Regardless of what the weather brings in the next few weeks, it is clear that spring has arrived in the Twin Cities. While February was brutally cold, we had a fairly mild winter by Minnesota standards – and after the hellish winter of 2013-14, I am incredibly grateful for that. As spring arrives, I feel all of the hopeful emotions that we ascribe to the season: new life, fresh opportunities, and an increase in energy associated with warmer weather and beckoning sunshine.
In the same way spring opens up the possibilities for engagement and activity, it also offers a chance to take stock: we emerge from the dark months of winter, from our warm but confining cocoons and take a look at what winter wrought.
Last summer I wrote a post called “Stop Weighing Yourself“. In it, I wrote about a variety of ways that we literally and figuratively “weigh” ourselves, and in so doing cause self-harm. I’d like to say that this winter I took my own admonitions to heart – and I did in some ways. For one, I literally stopped weighing myself. My bathroom scale became a platform for dust, just another surface that should be wiped off regularly but (mostly) isn’t!
The problem is that I am a person with a life-long eating disorder – when I’m stressed or anxious or upset, I don’t manage my food intake with reason and sanity. My fall-back position is to manage my diet with my emotions. And this winter, my emotions repeatedly told me I needed baked goods (cookies mostly, but also bars, muffins and donuts) to get through the day. This habit of eating bakery began in the summer, when I was logging over one hundred miles a week on my bike. It was no big deal, just a treat. The arctic cold arrived and my riding came to a dead stop but my daily baked treat habit continued. I couldn’t bring myself to stop when I was stressing about my job or whether my car would start, when I was feeling lonely and isolated from friends. I could tell as winter progressed that there were extra pounds being added to my frame – the way my clothes fit, what I could see looking in the mirror, additional body aches and pains were all clues.
One of the great things I’ve discovered, though, is that gaining a few pounds has not caused me an excess of either panic or shame. In the past, I would have been trash-talking myself nonstop. Now, though, I realize that it is possible to veer off course without seeing that as a sign of personal worthlessness. Not all that long ago, I lost half my body weight – 176 pounds, y’all! – by creating habits that helped me hold myself accountable for making positive choices. I can reinstate those “get on track” habits any time I want or need. So a weekly weigh-in is back in my life, though it won’t be used as a measure of self-worth. Instead, it will simply be one of several tools I use for my success.
In a related development, the past several years I’ve worked very hard in the winter to make certain that I stayed in good physical condition. This has meant remaining active, working out regularly, and finding creative ways to move rather than be sedentary when the snow, ice, and mercury fell. Not this winter. I really struggled to get myself moving. This was due, in part, to working full-time in a job that requires me to be on my aching feet the entire shift. But if I am truthful, it had more to do with feeling overwhelmed by emotions of inadequacy and scarcity as I continued to look for sustaining employment. Rejection is difficult, but repeated and sometimes inexplicable rejection can take a toll on self-confidence and resilience. Both of these qualities were at low ebb for me this winter.
As I have joined my fellow Minneapolitans in celebrating the suddenly warm weather by getting outside and active, it has become clear how much my level of fitness has been impacted by these factors. But one benefit of years of regular physical activity is that my body remembers how good it feels to move. One afternoon of cycling in warm sunshine was enough to activate muscle memory, and to engage my physical desire for more. And when your body feels good, resilience of spirit returns, as well. I’m ready to take on new challenges, including some opportunities that I might not have considered in the past.
Taking stock after the winter, it is clear that there are items to be added to both the “gains” and “losses” columns. While I’ve gained weight, and lost physical condition, I’ve also gained perspective on body issues, and lost the self-shaming. I’ve gained resilience and lost unreasonable barriers I had placed on possibilities for my life. In winter, many things appear to be dormant. But when spring arrives, we discover that growth was silently, secretly taking place below the surface. And with this discovery, we find ourselves ready to spring forward toward new challenges, ready to embrace new growth and successes.