When I was younger, I battled with anorexia and binge eating. My therapist told me it was a result of trauma from being sexually abused as a child and my family’s reaction to what happened. The whole situation made me feel helpless and like I had no control. But my eating, counting calories, and excessive exercise was something I could control, so I threw myself into it.
She explained that’s why I stopped going out to eat with my friends and became so addicted to counting every ounce that went into my body. If I did venture out and went to a friend’s house, they might want to do something like order pizza and I couldn’t handle that. I could, however, control my life if I stayed at home all the time, so that’s what I did.
It was unhealthy for me, and took a big hit on my self esteem and mental health.
I’ve always struggled with control issues. I tend to spiral when there are things that are out of my hands. I get really stressed out and feel like I need something that will take that feeling away. This has been a big reason why I lived small for a really long time.
I didn’t take risks or speak up or really go out of my comfort zone for a long time. I never wanted to feel that scary sensation like I did as a child when I felt helpless and alone. I kept my life in a tight little cocoon without even really realizing it.
Then, I got a divorce.
It made me realize really quickly that life isn’t something you can control. I was scared shitless; everything was about to change, and I knew it.
I couldn’t keep myself, my feelings, or my kids in a neat little package any longer.
I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do: control it all. It was too big and heavy and I was exhausted.
A few weeks after my ex-husband moved out, I woke up one morning and felt so low, I wasn’t sure if I could get out of bed. Then I told myself I could have a bad day in bed thinking about everything falling apart around me, or I could get up and do what I’d been doing for a few years: go for a run before my kids got up, then take a shower.
I peeled myself out of bed and on that run I gave myself a talk about really trying to let the things I couldn’t control go, but taking advantage of the things I could control.
Like planning something fun to do with my kids later on that afternoon when I saw them (we went to get ice cream).
I also decided to order some curtains I’d been drooling over that my ex-husband hated.
Then I got home, and while showering realized how much better I’d felt because I had focused on some things I could do to make myself feel better, instead of honing in on all the things that could go wrong, which was my usual trick that kept me living in my cocoon.
I am not a therapist or a mental health expert by any means. I am, however, a woman who has had to practice telling myself I can only control certain things, and I have to let go of the rest every day since then.
Fast forward almost four years later, and I’m so glad I started practicing that. Loosening my grip around the things I have no control over, and focusing on what I can do, actually feels freeing. It’s made me a happier person.
Every minute of every day I say things like: I can’t control the fact the world is a dumpster fire, but I can turn off the news and clean my kitchen –– something that instantly makes me feel better.
I take one look around me as we are in the midst of this pandemic and I have to be very conscious about my life and my choices, or I would be in a really bad place right now.
It’s so easy to sit and manifest all the bad things that can happen with COVID-19, my kids growing up and leaving soon, the upcoming election, the fact that I’m a single mom trying to keep up with it all. I can get sucked down the tunnel of doom really fast, and have a tendency to think about all the bad and scary things that can happen.
But it helps an incredible amount for me to stick to my routine, get the things done I need to in order to feel organized and prepared. Something as simple as making a grocery list and trying new meals is enough of a distraction to get me moving in the right direction.
Then, I look forward to cooking for my family and having a good meal.
I’m not saying there aren’t days when I can’t get out of my own way and I start thinking (okay, worrying) about all that could go wrong. I’m human, and it seems we are all in a state of low-key panic these days.
Nothing has helped me more than looking at the things I do have a hand in — the state of my home, spending time with my children, working really hard, doing my nails, reaching out to a friend.
Those are all the little things I can do that will spread some positivity into my day that I have a say in.
And we all know, it truly is the little things in life that make all the difference. I take my kids to lunch every Saturday, and I look forward to it all week. There have been bad days, and the thought of having this to do later in the week helps pull me out of the sadness.
If you are struggling right now (and let’s face it, we all are in some way), I’m begging you to give this a try. Think about a positive thing that you can do which will brighten your day, whether it’s donating to a good cause, learning a new hobby, or going for a walk. Then, make a habit out of being proactive over the things you have a hand in when you feel like you are out of control.
My life has changed and I feel stronger, more resilient, and capable because of it.
I’m confident you will too.