person walking through a circular stone maze in the sand by the ocean

Thinking Short-term vs. Thinking Long-term

TW Eating Disorder, Anxiety, Depression

“All good things to those who wait.” – Mother Gothel in Tangled…and someone real, probably.

My entire young life, I was the type to put off my happiness in favor of hard work. Get good grades in order to get into a good school. Get a good degree to get a good job. Eventually, you’ll have the time to be happy. Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Maybe not.

Back when I was at my worst with my eating disorder and thought “oh, I’ll just put off my happiness until I lose a few pounds” and then DIDN’T FEEL HAPPY after losing far more than that, I started to realize that delayed gratification might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Developing anxiety from pushing myself too hard at school reaffirmed this, too — how can I enjoy the outcome after pushing myself past a breaking point?

The truth was that I couldn’t.

I finally reached that finish line of my Bachelor’s degree and made it to the point where I should be able to relax and enjoy life a bit, but was so wracked with anxiety that I felt guilty whenever I wasn’t productive and burned myself out whenever I was. The idea of delayed gratification can be a mind “eff” in that way.

Delayed gratification really only works if you come out on the other side and are able to actually enjoy what you’ve been waiting so long for. But of course, it took me a long time to learn that.

I think you all know what came next…some classic Renata OVERCORRECTING, of course!

To the best of my ability, I stopped delaying my gratification, period. I started doing what I wanted, when I wanted. Of course, I still continued to do my job that I got paid to do, but besides that, I wanted to learn how to do only what I want and enjoy life. I believe this was intrinsically linked to my decision to stop having goals, as well. Long-term goals meant that I was spending time doing things I didn’t want to do in favor of something that might not even happen in the long-term and missing out on things that I actually did want to do.

Being someone who always struggled with living in the moment, I decided to listen to my here-and-now brain. I started intuitive eating and only ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I decided to stop obsessively exercising. If I didn’t want to do something, I simply didn’t do it. It didn’t matter how good I usually felt afterwards. If I couldn’t get myself there, I didn’t go.

Concerts and shows that happened past 8pm? Nope, sorry. Parties with too many people? Pass. College courses where I’d have to sacrifice my free time to do homework? Nah, I served my time. If it meant discomfort in the here-and-now, it was not happening.

With my eating in particular, I took the advice of “do whatever you want” very literally. So what if I only wanted carbs and sugar for three days in a row? I was eating what I wanted instead of restricting. On the flipside, if there was nothing in the house to eat that sounded like it would taste good to me (and very few things did since COVID made everything taste like plastic), I was skipping meals. Obviously, neither of these were ideal.

But I just kept thinking, so what if I suffer for it in the long run (and trust me, my…ahem…bowels did suffer)? I was intuitively shoving cupcakes in my face like a pro. However, as my dietitian Kelsey will attest, intuitive eating is about eating foods that not only taste good, but also make us feel good in our bodies. And let me just say (this is the last time mentioning it, I promise), my bowels did not feel good. I needed to find a balance between taste and health.

More recently, I’ve been contemplating getting back off of birth control (yeah, yeah, I know that I just said that I liked being on it, but it makes me feel like death), and realizing that if I’m not going to have synthetic hormones coursing through my veins to make my periods more tolerable, then I’m going to have to help my body out a bit. Exercise and eating healthy are two ways to do that.

This means that I need to eat and move in intuitive ways that are also healthy. My end goal needs to be to feed my body and my soul, which means a solid dinner as well as dessert, not just one or the other. Feeling good in the moment is important, but so is feeling good after eating, too. Eating ice cream for dinner only feels good for a few minutes before the stomachache sets in. I need my intuitive eating mindset to be “what can I eat that will give me pleasure but will also make me feel good later?” Since I used to only eat healthy foods to lose weight, this will be a major mindset shift. It needs to be about making my body feel good, not making my body smaller.

On a different note, I also realized a few weeks ago how much working from home is affecting my mental state. While I have created my own at-home office and now no longer work in the same space where I relax, it is still so hard to work from home as an extrovert. I have very few meetings during the week, but they are by far the most energizing parts of my workdays. You know how most people want less meetings in their day because they feel like they’re a waste of time? Well, I say we have more meetings because they’re so energizing. Also, on a creative team, there’s nothing better than brainstorming creative ideas with the rest of your teammates.

I’ve realized that it’s entirely possible that I don’t get enough of this interaction energy in my day-to-day life, and that may be contributing to my depression and exhaustion. I need to be able to interact with people in real life, not just my friends over the phone. But I also know that I won’t commit to something unless it happens on a regular schedule. So I started looking into weekly social things that I could do. Pub trivia. Bowling league. Local meetups. Axe throwing league. I needed to find something that would allow me some human interaction.

The main problem, however, remains that I’m still too depressed to get my butt out of the house. So I went back and forth about it for a bit. If I do what I want in the moment every moment, then doing anything that involves leaving the house starts to sound horrible, and I’ll just stay on the couch. If I just stay on the couch, I’ll feel miserable. Like with the foods I eat, I need to focus on not just feeding myself on a superficial level, but also think long-term. If this will help me feel better overall, then I should do it, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable at first. The one caveat being that I need to make sure I don’t fall into the trap of making myself feel guilty for the times I do prefer to stay in my comfort zone, because I felt guilty for seeking comfort for the longest time, and sometimes, that’s what will work best for me! 

As per usual, everything in life is a balance, and while I want a clear-cut, works-every-time solution, that’s just not always the case.

I do believe that this stage of overcorrection was super important for me to learn what listening to my here-and-now brain entails. It was a great way to figure out what deserved delayed gratification and what should be put to the side so that present Renata can be happy and comfortable. And more importantly, it was an important step to get out of the mindset that I couldn’t be happy until I completed all of my goals. It showed me what the delay really means and how it affects me and my mental state.

I learned that I have to listen to both my brain and my bowels (sorry, I lied before), and that’s probably one of the most important life lessons I’ve learned to date.

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

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