Beyond compare

The past months have just seemed nonstop stressful (well, to be completely honest and accurate, they’ve been nearly-nonstop stressful; I’ve had a few days here and there that weren’t). With the holidays and some big projects wrapped up, I now stand at the beginning of a new year.

While I’m not striving for a “new year, new me” (I cringe every time I see that in any media source the first few weeks of any January), I really have been searching within to figure out what I can do a bit better for myself, so I can feel less stressed even as life is most definitely going to continue to be hectic. After all, I’m launching an adult into the world in mere months, to provide just one example of the life experiences I’m going through. (Giving birth is a big job and one that launches a new person into the world after nine months of gestation; at this stage, I’ve been actively parenting for 18 years to make sure this person can be a full-fledged independent being. It’s exhilarating and all of a sudden terrifying.)

I’ve noted, not for the first time, that I compare myself, my strengths, weaknesses, abilities, energies, visible-to-others “products” (children, writing and editing projects, volunteering efforts), etc., to those of others all the time. Social media is a blessing in many ways, connecting me at least in small part with far-flung friends who bring various gifts into my life, but it can also be a nasty tool for comparison. Day in and day out, I see photos of friends my age who still have the same figure (at least what I can see) they had 20 years ago; I see perfect family portraits; I see kids of these friends who are doing unbelievably impressive things in music or sports. It’s easy to look askance at my own figure, which is now no longer the one I had even a decade ago; to briefly (and, honestly, selfishly) wish I’d put my kids in more activities and lessons so they could do more with their own talents; to wonder why I cannot get just four kids to smile normally all at the same time.

Even worse, I compare my current self, at age 43 years and 8 months, to the self I was (or at least imagined I was, which might be more accurate) a decade or two ago. This body is 50 pounds heavier than it was at those times, when I wore a size-6 dress and had a great figure and pretty, shapely calves. To be honest, my habits aren’t much different. I have exercised an hour every day for 20 years. I have generally eaten healthy. But I now struggle mightily with my weight. (I emotionally eat and always have, and at times it’s worse than others, but it hits me harder now.)

In examining myself, I feel weak, impatient, tired, not nearly as capable as I used to be. I almost felt I had the parenting thing down somewhere in the middle of this 18-year mothering journey I’ve been on so far: I had fewer worries for my girls and felt I’d hit my stride. Now that they’re older and the stakes feel higher somehow, it’s a whole new world and I once again feel inadequate more than I’d like.

I mostly pinpointed maybe 10 years ago the kinds of mental challenges that are my particular “cross to bear” and have been on medication pretty much ever since, have consistently gone to counseling, have tried to stay aware of where I am so I can stay or get balanced. But even with the awareness, the knowing, I am honestly terrible at balancing out my capacity to give and do with what I think I need to do and be. My mental mouth is always bigger than my emotional stomach: I put so much on my plate and live to regret it. (I either metaphorically stuff myself or throw the plate against the wall…)

I guess I feel frustrated with myself because I still somehow don’t get it yet. I don’t feel a whole heck of a lot different, stronger, wiser, than I did when I was younger. I’m just older and tireder and flabbier.

I see people around me who have double the number of kids I do. I see peers who have experienced the death of a child or a spouse, who have gone through cancer, who have what I’d term other real crises or catastrophic events. One part of me thinks when considering those things, “I should feel more appreciative of what I have” (and I really am appreciative and grateful), and another part speaks up: “I can barely handle the challenges I have, and they don’t seem nearly as ‘big’ or ‘bad’ as those others’ challenges. Man, I’m a mess if I fall apart at stupid little things.” I compare my trials to others’ trials and come up feeling inadequate! Now that’s pretty ridiculous.

So that’s where I’m at. At least part of me is an optimist, someone who’s very grateful and happy for all I have and get to experience in life. I readily smile; it truly is the natural and comfortable way for my facial muscles to arrange themselves. Even so, I can easily feel disappointed in myself for just not “getting it,” even after what should be plenty of opportunities to do so.

I guess the truth is that I really have grown stronger and more resilient as life has thrown me the same kinds of trials, just constantly tweaked, over and over. I just can’t tell. It’s not obvious. Maybe if I were able to put my current self back into what I thought was a difficult time 15 or 20 years ago, I’d sail right through without batting an eyelash. But life doesn’t usually give us that kind of opportunity. It keeps upping the ante, tightening the screws, adding on five pounds of weight to the stack as we lift.

Meantime, I keep lifting. I will also keep working on rewording my thoughts and inner instantaneous reactions so I don’t compare my right-now self to my earlier self or anyone else. I suspect I won’t be completely successful in this life, but I’ll edge ever so closer.

Full life Life of the mind

lifeandlims View All →

I'm a book reviewer, editor, and writer with four daughters and tons of projects always keeping me hopping. I blog at Life and Lims and run the book review site Rated Reads.

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