I was complaining to my therapist recently about a pattern of thinking and behavior that I just can’t seem to get unstuck from. “I don’t know whether it’ll ever change,” I said, blinking back tears. “And I don’t know how to change it, or what that even looks like.”
She took a pause, and then said something to the effect of, “I don’t know, either. But I can tell you that it’ll happen gradually, and in lots of very small ways.”
As soon as she said it, I found myself nodding. I knew it was true.
I knew this because I’ve been through at least one major healing process before—eating disorder recovery—and if it taught me anything, it’s that growth is kind of a slog. It’s not glamorous in the way that we want it to be, bracketed by epiphanies and breakthroughs. It’s plodding and slow, more about sheer persistence than insight or inspiration. Triumphs happen, but it’s amazing how tiny they can be, so minute that someone on the outside might never know what a big deal they are.
If I were to list my “breakthroughs” in eating disorder recovery, they’d probably sound ridiculous, at least to someone who hasn’t struggled in that way. Putting a little extra peanut butter on my toast. Taking bites of a cupcake. Passing a mirror without checking myself. Ordering something even slightly different than usual at a restaurant. Not getting on the scale one day. Getting on the scale and not allowing the number to affect my behaviors for the day.
I could go on and on. Some of it would probably be even more microscopic and difficult to explain. But this is what recovery looks like a lot of the time. It’s not glamorous, but neither are eating disorders.
Growing out of my current, unhelpful patterns feels plodding in the same way that recovery once did. I keep waiting for a sudden shift, for the clouds to part or the veil to be lifted or whatever. So far, that hasn’t happened. What has happened is that I’ve gradually gotten better at challenging myself in the areas where I tend to get stuck.
With depression, my “stuckness” tends to manifest as paralysis and withdrawal. I’m learning that I can turn this around by reminding myself of my own self-efficacy. As I mentioned last week, this usually means the right amount of doing. I try to do enough things in a single day in order to have some sense of accomplishment and be reminded of my own ability. I avoid over-scheduling or aiming to do too much, both of which are self-defeating.
“Doing” can look incredibly simple, and maybe even silly. It can be a trip to the post office, some household chores, responding to emails, seeing a work task through to completion. When I’m really struggling, it might look like washing dishes or taking a walk. It sometimes feels embarrassing to admit this, the fact that I’m staying well by maintaining what’s arguably a basic level of functioning.
But anyone who has had depression knows that the everyday can feel insurmountable. Challenging that feeling truly does have a healing effect, at least for me. When I’m able to confront the small roadblocks, I often find it easier to take on bigger stuff: turning a negative thought pattern around. Breathing through anxiety. Staying in my truth. Facing a fear. Holding a boundary.
The other day, I came across a quotation from Vienna Pharaon:
“Sometimes being your own hero means acknowledging the victories no one sees; like getting out of bed, taking a shower, replacing an old story with a new one, or practicing self love. Many of our greatest victories aren’t recognized by others. There’s no medal or badge of honor. There’s just you. Clap for yourself.”
I’m clapping for myself today. If you’ve had a win lately, no matter how small, I’m clapping for you, too. Big or small, witnessed or private, the little victories count. They add up. But one or two is enough for today.
Here are some recipes and reads.
Katie’s grilled potatoes, which are tossed with a mustard maple dressing, are so perfect for the season.
Love the looks of Lisa’s super quick spicy noodles and pan-fried tofu dish. She’s got a good tutorial for baked tofu on her blog right now, too.
Speaking of tofu, I’ve made panko crusted tofu before, but I’ve never tried cooking tempeh that way. Thanks to Shira, now I will.
And speaking of panko, I can’t wait to try Lisa’s Japanese macaroni gratin!
Finally, I’m mesmerized by Hannah’s vegan Battenburg cake.
1. A thoughtful essay about the importance of preserving quiet spaces, especially in national parks.
2. If you’ve been interested in supporting black vegan businesses—eateries, bakeries, and brands—this is an article worth checking out.
3. I found this New York Times article, which details exactly how disparities in healthcare access and hospital care impact Covid-19 outcomes, pretty horrifying. But it’s important to read, to know, to share.
4. More reporting on on asymptomatic transmission of the coronavirus (and more reason to stay vigilant about wearing masks).
5. Finally, NPR broadcast a reading of one of Frederick Douglass’ most famous speeches, What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? It’s read by Douglass’ descendents, and you can listen here.
On that note, friends, happy Sunday. Hope it’s been a restful and reflective weekend so far.
In spite of the fact that I’m not an especially deep sleeper, I almost never remember dreams. So it’s always notable when one sticks with me. A few nights ago, I dreamt that my mom and I were making a collage with some of her oil paintings. It was huge, the size of a wall, bigger than either one of us. My mom has been a working artist my whole life. But I think that this may have been the first time that…
This is the first weekend reading roundup of 2014! I’ve been catching up on work this weekend, which also means catching up on my reading. I came across some recipes that have inspired me to step into the new year with my culinary creativity in tow, and some articles that have made me think. I hope you’ll enjoy them, too. Begin your year with something hearty and nourishing. Melissa (the Vegenista) has created a roasted winter vegetable and jeweled grain bowl that hits…
Recently, I was talking (OK, complaining) to a colleague about being stuck with a seemingly insurmountable number of work to-dos. She offered that, when she’s overwhelmed, she shifts her mindset from “I have to” to “I get to.” She told me that this change in self-talk allows her to greet her work with more appreciation and excitement. I’ll be honest, my first reaction to this statement was an internal eye roll. Because none of the tasks in front of me felt like things…
I’ve been trying to be structured with my work days, so that my job will bleed into nights and weekends less often than it does. Even so, I took a personal detour midday on Thursday, so that my mom and I could visit the Morgan Library. The Morgan is a museum and research library that was once the personal collection of Pierpont Morgan. It’s home to Medieval manuscripts, printed books, and a number of Old Master paintings. There’s currently an exhibition there of…
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Take care of yourself, Gena. You are doing a fabulous job. I am clapping for you 🙂 xo
So well thought out and said. Every word spoke to me. I know I’m not alone with depression and anxiety but getting a shower in a day as my big check mark can seem so small. This is lovely and a good reminder to celebrate all my victories. And I’m here to support yours too ! Xoxo
Hi Gena, I look forward to your recipes and your “Weekend Reading” posts are the best part of my Monday mornings. This post spoke to me so much and I wanted to thank you it. Your blog posts are like a calming breath for me. Hope you have a great week <3
I love you. And I’m cheering for you. And one of my favorite rituals at the end of the deep work sessions I facilitate is to share ALL our wins big and small. Sometimes that’s “staying focused” other times it’s “completed ALL the things and hit submit” I”m always mindful of reading out a variety because YES to the slogging and the victories that others might not recognize. Yes to it all. <3 <3 <3
Gena, I loved this post. The little things DO make a big difference, even if we don’t know they are, or if we fear they don’t make enough of a difference. I’m with you all the way on this. It’s saved me many times over in my life, and today I read your post at just the right moment to be reminded of it. Thank you. And, I too, loved the reading of Frederick Douglas’s powerful words by his descendants and I shared it too. xoxo
Hi Gena. Your writingband understanding of yourself are so insightful.Keep up the good work; I appreciate you.