It is to be prayed that the mind be sound in a sound body.
Ask for a brave soul that lacks the fear of death,
which places the length of life ultimate among nature’s blessings,
which is able to bear whatever kind of sufferings,
does not know anger, lusts for nothing and believes
the hardships and savage labors of Hercules better than
the satisfactions, feasts, and feather bed of an Eastern king.
I will reveal what you are able to give yourself;
For certain, the one footpath of a tranquil life lies through virtue.
- Roman poet Juvenal, late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD
Well folks, I did it. I’ve lost a little weight, fit back into my clothes, gained muscle, eat better, and my doctor recently said I don’t have to worry any more about losing weight since fitness is now a regular part of my life. I go to the gym at least two times a week, and in many ways feel physically stronger and healthier than I ever have. I like how clothes look on me, I like how my legs look—crazy!—and I’m confident that I’ll keep going with it all. In short, it took a long time, but I finally found a good groove.
And yet I feel like I’m just getting started. The phrase “of sound mind and body” has been rolling around in my brain; while my body has been getting stronger and more fit, I’ve been gradually acknowledging that my mind, meanwhile, is not in the best shape. Over the past month, as a relationship I was in unraveled, I began to trust my brain less and less. My brain kept ruminating and running in endless loops that had a beginning in reality but then rapidly departed it. I stopped listening to my brain if I was tired or hungry or cranky, because I couldn’t trust that my negative thoughts were “real”. I stopped listening to my brain if I was anxious… which was, eventually, almost all the time. I felt like my brain was a drunk coming home to me every night, but instead of “Have you been drinking?”, my accusation was “Have you been worrying?”
When I went to the doctor’s office a couple of weeks ago, we talked about my weight, and we also talked about my anxiety. “You live in your head,” she said. “You have to descend.” She said I reminded her of Alice in Alice in Wonderland. She recommended meditation and breathing exercises, and I promised I would also talk to my therapist about it, which I did a few days later.
There are a lot of amazing things that can come of thinking and planning and dreaming and hoping. My playwriting professor in college said, for instance, that writing is a chance to console ourselves and to decorate our fantasies—and I’m so happy that I’ve been able to do both as an adult over the years. But some strengths can also be a weakness, and lately it seems my imagination has turned on me.
So a new fitness plan is in place, on top of the other: count my toes, one to ten, then ten to one. Listen to country music because it makes me smile. Rub my knees and remind myself that I’m not just a head. Meditate—on the train, in bed, walking around—with a meditation app. Meditate with a group. Do not get so attached to every thought, and when they start to stick and loop, get out of it however I can. Obsessive thoughts will not ever solve the problems that I am trying to solve; they will only make me miserable.
Months ago, I said to my therapist: I feel like I’m at the foot of a mountain, but I just scaled a mountain! I just finished climbing a huge one! I can’t do another mountain!
I feel that way again—that I just scaled a mountain and am at the foot of another.
This time, though, I feel up to the task.