It can be difficult to maintain context in your life. At the very least, it is difficult for me. I haven’t figured out how to really compare notes with people in my life about the way we remind ourselves of the context of our lives and our daily deeds, so I’m not sure if this is a problem I face because of my childhood, or if it’s something everyone struggles with. As a child, I got very skilled at normalizing the things happening in my life. It was a key survival skill, going hand-in-hand with hiding the way I felt and learning to live with people who did not treat me well. While I’ve made a lot of personal progress on the latter two things (which will still be the work of a lifetime, rather than a labor I can reach the definitive end of), I still struggle with maybe too-readily normalizing whatever is happening in my life.
It isn’t entirely a bad thing, mind you. It has given me a great deal of resiliency. I can bounce back from just about anything, given enough time. Even in these incredibly trying times, I’m doing better than some of my peers at adjusting to living life in a constant pandemic. Which I am pointedly differentiating from living fearlessly in a constant pandemic or trying to pretend things can actually go back to the way they used to be, because I’m not convinced either one of those is anything but an ultimately destructive coping mechanism. I still struggle of course, since my mental health is a carefully balanced tower of cards that is just as easily knocked over by a change in the wind as trying to build further, but I feel like I’m fairly well-equipped to deal with long-term stress and life-altering occurrences.
Additionally, it makes adding new habits a relatively easy thing to do. If my adjustment period for something happening every day is one week or two weeks instead of several weeks, I can change my habits much more quickly than most people. This skill or character trait is what makes doing stuff like daily blog updates and daily workouts possible without a great deal of self-bargaining. I used to think that this was my strength of will playing out, but I’ve also seen how easy it is to adapt bad habits so I’m pretty sure it’s more neutral than willpower is typically depicted.
On the less positive side of the spectrum, it means I quickly lose any sense of accomplishment for doing stuff like writing blog posts or doing my daily workouts. Both of these things, even though the workouts are only three weeks old, have lost any kind of reward other than the instrinsic value of them. Given that I value having a place to organize my thoughts and deposit my words six out of seven days of the week, I doubt I’ll struggle to keep this blog going (I’ve even started getting up to doing two posts a day if I take a day off rather than just letting my blog sit empty for a day). Unforunately for working out, the instrinsic value of exercise is generally not immediate or even directly attached.
I know a lot of people get around that by pushing for ever higher gains and tracking their lifting capabilities, but that vein of self-motivation rarely stays healthy for me. I literally made up more and more challenges for NaNoWriMo so I could keep chasing that high and after 100,000 words in a month, I realized it had gone from being an interesting challenge to being damaging to my mental and physical well-being (that’s so much to write every day when you’ve got a full time job!). The less immediate rewards for working out, and the actual reason I’ve adopted this cardio and exercise habit, have to do with body mechanics and wellness. For instance, I used to get shoulder pains from how I slept most nights and those have all but disappeared as I’ve built up more muscle in my shoulders, cushioning the inside bits from my weird sleeping positions. And though my knees will continue their steady, genetically induced degredation, toning my leg muscles will lessen some of the impact on them. Actually doing cardio is just good for my heart, which is a concern of mine given how stressed I am constantly.
It’s difficult to make a workout feel rewarding when all the actual rewards are things I can only measure by the lack of specific negative things (shoulder pain, achey knees, and the slow, creeping anxiety that my heart will just give up on me one day because I’ve been constantly stressed and anxious for my entire life). I rely on the normalization and sort of lived inertia to keep me going now that I’ve hit the point where it feels weirder if I don’t work out in the morning than if I do (which I proved today by accidentally oversleeping by two hours and being unable to skip my workout in favor getting to work at a reasonable hour).
Every so often, though, I try to take a step back and remind myself of the broader context of my life. I am writing and expressing myself daily. I am exercising (or at least stretching, since you need rest days) every day. Those are accomplishments, and not just in the context of my pandemic life. I wasn’t even great at doing those things before the pandemic started (and made me worse at both of them and so much more). Even if it doesn’t feel like an accomplishment to write this post on a day after I managed to drag myself through a normal workout and stretching routine despite feeling awful and oversleeping, it is one. I just have to remind myself of that sometimes.