Dang. It’s that time of year again. Every year, around Memorial Day Weekend, it seems that I sink into a kind of slump that kills the positive momentum I’ve been building up from the end of the school semester. Just when I feel ready to dive into a summer of productivity and progress, three to four days of eating junk and lying around in a sedentary state makes me feel.. slumpy.
It’s difficult to figure out what hits me first. My momentum dies and my brain begins to feel fuzzy. My muscles stiffen up and I get bloated. I have difficulty getting to sleep so my circadian rhythm gets thrown off and when I eventually do end up sleeping, it’s almost impossible to wake up. It seems like I need more sleep while I’m in one of these slumpy periods. What sucks is that despite the added bedtime hours, I still feel fatigued all day.
(Me after a weekend of eating junk)
Right now, I’m a couple days out since I last poisoned my body with junk food. Today is the first day that I’ve felt decent since before Memorial day weekend. My head is relatively clear and I don’t feel as tired all day. I’m still suffering from a bit of inflammation though. As a result, my body is bloated and my muscles are tight. My entire posterior chain is locked up – I can barely touch my toes right now! But with my mind clear, I’m at least able to reflect a bit on these period slumps and think about what I can take from them.
I’ve concluded that they’re not all bad. Well.. they are pretty bad. I can’t actually see any tangible benefits to the slump. But if I think about this experience in a sort of “meta” way, I can parse out a couple things I can learn from it.
1) Slumps remind me of a couple key things
One of the things that ends up happening when I enter a prolonged period of progress – eating and sleeping well, training a lot, learning, working, etc.. is that I forget the practical reason why I do any of that. I begin to think of my lifestyle in what I like to refer as my “higher-self mentality.” In my mind, I’m engaging in this lifestyle for the greater purpose of self growth, of personal purpose and satisfaction. Not that this is bad, I think it’s okay to attribute your actions to a higher-purpose. But I forget that the main, practical reason I eat a rigorous diet and keep a strict sleeping schedule is that I have to.
I’m sensitive to a lot of foods. When I was young, I was allergic to almost everything. Thankfully, I’ve partially grown out of it. But even now, if I eat anything that I react badly to, my body produces an immediate auto-immune response. Primarily, this is manifested through inflammation and brain fog. Everything goes downhill from there. Inflammation causes my body to swell up and stiffen. I can normally hug my chest to my knees while standing. During these periods of inflammation, I can’t even touch my toes. Brain fog is a bit harder to describe. The best I can describe it is that it feels like I’m constantly in a food coma. My reading comprehension drops dramatically. I struggle to remember things and form sentences (you can see how this is problematic for someone studying writing).
When my body reacts this way, I fall into a downward-spiraling cycle. It looks something like this:
I feel crappy so my motivation to do anything, let alone eat well and exercise, drops. Coincidentally, the two things I feel least inclined to do are the two that are key for breaking out of this cycle. Lowered motivation results in continued consumption of a poor diet, thus continuing the cycle.
This cycle reminds me just how much easier it is to stay the course while things are positive than it is to fall off the wagon and get back on. Breaking out of this cycle usually requires a couple attempts. It’s much easier to rationalize “just one more day” when I’ve already eaten badly. It’s actually kind of cool to see how my mind hijacks my desire to never feel like this again to extend the slump-period. Its similar to the rationalizations my mind came up with during relapses into previous addictions.
“Just eat the donut, you’ll never eat it again anyways”
2) Slumps teach me about myself
Slumps teach me that there’s nothing I can do to get out of the hole I’ve dug myself into but bite the bullet and make the right decisions. There’s no shortcut to feeling better. The only way to break out of the negative-feedback cycle I’ve created is to start making choices in a positive direction. It’s the same as the healing process for any addiction. One choice at a time. Get the day behind you. It gets easier.
Each slump is slightly different and fortunately, I don’t sink into them that often (less and less nowadays) – I would say about once a season. bleh. The decent time in-between gives ample time to actualize a bit of personal growth in between them. I get to see how my reactions to averse situations have changed without putting myself in any real danger. It’s a simulated life-trial of sorts.
Getting into these slumps teach me to look at the minor trials (minor as in not life changing/threatening) in my life as opportunities to test myself and observe how I’ve (hopefully) grown. If going six weeks of eating really healthily is a “win” then sinking into a slump would be a “loss.” I learn not to beat myself up for “losing” and learn from my failures.
In the words of motivational speaker Zig Ziglar,
“If you learn from defeat, then you haven’t really lost”