Let me state first, that I know the importance of perspective during my "tough times." With that in mind, I worried, somewhat jokingly, but for real also, about how I'd feel emotionally after running my first marathon, an event which occurred two days before the presidential election. I'd spent hours and hours during the weeks prior running, obviously, but devouring political coverage, as well. What would happen once such time-consuming, exhausting exercise was no longer a necessity? Once the build up was over and we'd elected the first woman president? I'd be relieved on both counts, of course, but perhaps a little dejected too. Sometimes that happens when the thing you've been looking forward to for months is finally over.
The feelings I had after the marathon are easy to explain. I was elated from mile 25, summoning strength that had eluded me in the previous four miles, heading for Columbus Circle and that last .2, urging myself to look at and remember the towering buildings and screaming crowds. "You did it, you did it, you did it," I thought as I crossed the finish and was immediately wrapped in a shiny silver blanket and handed a bag of food by the greatest volunteers on planet Earth. I was happy, and drained and I couldn't walk down the stairs normally for a week.
After the election? Well. You know. YOU KNOW HOW THAT FELT. At first, I couldn't believe it, as in I went to bed that night certain that Donald Trump had not actually won, that I'd awake to the discovery of some hidden numbers, or however the hell voting works, and it would all be ok. But I got up and turned on the news to witness disbelief and early analysis. We were all wrong. I received wordless hugs at work and read through all the outrage and countless calls to action on social media. I was so overwhelmed that I ignored most. Should I protest? Wear a safety pin? I needed to figure it out. I was tired, though. My body and my soul, too.
The obvious answer, the only option, was food. With no athletic endurance test or exciting election night on the horizon - no immediate goals at all, really - I snacked myself into a protective comfort zone. Except it wasn't comfort, exactly, because it didn't make me feel good. It was simply an allowance I felt I deserved, a surrender. I bought Trader Joe's cookies and ate two or three secretly in the kitchen while forcing carrots and hummus on the kids at the dining room table. I found a near-empty tub of vanilla ice cream in the freezer one afternoon while my youngest was napping, added Hershey's kisses and ate it straight from the container. I bought a six-pack of Maruchan ramen noodles for a recipe I was bringing to a party (guys, there's a salad you can make) and then ate them for lunch like four days in a row. I finished mac and cheese out of the pot, while it was still on the stove, saving myself the chore of storing it for later.
I know, no huge sin. But I'd been taking care of myself carefully in the weeks leading up to the marathon and this was a descent. I didn't feel guilty about it; I felt like perhaps our broken country as a whole deserved it. But was aware it had to stop at some point, because I needed energy to take care of my children, work and have rational discussions, and instead was feeling on the constant precipice of a sugar crash.
I don't have anything brave or noteworthy to say about the election that has not already been said. There are far more talented writers covering that subject in eloquent and meaningful ways and although I don't have the time for all the pieces I want to read, I'm trying, and sharing those I find most inspiring. I do know this: just after the election I heard from a conservative friend I'd made via email after he commented on a gun control piece I'd written, and he earnestly asked me how I was feeling, if I was ok, and it felt like an incredibly meaningful conversation. I knew immediately that I needed more of that.
Then, on Thanksgiving I participated in a turkey trot in Maine where we were spending the holiday, the first time I'd hit the pavement since New York. It felt great so I went for a run again three days later.
What I learned during my experimental break from self control is that I want it back. That post-marathon, and witnessing this polical upheaval that I tend to obsess over but can't quite navigate, deliberation, rather than reaction, feels like the correct choice. Reading the newspaper slowly on a Sunday morning. Planned exercise and long walks with our new dog. Scheduling get-togethers and booking travel to ensure we see friends and family. Reading a few pages of "Ulysses" every time I feel the burning need to scan Twitter (but really, I'M GOING TO finish it this time).
The other day I was putting some things away in our kitchen cupboard when a sesame stick - a beloved snack in this household - fell from its packaging and bounced invitingly onto the countertop. My hand went for it involuntarily, grasping that tiny weight, anticipating its salty crunchiness. I could eat it. I could eat all of them, then call the afternoon a wrap.
The definition of "difficult" has such range. Telling Nora that Hillary didn't win on the morning of November 9; running for five hours straight. But this, too. I paused, the savory morsel resting in my palm, remembering that I retain the right and ability to make so many decisions that affect myself and others. And I put it back.