For a long time, I thought of myself as someone who thrived off of being busy, very busy. At the least, I knew that I tended toward being hyper-productive, which felt sort of like the same thing. When I look back now on my post-bacc years, or my last two years at FSG, when I was working full days, taking pre-req classes at night, and blogging into the wee hours, I’m not sure how I got it all done. Surely being busy must have come naturally to me, if I chose it so decisively and for so many years?
I’m honestly not so sure. More and more, I wonder if hyperactivity is a hiding place, a way of avoiding being quiet with myself. I have no proof of this, except the fact that it’s not always easy for me to say who I am, apart from what I produce or do. And the fact that, as soon as things settle down, sadness invariably creeps in, which makes me eager to dive back into the fray.
Lately, though, my experience of being busy has changed. The quick pace and full plate that used to give me energy tends nowadays to overwhelm me, and I find myself looking for an escape route. I realized this last year, when I caught more colds and viruses than I had since childhood. The busier I became, the more pesky illnesses I seemed to contract: if it wasn’t a sniffle, it was a sinus infection, or an ear infection, or acute gastroenteritis. At some point it seemed obvious that I was desperate to slow down, and my body had figured it out, even if my conscious mind was slow to catch on.
I wonder if, rather than being a naturally very quick and hyper-productive person, the opposite is true, and I’m in fact someone who needs a lot of time and space in which to rest and recharge. Or maybe both things are true a the same time. Either way, it makes for an interesting theory.
This week, I’m sharing an article about women and exhaustion that’s well worth reading. The author notes that “there are some people who are naturally more energetic than others, and may have a higher ‘setpoint’ for stress. This stress tolerance also ties into questions of resiliency, which is a huge hot-button topic in psychiatric research.” I’ll avoid making big declarations about whether or not I’m at this end of the spectrum or the opposite end; one thing I know for sure is that our tendencies can shift around, and the behaviors that serve us at one point might become an impediment later on.
Right now, though, my stress setpoint is unmistakably low. This was proven last week, when what should have been a fairly manageable difficulty sent me into a tailspin of anxiety and panic. It was unsettling, mostly because I’d been thinking that the work I’ve been doing for the last few months had finally started to pay off in the form of newfound happiness and equilibrium. It would seem that whatever equilibrium I’ve unearthed is still pretty delicate. Or rather, it’s dependent on my life being arranged in a certain way.
I’m trying to simply acknowledge that this is so, without diving into my usual, tiresome spin of self-criticism. I’m reminded of a moment nearly a decade ago, in ED therapy. I can’t remember what exactly I said to my therapist, but the gist of it was that I didn’t feel that recovery was moving at a brisk enough pace for my liking. She paused to ask me how many years I’d been struggling (thirteen), then gently suggested that perhaps the habits and tendencies I’d spent over a decade cultivating would not resolve themselves entirely within, you know, a few months.
I suppose the same is true now. Self-discovery, self-help, mindfulness, healing–these things really do take time. And little breakthroughs are often met with humbling reminders that we are still very much at the start of what’s going to be a long journey. The last week has given me cause to remember my own words: recovery is a practice.
On that note, some wonderful food and reads.
I’m just loving Ana’s creamy cauliflower soup with mustard roasted chickpeas–I can’t imagine anything more comforting or tasty for fall. (And I’d probably love anything involving mustard roasted chickpeas.) It’s also making me excited to whip up a batch of my roasted cauliflower and parsnip soup, an old favorite which has been retired for way too long.
I love the addition of miso to hummus, and the idea of adding it to edamame hummus sounds more intriguing still. Alana’s miso edamame hummus with baked furikake sweet potato chips is all things savory, crunchy, and salty. Yum.
Fresh fig season seems to be over already here in New York, which is making me sad. I had all of these grand plans for baking a fig cake, and then poof–they were gone. But in any case, I can take comfort in thinking about figgy things to make next year, and at the top of the list will be Heather’s quinoa, fig, and mint salad. So simple, fresh, and beautiful to look at.
Tofu scramble is one of my go-to breakfasts, and no matter how many times I make it, I’m always on the hunt for new recipes. My latest favorite is the lovely Ella’s 5-minute turmeric tofu scramble, which is just so simple–the kind of savory breakfast that’s realistic for a busy weekday morning. This is also a good moment to say that Ella’s book, Cut the Sugar, is full of tasty plant-based and gluten-free recipes that are every bit as easy and accessible as this one! A great investment if you’re looking to enjoy sweets with less and/or natural sweetener.
Speaking of sweet stuff, Amy has outdone herself with this decadent vegan twix tart–stuffed with layers of chocolate, coconut caramel, and vegan shortcake. Is it too early to start thinking about holiday gifts?
1. Many food bloggers, myself included, were reading Smitten Kitchen long before we’d considered writing our own blogs. I’ve always been a fan of Deb Perelman’s smart, honest writing and her wholehearted approach to food. From Deb, I’ve learned the art of perfect oven-roasted tomatoes, clumpy granola, and having a sense of humor about cooking.
So, I was excited to read Deb’s reflections after a decade of food blogging. She talks about how dramatically the landscape of food blogs has changed, which made me somewhat nostalgic for my own early days of blogging, circa 2009-2010. I miss the collegiality of blogging back then, the shared excitement and community. I also miss a blogging landscape that felt more hobbyist than professional–which isn’t to say that I haven’t professionalized my own blog over time. It’s just a pang for what was a very different online experience.
Deb has wise words for anyone who wants to start blogging nowadays, and she validates the urge to write about food so gracefully:
The field may be more crowded now than it has ever been, but as long as people are reading about food and hungry to cook dinner, not the same dinner they always cook, an “in” exists.There’s a way for someone who doesn’t want to do things the way they’ve always been done, and who is eager to sharpen their skills, to put themselves out there and find people who will listen.
2. While we’re talking about culinary lives and people who lead them, I enjoyed these facts about Julia Child, courtesy of The Awl. Of course few culinary figures are more beloved and well-biographied than Child, but there are many details of her story that I actually don’t know, and this list helped to fill in some of the gaps. I was interested to learn that she defied her father’s expectation of “a conventional life,” starting with work as an intelligence researcher and later, of course, as a chef. And I had no idea that she helped to develop a shark repellant.
I was also inspired to learn that cooking is a craft Child discovered and honed only as an adult; she began culinary school at 37. As someone who feels as though I’m still very much in the process of figuring out who I am and what I want, both professional and personally, I value reminders that life is long and the opportunities for self-discovery are many.
3. So, we’ve all read our fair share of lists of life guidance from women to women. But Jo’s recent list of 15 career tips from smart and passionate women struck me as richer than most, and I loved reading it. Some highlights:
No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it . . . At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is — if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart. Which is the entire point. Or should be.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
“Don’t be frightened: you can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands. You are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever.” ― Nora Ephron
“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith.” — Cheryl Strayed
Of those, Ephron’s really stood out. I’m prone to assuming not only that I will be forever as I am (a grim prospect when I’m feeling particularly frustrated with myself), but also that every feeling, experience, and emotion is destined to last forever. Lately I’m trying hard to hang onto the idea that things are always changing, always in motion; my feelings, be they pleasant or painful, are not destined to last forever, if only because my outlook is likely to shift over time.
4. A new research study suggests that stress may have a greater impact on pro-inflammatory responses than food selection. The implication of the study is that the benefits of healthful eating can be outweighed by stress and anxiety.
I find this totally unsurprising, though I’m glad the topic is getting attention. In my work, I see time and time again that stress–including, unfortunately, the stress associated with eating healthfully–can seem to override the benefits of wholesome food. I suggest this to my clients, many of whom are prone to fretting about precisely what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat, and how to eat. The suggestion is often greeted with resistance, because in some ways it’s easier to obsess over what we’re eating than it is to ask ourselves why we’re stressed, or anxious, or so fixated on food in the first place.
It’s not that I don’t think selecting wholesome foods is important. It’s simply that the pressure attached to healthy eating can create stress that is–in a very real, and possibly measurable way–more harmful to our bodies than a couple of sub-optimal food choices would be. For this reason, I think that our definition of “healthy” eating should include not only what foods are selected, but also what frame of mind and emotional state we bring to the act of eating. The healthiest meal at any given moment isn’t always the one that features the most nutrient-dense ingredients: sometimes it’s the one that gives us the most pleasure or comfort.
5. Speaking of stress, a really interesting article, written by a psychiatrist who lives and works in the high-octane D.C. area, about chronic fatigue among women. The piece begins with a provocative question and equally provocative answer:
As Hillary Clinton heads toward shattering the ultimate glass ceiling for American women, let’s pause to assess the landscape that surrounds us. How do we feel?
Kim goes on to detail the impact that work, motherhood, and care-taking have on women’s mental and physical health. I appreciate that the article takes a multi-faceted perspective. Kim addresses women’s propensity to place the happiness of others above their own fulfillment; of some of her former patients, she writes, “Their identity almost seemed invested in their self-sacrifice, even self-annihilation.” It’s a tendency I see all the time in my own counseling work, too.
As she acknowledges this predisposition, which is probably culturally enforced, Kim also takes interest in the biological factors that make women more prone to fatigue and exhaustion:
Women also have to cope with gender-specific biological vulnerabilities that increase mood and anxiety disorder risk such as menstrual-cycle-related issues (such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder), peripartum and postpartum mood and psychotic disorders as well as perimenopausal mood disorders all from female-specific hormonal fluctuations. These hormonal changes can trigger underlying genetic susceptibilities to developing depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, even schizophrenia. The fluctuations can also magnify under situational and environmental stress, where increased cortisol levels cause their own cascade of negative biology such as fight-or-flight systemic responses, and over time worsening risk of diabetes, vascular and cardiac disease, and more.
She notes that women’s vulnerability to burnout and exhaustion is also a product of financial circumstance and resources:
. . . [F]or women who aren’t financially privileged, especially single mothers, the lack of social support is almost untenable. Major choices mean major sacrifices . . . American individualism also makes it lonelier for women despite the appearance of community that workplaces and school systems provide. Extended family networks aren’t as prominent or established for many Americans, especially immigrant families, nor is extended family support a cultural given here, putting additional pressure on the nuclear family to take care of itself.
This isn’t to say that men don’t also grapple with exhaustion, stress, depression, anxiety, and more. But Kim makes a good case for women’s particular susceptibility.
Last spring, I came face to face with the fact that I was exhausted. I don’t mean this in the sense that I felt tired, as if I needed better or more sleep, or a vacation. I mean that I felt empty, as if I had nothing left to give anyone anymore, myself included. The word exhausted can be defined as “the condition of being very tired,” but it has another meaning, which is “the act of using up completely.” I think this is the feeling of being “drained” that so many women describe. And it’s precisely that feeling that has–along with other forces–encouraged me to re-examine how I live my life.
If you’ve been struggling–as so many people do–with feeling worn down, used up, drained, or empty, then I encourage you to check the article out. It may be nothing you don’t know, but it helped me to see this problem more clearly, and to understand it a little better.
Alright, friends. Enjoy the reads, and I’ll be back soon with some seasonal fare. It’s autumn, finally and really.