scheme, is arbitrary. But the symbolism is real, and significant, to me.
In parting, let me say that one of the things I love about working from home is being able to sit in the middle of my bed typing on my laptop, surrounded by stuffed animals and cats. It’s a nice feeling. Drink your water, write in your journal, be kind to yourself.