newsletter #30: self-restraint
re: relinquishing & reinstating.
Hello reader. How are you doing today? I’m happy to report that many of you enjoyed the Good Children interview, which made me smile. This week, I’m coming to you with some thoughts on self-imposed restraints and how I’ve been incorporating (and in other ways, removing) said restraints in my life as of late. I hope at the very least, you find the following interesting or relatable. Here we go.
(TW: Mention of ED.)
Not sure if I have mentioned this to you before but: I decided to take the month of September largely “off.” I accepted work here and there — rent and bills still exist — but for the most part, I decided it was time to allow myself true respite to figure out how, in a perfect world, I’d like to structure my days and pursue what “I love.” As someone who has spent much of her life working toward the next big “goal,” this felt uncomfortable at first but, within a week or so, I slowly settled into leisure and exploration. How could I not? I’d start my mornings with kissing my boyfriend goodbye as he left for work, then reading a book in bed while I sipped my iced coffee, the cup’s condensation making dark, damp marks on my sheets, crunching toast and cutting into runny eggs, leaving crumbs for the ants. I’d then get dressed, slowly, mechanically and, in no particular order, make my way to the following: a park bench, a coffee shop, and the library, letting myself float about my neighborhood, writing here and there, ink stains finding their way onto my unpolished fingertips, letting the oily napkins from my morning croissant tumble around in my tote bag. I’d type pitch ideas into my notes app as I popped in and out of local stores, read books on the clanging subway cars, escaped into articles, and just generally existed — sending out this newsletter as a means for letting everyone know that I am in fact alive and well. I’d end my days with a run, a way to cleanse myself and let my mind go numb, and I’d come home with delicious, aching muscles and the mental euphoria of a long-winded, lengthy cardiovascular sweat, the 7:30 PM sunset signaling the arrival of a brisk autumn.
After I regained some sense of joy and control over my life, I felt that, for the latter half of September, it was time to experiment with the kind of constraints that would work for me. Among other things, I grappled with a not-so-novel concept: in order to exist in a way that both allows me to accomplish what I want *and* make me feel good, I’d need to engage in some forms of self-restraint. (A horrible and ultimately alienating realization about maturity, I know.) This is not to say that I am a stranger to restraint. I’ve gone through periods in life where I’ve suffered through unrelenting self-sacrifice and self-punishment that teetered on the edge of mental instability. This, for me, appeared in many forms and is something that I now attribute to what my therapist calls my “severe anxiety.” (Brag.) Some examples: years ago, a meticulous log of every calorie, every almond I ingested during my days of anorexia, until I was forced to see a doctor because I fucked up my digestive tract. Severe, intensive daily exercise, waking every morning at 5:00 AM to lift, run soccer drills, sprints, and the like until my bones ached. Working incessantly for and during my full-time job, morning and night during a global pandemic, to the point where many other areas of my life suffered, my boyfriend prying my glowing laptop out of my hands as I tried to get ahead of deadlines at night — a servant to SEO, to Google, to trends, to social media, to online discourse. (Which is to say, a servant to all that is existentially meaningless and incorrect in the world.) These restraints, however, never really served me, but rather, were in the service of others, of capitalism, of patriarchy, which is likely why they (usually) did not leave me feeling “good” in the long-term. That is all to say these restraints were unsustainable, unrealistic, and I eventually found myself clawing viciously, crying for help to get out of them. Enter: things like eating disorder therapy and recovery, reworking my relationship with exercise to help my mind rather than achieving an aesthetic, freelancing, etc.
All that said, now that I have experienced, to some extent, a breadth of scenarios on the spectrum of constraint, I am finding, as I said, that for me, “happiness” (contentedness, peace, whatever you want to call it…) exists somewhere on a gentle medium within that spectrum. (Imagine that!) I believe some refer to this as balance? (Never heard of her.) And so I’ve made concerted efforts to reinstate said balance into my life, to give myself a digestible sense of togetherness and purpose without pushing myself to naive extremes that don’t serve me. I’ve found that, for me, constraints work well in the form of exciting commitments that help me move toward accomplishing that which matters to me on a daily basis. Some examples: I joined a workspace center that hosts writers, just a few subway stops away, so that I have a place to “go” each day to do my creative work. It’s so gorgeous and I feel at peace among the sprawling book stacks while also accountable to “get things done” as I sit beside others with pens in their hands, others parsing through notebooks that contain their wildest dreams. The best part of this setup, unlike a normal office to be sure, is that I can come and go as I please. I have been signing up for and running races to give me a manufactured sense of flow, a phenomenon I experienced all the time during soccer but am lacking as of late. Speaking of soccer, I play in a low-stakes adult league, which has renewed feelings of joy, of fun for the game. I eat what I want when I want. I write my newsletter for Fridays, jotting down turns of phrase in my notebook at a bar along Fulton Street, sipping tangy draft beer, my hair whipping in the violent wind like Medusa while cars speed by, one blasting Ice Cube rapping “today was a good day.” And it was.