Friday, April 20, 2012

True "Choice"

I've been back in the United States for about 3 weeks now and have been continuing to adjust to life here. On a superficial and public level, I can feel progress being made in terms of acclimating to life here. I feel less uncomfortable interacting with people and being understood. I'm starting to get a feel for the boundaries of public discourse with my husband and getting accustomed to the occasional "intrusion" of my psychological space by random people who feels it's within appropriate cultural boundaries to comment on something I'm saying or doing.

When I was younger and much heavier, I should note that the way in which strangers interacted with me was quite different. Their behavior was punitive, judgmental, and often overtly rude. Many people didn't look me in the eye when interacting with me, as if I was too dull or unimportant to deserve the common courtesy of being recognized as a fellow human. Strangers tittered, looked my way and whispered about me, and young people would laugh and mock me openly. I don't know if this no longer happens because my weight is much lower now or if it is because society has gotten so much fatter that people generally view obese individuals as less note-worthy. It could also be that being young and fat is different than being upper-middle-aged and fat. When you're young, you are being evaluated for your potential "hotness" and found wanting. When you are older, you're pretty much invisible anyway so weight may matter less.

Emotionally, it continues to be a bit of a roller coaster for me here. One thing which I continually remind myself about because I think it is very important to internalize is that rationally understanding something is not the same as recovering emotionally. I may know the reasons for and circumstances related to my discomfort. I may be able to write down every little thing which is an adjustment based on transitioning from my former life in Asia to life back "home". Knowing these things and that they are causing me stress does not stop the end result and that is feeling depressed, tired, and generally as if I'm flailing madly in my attempts to cope in an unfamiliar environment. One mistake people make is thinking that knowing why will translate into stopping the unpleasant feelings. "Why" is helpful in recovering, but you still have to go through the emotions. I still cried every night for the first week and still cry intermittently now. Knowing why I cry doesn't stop me from needing to do so. It just helps me fully integrate what is causing my feelings when I have them.

The main value of the "why" comes in several ways. First of all, you don't take those feelings out on random people or act on them inappropriately (and ineffectually) in various situations. I'm not getting overly pissed off at the cashier for not ringing up my purchase properly as a way of taking out my frustration at not being able to easily recognize American coins rapidly and make exact change effectively. I assign the feelings to the proper stimuli and I let them out when I'm alone knowing that the feelings will pass when I am more acclimated to the environment.

The second reason that the "why" is helpful is that it allows for useful catharsis. Thinking you're depressed because the future is vague and uncertain (as mine is) rather than because you've just entered a radically changed situation in which you feel naive, uncertain, and, yes, stupid, leaves you in a far worse place. I can't manage the uncertainty of my future, but I can cope with incidental confusion. One will pass soon. The other will have to wait to sort itself out.

Finally, knowing why allows me to connect feelings to something concrete rather than burst into tears without knowing the actual reason. Depression, free-floating anxiety, etc. are often biochemical for people who are biologically inclined to feel such things, but mine are situational. Situations pass. I am sad now for concrete reasons that will change with time. This understanding makes it easier to live with the temporary sadness.

The situation for me since before I left the Asian country that I was living in is that I've been going in waves of sadness and strength. One day, I'm down and I eat poorly and the next day I'm up and I eat well. The "up" days are conscious efforts and the down days are an indication of being overwhelmed and not having the energy to push into a more positive space. This pattern has continued up until the past several days and I've been aware of every bit of it everyday. In essence, I'm "allowing" the down times and recovering actively on the up times.

When I say I "eat poorly", I don't mean I'm pigging out every other day, but more that I'm not being so careful about nutrition and giving into impulses that I normally would push back against and resist. For example, every night, I tend to be a little hungry at bed-time, but if I just ignore that, I'm fine and sleep well. In "down" times, I find it harder to resist the urge to eat a snack that I actually do not "need". In fact, that snacking often leads to worse sleep and bad dreams. Since I haven't been sleeping well in general since the move started in earnest about two weeks before I left my former home, anything which makes me sleep more poorly is not really a good idea.

Right now, I'm working on decreasing the frequency and intensity of the "down" times. I'm attending to this both in terms of emotional considerations and physical ones. The fact that I'm ready to face this means that my emotional exhaustion from all of this change is starting to abate, but I'm nowhere near believing it is gone. Weight isn't really much of an issue in this as I'm not looking at weight. I'm looking at behaviors and outcomes aside from weight. I want to be a master of my actions and part of that, as I have said before, is the power to say both "yes" and "no". By taking control every other day and saying "no" to eating when I'm a little hungry at night, I prove that "no" is still an equal option. By giving in to that mild hunger every other day and saying that I'm going to eat because I don't want to tolerate more stress on this particular day, I prove that "yes" is still an equal option.

We often confuse "power" with the ability to fulfill our every whim or have everything the way we want it to be. We even more frequently confuse "choice" with making some sort of subjectively defined "right" choice. True power and true choice are not confined to one path. They are found in having the option to pursue multiple options. If only one road is "right" all of the time, then you're not really making a choice but rather railroading yourself into an option-less position regardless of the circumstances under which the "choice" is being made.


Arwenn said...

I can't imagine how tough this must be even though at first blush you'd expect the transition to be smooth and comfortable. There is something so humbling about having to re-learn something you used to know how to do backwards in your sleep.

As always thanks for sharing.

screaming fatgirl said...

I'm least looking forward to learning to drive again! :-)