We all live by certain patterns in our lives, many of which have been learned from childhood. Some of these patterns are normal day-to-day life and have no positive or negative effect – they just are how we go about our day. Other patterns, though, can be detrimental to our state of health and happiness, and we find ourselves stuck in a self-fulfilling cycle of repetition.
That cycle will keep repeating, if we let it. The only way off of that train is to break the cycle, or pattern.
But isn’t that easier said than done.
We’ll take an example of my own that I have to break time and time again. Before I actually started to break the habit, though, I was stuck in a downward spiral where the habits and patterns were getting worse and causing more problems each time I went around.
In most cycles there are five stages we go through before repeating the pattern again, and we’re going to use my own weight loss sabotage for an example.
Stage 1: Denial of the problem, or placing blame elsewhere, with no intention to change.
When someone is living in a cycle, they may deny that there’s any behavior that needs to change at all. They aren’t aware that there’s an issue.
I knew I was a bit on the bigger side, but didn’t think it was a problem. My cholesterol levels and bloodwork all came back normal, so I figured I was just fine. I also had troubles with my knee after breaking it, and had been wanting a consult with a specialist in order to get help. I had nothing but problems with doctors not believing there was an issue beyond my weight, however, and I had many, many terrible confrontations with physicians who refused to help me. I didn’t want to visit another doctor – my anxiety for visiting a physician over rode any concern for my weight. So I decided to just be happy where I was.
Other examples that I’ve heard from others include:
“I don’t cook, so I can’t eat healthier.”
“I’m too stressed to think about this now.”
“I’d rather be fat and happy than skinny and miserable.”
“I travel too much and don’t have time to cook.”
If you really consider the options above, they are easily passed over without taking responsibility for action – my own example included. All I had to do was look at the BMI chart to know something was wrong – and I did, but decided that doctors were on glue. I was well over the obese range, but figured it wasn’t a big deal. To be fair, I still consider the BMI chart a bit “out there”, because people can’t really all be lumped into the same category. However, there’s a difference between a little overweight, and morbidly obese…. and I was in the morbidly obese range on that dreaded chart. I didn’t have just a few pounds to lose – I had roughly 110 pounds to get to a healthy weight for the type of build I have.
And the signs that it was affecting my health were all there. I was short of breath, I hurt everywhere, all of the time. I didn’t fit into any of my plus sized clothes. I was self conscious, I felt terrible and I was exhausted all of the time. I stressed when it came time to going out and doing anything because I couldn’t find anything that I thought made me looked good enough – even new clothes. Despite the signs, though, I wasn’t ready to accept there was an issue.
And what about the other excuses that are presented above?
Every single one can be argued. It depends on your desire for change, the reasons for that change, and your willingness to look at options and act on them. Without wanting to break out of that cycle – you won’t. Without being aware of that cycle, you won’t even know to want to break out of it. There’s nothing wrong with that – as long as you’re ok with it. But if you’re NOT ok with remaining in the same habits and routine – then perhaps that’s something to carefully consider and figure out the reasons why you stay in it.
Stage 2: Aware of the problem without action.
And then something makes you wake up to the behavior in question. You start seeing things that you may not like. You become aware of it – but don’t do anything about it except watch.
Over time I realized that there was a real problem with my weight. I realized that my husband couldn’t really wrap my hands around me comfortably, and I was horribly aware of hands on the folds on my back whenever anyone put their hands on my back or gave me a hug. I didn’t want to be hugged anymore (and I’m a hugger!!). I was uncomfortable. I hated photos of myself. I couldn’t fit into new pants I had bought not that long ago. And I started looking at what is considered a “normal” weight range – and even the highest range of the “overweight” category was 60 pounds less than what I weighed at the time. That’s not so much weight, right? But it was, on my short 5’2” frame.
And the more aware of it I became, the more stressed it made me, and the more comfort food I turned to – making the situation even worse.
Step 3: Making the resolution to change.
For many people, New Year’s is the time for resolutions. For those keen on making changes in their lives to find a way to be happier, however, they become resolved in that moment to make a change.
For me, I did just that. I hurt so bad that I’d cry getting out of bed in the morning. I felt terrible, had no energy, and simply had enough. I couldn’t live like that anymore. I decided to make the change, and started looking into the best ways for me to do that.
Step 4: Making the change
This is where people jump into a new habit or behavior and become hyper aware of it, focused on making the new habit “stick”. They may set reminders, or make appointments, or leave sticky notes. They take the steps needed to make that change that they’ve resolved to.
I decided to start light. I started trying to eat healthier. For exercise, I began with yoga asanas every day. They were enough, and I hurt just from a short 10 minute practice. But I did it, and when I felt I could add a little more, I started using the Wii Fit a little bit each day when I felt able. And then I started to walk around the block. Yes, just one block. It hurt every damned day, and I was taking handfuls of OTC meds to get through it, but I did it. I started looking into diets, nutrition and options for weight loss, but I didn’t just jump on any bandwagon. I researched it carefully before making any big decisions or changes.
Step 5: Maintaining new habits
This step is one of promise and hope. The one where people have been living their change in behavior or habits and are able to sustain their new way of living.
With the new determination, also came new levels of pain. I was struggling. I was hesitant to visit another GP, so I visited Natural Health Services and was able to get a prescription for medical marijuana, which helped me push past pain. I struggled with dosing at first, but I was able to find a happy balance to keep moving forward. While it helped with the pain, however, my knee was collapsing to the side, and I was concerned about damaging it further. This was one of the issues that had held me back for so long, so in order to keep moving forward I wanted to make sure I wasn’t putting the integrity of the joint at further risk of injury.
In my resolve to get help, I made an appointment to see a doctor in order to get a referral to a specialist. The appointment went terribly. I felt judged, dehumanized and unsupported. I was demoralized. And this is the step I’d normally get to.
Step 6: Relapse
Things happen, and life gets in the way. Something derails that track that people are on with their new habits, and they fall out of their new routine and back into old behaviors. Sometimes there’s no real reason for it, and other times external factors come into play to influence it.
This is where I’d repeat my cycle. This is the defining moment in my own cycle that I’d normally start over again, and decide that I was fine with how I was and go back to where I was comfortable so I didn’t have to deal with the anxiety, the dehumanizing treatment or the ridicule.
Back to Step 1?
Does your pattern repeat, or do you break free from it and continue your new life?
This time I didn’t fall back into old patterns. This time I pushed forward, because I wanted to feel better. I was definitely not feeling hopeful, but I pushed through my dismay. I bought a weight scale. I knew I had lost some weight at this point, but I made a goal to lose another 90 pounds, which would put me on the high end of the “normal” range on the BMI chart. Soon after that dreaded appointment, I received a post card in the mail for a new clinic in Leduc, and decided to give them a try. My anxiety was so high that she asked me how I was doing and I started to cry. Funny, how anxiety works. She was compassionate and could see that I was sincerely struggling. She commended my use of marijuana and sent the referral for the specialist before I even left the clinic. I had been trying to get this referral for 2 years without success, and suddenly I had renewed hope. She also send me with a prescription for a psychologist, should I choose to use it (also on my request, because I was not feeling very capable at the time). I left in higher spirits than I had in a long time. I continued with the new routine, slowly building up on it.
It’s been nearly two years since my resolution to change. It’s been about one year since that appointment with a physician that took me seriously enough to help me move forward. It did take awhile to build those new habits and routines, but I’m doing it. I’ve solidly lost 65 pounds and am still working on my progress. I’m still partaking in physiotherapy to increase strength to keep my knee from collapsing, which it no longer does. I frequent the gym daily, have taken up martial arts training, can outrun most people I know now, am underway with yoga teacher training, and rarely even need to use the marijuana for pain relief. I don’t use it recreationally, so it goes untouched for longer periods of time. It used to be taken every morning and evening – but now I use it maybe once a week. Sometimes once every two weeks.
When something else came up last summer that threatened my new routine, I called in the psychology card – I was NOT going back to that place again. I was NOT starting my old habits again. As difficult as it was for me to make that phone call, it was an important phone call to make, and one that I don’t regret to this day. The therapist I found fits me well, and he has given me valuable tools to keep out of the cycle I have gone back to way too many times.
If it hadn’t been for that one physician to treat me like a person, I’m not sure I could have come this far. I still attend that same clinic, although with a different doctor because she moved to a different location. He is just as compassionate, though, and I no longer experience anxiety walking into that clinic. Sometimes you just have to find the right care team.
Cycles CAN be broken. New habits CAN be maintained. Change CAN happen.
You don’t fail until you give up.
Sometimes it’s a lot of work, but if you want it badly enough, you can make it happen.
Find your big enough reason why.
You’ve got this.