Stepping Off the Hamster Wheel
Warning: This is a post along the lines of my “couch potato” musings – read at your own risk.
When Jim and I go on hiking trips, he always describes me to others as his billy goat because I seem to have endless energy to keep going. I’m three months post-PRP shot now, and while Jim would say his billy goat is back, I’d say I feel more like a hamster. I find myself running again on a wheel that turns and turns, and even though I don’t want to stay, I’m having a difficult time figuring out how to get off.
I’ve written before about my struggles with balancing exercise, food and weight, and I’ve claimed here a few times that I was hoping I would be able to relax into a less compelled and rigid mode of thinking about these issues as I ramped back up to activity after my PRP shot. Truth be told that, as my exercise restrictions lessened over the past several weeks, I have returned to engaging in some form of workout six days a week, and I am not having any easier time allowing myself a better balance between activity and rest. In fact, I often feel like I am spending more time thinking about the topics of food, exercise and weight than I was before the shot. It is no easier for me to take a day off if I don’t feel like working out, nor am I always classifying less intensive activities like walking while playing golf as enough exercise. I have managed to stop the weigh-every-day fiasco, but I am still stepping on a scale roughly once each week.
I guess it is a positive development (outside the huge positive that I think the PRP shot is working to lessen my leg pain) that I am both sad and mad at myself. I am not comfortable with the fact that I have slid back into my old habits, and I want to work to change my mental state on this topic. I just don’t want to spend as much time working out as I do now, or as much time thinking about it. I want to believe that playing golf is enough activity, and I want to decide that two days free from exercise each week (or even three) isn’t a cop out, but instead, an opportunity to do other things. It is a positive that I want a saner outcome, but I also think getting there is not going to be as easy as I'd hoped.
I can self-analyze well enough to know that my obsessive tendencies likely stem from a mix of sources. I am not different from the many women who struggle with the false premise that female images in media are an ideal. I also am sure that I have not truly rid myself of childhood-instilled attitudes about weight. Those two acknowledged, I really believe my struggle now is about insecurity (another familiar topic of this blog). And this may seem like a leap, but I now believe it’s an insecurity bred from a life of overachieving. As someone taught and driven to succeed, I believe I have come to rely on my athleticism as a way to distinguish myself. I've said that before but I'm also now asserting that I do this because, as an adult, I made a choice to give up the most socially-accepted way we measure achievement: career.
This too is not a new topic – I’ve discussed in other entries how I have struggled with the choice to be a mother first since my kids’ early childhood years. And to be as clear as I have also been before, I have no regrets, not a one. Still, despite having no regret, I don’t think I have ever been at peace with the implications of my choice. While it probably sounds crazy to assert that I’ve used athleticism as a way to overachieve into some level of eliteness, it rings so true to me.
Two days ago, I spent over an hour speaking with a woman I have referenced before in this blog who I met via my husband’s mentorship of her husband, a young public company CEO. This woman attended elite schools and is a successful venture capital partner at an elite firm. She wanted to discuss her growing questions about career progression, as she and her husband are starting to consider children, and the concerns she had were almost painful to hear: How did you think about the balance between career and children? Why did you decide to moderate career and take on the primary caregiver role? How did you manage your feelings about going off the elite track you had grown up pursuing? As an overachiever who is proud of my abilities and accomplishments, will I regret losing career status or not achieving my ultimate career goals, even as I know I want to be an active and involved parent? Familiar questions to which I did not have easy answers. I am not sure if I helped this woman or deepened her concerns, but I do believe I at least validated her feelings, and we have agreed to keep talking. Ironically, our conversation also helped me – her questions validated my feelings too.
I recently downloaded two Kindle samples on books that explore these issues. One released in 2021 (Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity, Claudia Dale Goldin). Its premise is that in dual-working couples where children are a priority, the spouse with the least greedy –e.g., least inflexible – job inevitably ends up subordinating his/her career to family, and that this is more often the mother. The other title was released in 2009 – ten years ago (What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman, Danielle Crittenden). Its premise is that women were falsely taught that pursuing independence and having it all would lead to happiness. I’ll definitely read the samples. I may read the books. And I know my rationale for doing so is a hope that these authors will somehow enlighten me and solve my internal dilemma. I keep looking for reasons why how I feel about my decision to prioritize motherhood is not merely justifiable, but also not personal. I want to believe my own conflicting emotions stem from the way our society forces and then treats the decision, since maybe that will release me to be more accepting of it and myself.
Putting together my hamster status around exercise and my recent conversation with the young spouse, I know I need to reach a place where I don’t feel like I need to distinguish myself by achieving on some dimension. I have so much: I am loved, and I am valued by my family and my friends. I am smart, healthy and fortunate in my freedom to spend my time on meaningful pursuits. I may be living a small life, but I am making a difference, even if it’s on a micro scale.
I think this will be my last entry about whatever animal I seem to be emulating. It may or may not be the last time I explore my quest to both accept myself as I am and celebrate the choices I made to arrive there, as I do believe that my journey may also validate other women on a similar path.