I’ve been having some trouble lately, and I’ve had a hard time pinning down exactly why. I’ve gotten some pretty good (I hope!) advice on what I should be trying to do, and it sounds sensible and reasonable, and yet I keep finding myself running up against a wall.
Funnily enough, quitting most sugars has actually been the easiest thing I’ve done lately. I’ve had one serious misstep (there was a leftover Reese’s Christmas tree that I couldn’t bear to throw away) and other than that I’m pleased with myself. My wife’s been great about not eating the sweet things I love right in front of me, and it’s gotten a lot easier to sigh regretfully and move on when she has a sweet snack.
No, the harder parts have been the weird little things that I would have expected to be easy.
I’ve wanted to get into a decent skin-care regimen for a long time, and since I’m radically changing everything around in my life anyway, I figured why not add this to the mess as well? Surely washing my face in the morning is going to be an easy little add-on, right?
I’ve also been struggling a lot with morning yoga and with meditation.
To be fair, those two things are in large part due to physical health reasons. I’ve tweaked my knee, and I’m trying to be really gentle with it until it heals, and since I’m a complete novice with yoga and I’ve got no teacher, that means I’m basically limiting myself to arm stretches until I can walk without hurting myself. My fatigue issues have also been worse than usual lately, and I found that if I’m exhausted, then the amount of focus it takes me to meditate ends up waking me up, and then I don’t sleep properly.
So those two, at least, have some justification to the struggle.
But there’s nothing even remotely logical about the challenges I’ve been having maintaining a morning and evening skin routine.
A week ago, though, my doctor prescribed me a medicated gel to try to help with my rosacea, and I decided that I couldn’t just keep fighting with this forever, so I took a long hard look at the problem, and that’s when I realised:
It’s pretty much impossible to focus on maintaining or improving your physical body without also paying a lot of attention to it.
Which sounds like about the most obvious thing in the world, but clearly it somehow slipped past me while I wasn’t noticing.
See, paying a lot of attention to your physical body is one of those things you try really hard not to do, when you’re trying to move past severe body image disorders. A big part of at least my recovery process involves reminding myself that I’m not just defined by bones and skin and organs and fat or lack thereof. I’m also not defined by my bad knee and whether or not I can take stairs particularly quickly today, whether or not I have a headache. I try to focus on the other parts of my existence – my mind, my ideas, my emotions, my weird quirky passions like marathoning Survivor all the way through twice in a row because I’m quite strange.
Honestly, I found all of that really cheesy and hard to buy into when I first started, and I still kind of do now, even though I also manage to make it work most of the time.
Anyway, the point is that it’s a pretty huge conflict for me to spend the last six or seven years teaching myself to be able to step away from scrutinizing every hair or pore or red spot in the mirror … to waking up in the morning and proceeding to spend about five minutes paying a lot of attention to my face.
Obviously, it’s a completely different kind of attention than the “I’m never going to be good enough, oh god, look at my eyebrows” rhetoric that is so harmful. But the weird thing is that for me, at least, it’s still very much in the same family. When I’m washing my face, I’m paying attention to make sure I haven’t missed a spot, which means focusing in on all of the areas that feel itchy or uncomfortable that I normally work so hard to ignore because I can’t do anything about them. The rosacea gel needs to be carefully applied only over the areas that are affected, which means my day now begins by defining the boundaries of a skin condition.
“Good morning, Katherine. In case you’ve forgotten, you’ve got blotchy redness on your face. Have a good day!”
Yoga has similar challenges. It’s impossible for me to focus on relaxing into a pose, without also noticing that the reason why I can’t complete it properly is because my knee is hurting too much for me to deepen the stretch, or because my belly meets my thigh and doesn’t leave enough room for me to bend my head to the mat. There’s no negative judgment inherent to that observation. It’s not “I can’t do child’s pose as directed and that’s a bad thing”. But a large part of yoga, at least a large part of what I’m learning as yoga, involves more than just routine stretch exercises done in time to enthusiastic mind-numbing pop music. And even though I can actually perform most poses accurately, if not to their extremes, that doesn’t change the fact that they bring my focus to a place that I don’t very often want it to be. When I’m instructed to feel the stretch running through me, that’s what I do. I can’t do it while simultaneously distancing myself from the physical realities of my existence.
Meditation is more of the same, really, since the early stages involve checking in with how each part of my body is feeling, and I’m not sure “I’d really rather not know” is a terribly helpful answer.
Then we have evening skin care, with another washing of face and applying of creams and gel and moisturisers, and “Good evening, Katherine! In case you’d forgotten over the course of the day, you still have blotchy redness on your face. Sleep well!”
It’s a conflict that I haven’t heard very many people talk about, and it’s a conflict that’s built into the body/health/image system that we have going on right now. It seems like each person is supposed to somehow find the magical line to walk between not getting too caught up in their themselves and being in tune with their bodies, and there’s very little advice on how to maintain that particular balance.
I suppose “people who are focused on recovering from body image issues” and “people who want to do yoga or have a skin care routine” don’t tend to be lumped together in the same group. We as a society like to think about success, or failure. Either you have the problem, or you’re over it.
But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one for whom that’s not true.
I’ll have to figure this out, because I refuse to let it stump me. If anyone’s got any advice or words of wisdom, I’d love to hear them!