This One’s For The Girls

This was my alarm clock yesterday morning – moonlight. No kids woke up in the middle of the night, and no one was sick. I had simply gone to bed extra early the night before, and so before 4AM, I was “slept out” and surprisingly wide awake. (FYI – This is really unfamiliar territory for me). I rested in bed for a while, and then – like a good American, I picked up my phone from the nightstand beside me and checked Facebook to read about all the important things that happened while I was sleeping. Within a minute or two, a Facebook friend noticed I was online and we began a Messenger exchange that looked like this:

Friend: Do you have a sick one up?

Me: Nope! I went to bed early last night and now I’m just awake.

Friend: Nice.

Me: How about you?

Friend: (My toddler) may kill me yet! Lol! Stinker…but too cute! I have nothing in my boobies…but he’s fine with that apparently.

Me: Aw, I’m sorry! I know how that feels. Boobies and all!

Friend: Guess I’ll stay up and go for a run. He he!

Girlfriends…no. JUST.NO. Can we stop the madness already? Whether you’re a mom or not, I think the majority of us know what it feels like to be chronically sleep-deprived and barely functioning. We get irritable, emotional, irrational, forgetful, and so very depleted, until eventually – we just totally lose sight of what normal should feel like. And yet, we put on our brave, happy face for the world to see and act as if all is okay and we can juggle all this nonsense like a circus ring master. I have been there. I have done this. And I have dragged my sorry exhausted butt out of bed at ridiculous hours to get in that all-important workout. But now – knowing better and having the benefit of age and experience – I have to ask…What in the world do we think we are accomplishing when we add vigorous exercise to this stress-laden equation? Who are we trying to impress? What are we trying to prove?

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a Facebook post where female friends document their pitiful 3-5 hours of fragmented sleep (sometimes much less), or their incredibly stressful day/week/month, followed by their early morning run or top o’ the morning Bootcamp class. And they say things like, “I dug deep! I got it done! The first 2 miles were rough, but it got easier and I’m so glad I knocked out all 10! Wasn’t a PR day, but I feel strong and I’m making progress! So thankful I have my friends to pull me out of bed at 5 AM! You guys are the BEST!!!”

To borrow a phrase from my husband…I gotta throw the BS flag at this one. We have been fed a lie, friends, and we are devouring it like it’s our last meal. More is better. No pain, no gain. Push through it. Focus on your goals. Prove your worth by your unwavering dedication. And after we believe these lies, we then encourage our female friends to do the same with a reinforcing “‘Atta Girl!” or “Great job!” or “Wow, you are so amazing and inspiring and dedicated and ambitious and committed!”  I can only say, all this just makes me want to vomit. I am so tired of it. And I am tired of no one standing up and calling out the emperor who has no clothes.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

But… I have GOALS for this year! – Girl, if you achieve your precious goals at the expense of your own health, what have you gained?

But… that race/competition/event is only weeks away! I can’t afford to skip a workout! – Oh my goodness…are we in the Olympics? Are we getting paid for our efforts on the road or in the gym? Is it really that important?

But…I am setting a healthy example for my kids, that exercise is important!Movement is important. Appreciating the amazing ways in which our body can perform and improve and be challenged is important. Adhering to some strict, regimented training schedule with no regard for what is actually good for us, IS.NOT.IMPORTANT.

But…my workout partner, my running buddies – they are counting on me to show up! – Believe me, I understand very well the importance of team spirit and commitment, but I would guess that those same friends could use an unexpected day off as well, and might just thank you from the bottom of their hearts if you call in sick or tired a few times. We aren’t machines.

But…you don’t understand. This is my therapy, my take-care-of-me time. I need it. – Yes, you do need time to invest in yourself and take care of your body. So instead of a grueling run or an intense workout, flipping TAKE A WALK by yourself (preferably in nature) and then find a quiet spot to drink some tea, call a friend, read a book, maybe take a blessed nap. How did we ever make the dysfunctional connection between all-out intense exercise with proper self-care? The effects of sleep loss compounded by intense or prolonged exercise is well-documented: accelerated aging, decreased immunity, poor cognitive function, lowered sex drive, increased risk of chronic disease, to name a few. Is this really what we hope to gain?

There are times in life when we absolutely need to suffer through the pain, work through the discomfort, push past our exhausted state and just PERFORM. In case you’re not sure what those events look like, here are some examples:

  • caring for an aging parent who can no longer care for himself
  • stripping beds and cleaning up vomit at 2AM because another kid now has the flu
  • stumbling out of bed late at night to go sit and comfort a friend who is going through a divorce
  • forcing your eyes to stay open so you can finish that end-of-semester project that’s due in the morning
  • dropping back into the seat at your desk at 4PM because your boss just reminded you of that deadline
  • nursing that newborn through the night and then caring for and giving to all the others that need you

These are moments and events that matter. They have legitimate consequence. And we know very well that they require that last bit of endurance and patience and energy that we didn’t even think we had. Save your passionate and noble and admirable efforts for those moments, not that obsessive training schedule that leads nowhere except more of the same. It’s just not worth it in the end. Your life and your talent have a much higher purpose.

That friend I mentioned up above? I replied to her last text with the advice to go back to bed. I told her, if she couldn’t fall asleep again, just lay there in bed with her eyes closed and simply rest. And you know what? She did.

I have hope!