The Voice in My Head Might Be Misguided

One good thing that’s come out of this quarantine/isolation/emotional social distancing of the last several months is that I’ve really stuck to the habit of regular exercise. Almost every day, the hubs and I set out on a 3.5 mile walk. We’ve managed to keep it up for over a year now. I daresay it’s been great for helping us connect at the end of each day, and I’m sure it’s good for our mental health, too.

Kate. I call bull$#it. You do it to burn calories.

Yeah, OK, whatever.

Anyway, despite living in what meteorologically appears to be Canada’s basement, we’ve been really good about keeping the habit going. I only call an audible if the temperature is below 15 or so (that’s about -9 for all y’all not in the US.) I’m well-equipped with a kick@$$ coat supposedly rated to -20, monster boots with enough traction to hold me to the side of a building, and a bulk box of instant hand warmers at the ready. (Despite all this, and bulking up in enough layers to rival the appearance of the Michelin Tire Man, it is still cold. Hella cold. But we persevere.)

Me, on a winter walk. Or after downing a large pizza.

We also opt out of the great outdoors when it’s pouring rain. Because that’s just…miserable. Plus, while my cell phone brags about being somewhat water-resistant, I kind of want to save testing that theory for a more emergent situation, like a random boat capsizing.

When we can’t don’t walk outside, I’m reassigned to the basement, where I can complete 45 minutes of mind-numbing repetition on the dreadmill or the elliptical. (Side note – I have a GREAT elliptical. It gives me the same calorie burn as running did, sans the joint murder. Also, because our basement is only about 7′ deep, I’m the sole person in the house who can use it without awarding myself a concussion. The hubs and his boys are 6’4″, 6’5″, and 6’7″ (!!!) respectively. The youngest is the tallest. He wears a size 17 sneaker. It’s fun to see the pile of shoes by the door – mine are super cute, theirs resemble a pile of kayaks.)

In an attempt to circumvent the boredom, I’ve subscribed to a few podcasts. It’s hard to find ones that are entertaining enough to keep me engaged – my mind insists on wandering while I’m staring at the tacky knotted-pine wood paneling in front of me – but I have found one I’ve enjoyed that actually isn’t centered around diet, exercise, and food. It’s called Endless Thread, produced by WBUR (public radio out of Boston). Each podcast takes a deeper dive into a Reddit thread and explores the story behind the postings. (And if you haven’t explored Reddit, you should do so – it’s a glorious time-sucker with appealing mindless entertainment for everyone.) It’s curious and interesting, and exposes me to Things to Ponder that aren’t about how bored I am or how much weight/fat I need to lose.

Last week, I learned about something that I didn’t know was a “thing” regarding heights. I don’t know how YOU feel about heights, but I am…not entirely fond of them. It’s not the height that freaks me out – it’s that sudden stop at the end of the descent that gives me pause. And I’m not alone. I can recall vividly taking my kids to a four-story indoor ropes course when they were preteens – all the children there were practically RUNNING in the sky, completely fearless, trying the thinnest balance beams without a lick of worry. And most of the parents were watching proudly while clinging tightly to the support poles for dear life.

It’s likely that those obnoxious brave little moppets just had insufficient life experience to understand real fear. (Lucky ducks.) But surprisingly, when faced with looking off a precipice, there are some folks whose brains react to potential death with an unanticipated message:

“Jump.”

Upon hearing this, I immediately Googled the transcript, certain my mind had autocorrected “curl into a ball and cry.” But no, it’s totally a thing. It’s called The Call of the Void, and about half of us humans have experienced it.

There’s some cool scientific theories behind this – primarily, that your brain has to quickly translate the feeling of panic/impending doom with the rational logic that you’re NOT in immediate danger:

“It could be the case that when you’re up somewhere high, your brain is basically sending an alarm signal — you know, be careful. And that could actually lead you to take a step back, or notice your surroundings,” she says. “Then that more deliberative process kind of kicks in and you start to think, why did I just take a step back? I’m totally fine. There’s no reason for me to be afraid. Oh, I must have wanted to jump.”

– April Smith, associate professor of psychology, Miami University in Ohio

Super interesting, and it means half of y’all are freaks. But freaks in good company, at least. The podcast goes on to reference other intrusive – and potentially disturbing – thoughts that you might have, such as What would it feel like if I drove into oncoming traffic right now? or What if I threw this stapler at my boss’s head during this meeting? My recurring intrusive thought: what would it feel like to peel my eyeball with a vegetable peeler? <shudder>

It’s somewhat reassuring to know that this is actually pretty normal. The bulk of us are able to dismiss those thoughts as fleeting and (of course) don’t act on them. It’s largely just static – mental white noise – for most people. And, contrary to what you might expect, there’s a study that suggests thoughts like these – even the ones that would result in your demise – aren’t an indicator of potential suicidal ideation, but might actually affirm your will to live.

But this got me to thinking a bit. While I don’t have any desire to leap off tall buildings in a single bound, the logical part of my brain suspects that my inner voice might sometimes lead me off-course. There certainly have been times in my life that I’ve had some intrusive thoughts, and perhaps not always selected the most rational answer.

For example – 2005. I was fresh out of an emotionally abusive marriage and rapidly approaching burnout from my job (75% travel will do that to you.) I was presented with a job opportunity 1000 miles away from pretty much everyone and everything I knew.

Jump, Kate. Jump.

And a few short weeks later, my cat and I were packed tightly into my little Dodge Stratus, headed across the country to new adventures. Shortly after I moved here, I did meet the hubs, and it’s mostly been a decent ride – even though every January when the lows are about 25 below (Celsius conversion: f^&k!ng cold) I do question my sanity. While I didn’t land anywhere near where I expected to, I landed safely.

Later, in 2018, I was working at a very steady gig that I mostly enjoyed could tolerate. We got a new CEO who brought in management techniques from circa 1986 (ugh) and I sensed that it was time to move on. I landed a decent offer at an energetic startup in an industry struggling for funding. On paper, it was a huge risk. And yet….

If not now, when?

Jump, Kate.

And it was…WILD. (One day, I will need to write about my adventures in the cannabis industry. Suffice it to say…well…it was cannabis.) I lasted about a year and a half, but they tell me your measure your tenure in this space as one measures dog years, so it wasn’t that short of a stint. The landing was a little rough, but I dusted myself off, and while it was tumbling and bumpy, I seem to be doing OK career-wise.

So why, then, can’t I leap into fixing this stupid preoccupation with food and weight?

Wait. You mean…eat? Like…without….logging my food? Skip weighing out my chips?

Why is the prospect of letting this go no easier to do than flying across the ropes course? What’s the worst that can happen?

I could…fall?

Into what?

Fat? I guess?

I don’t know where my harness is, what it looks like, or if it’s attached to anything at all. If I let go of this…where do I land?

Maybe this tracking – this (likely false) sense of control – IS my safety net. Perhaps it is preserving my sanity. Or I have convinced myself that it is.

Yeah. Like you “believe” your daily exercise is for zen reasons.

You do, in fact, log every walk into your fitness tracker. Which feeds your calorie tracker. And do you eat those calories back, Kate? Hmm?

Hey, man, I’m trying.

Kind of.

I mean…I eat SOME of them now. Sometimes half of them.

Your BMI is 16.6 today. Why can’t you eat more? Even just eating back what you burn would help. Didn’t you promise the hubs that you’d try to gain weight?

The hubs is really trying not to be too overbearing about this. His Asperger’s brain makes it hard not to laser-focus on whatever the spotlight hits on a particular day, and I can physically SEE when he’s thinking about this and trying not to bring it up. But yesterday, he couldn’t resist checking in with me:

Him (attempting to be super-casual): So how is the weight gain project going?

Me: Stable. How is YOURS going?

Hey, it’s only fair that I get to ask, too. To his credit, he laughed and changed the subject.

A bit later in the walk, he asked when my next physical is scheduled, because I had also promised I’d “ask the doctor about my weight” next time I went in.

And of course, I have that all planned out:

  1. Wear my heaviest shoes
  2. Drink a liter or two of water beforehand
  3. If pressed, insist I’m super healthy and ask the doctor what specifically is worrisome. Cholesterol is excellent. Fasting glucose is A+. Hair and nails are growing. Am I not the picture of health here?

Wouldn’t it make sense to do more listening than talking?

Could you ask for help, in whatever form she feels is best?

Can you start packing your parachute so when that plane door opens, you can step through the door and enjoy the dive?

I…don’t know.

For now, I am remaining firmly belted into my seat on Food Issues Flight 1313 to Nowhere, uncertain of where it might land. I’m fully prepared for emotional turbulence, but even though I’m aware that the pilot is completely unqualified to navigate this airspace, but if I’m being completely honest with myself, I have zero desire to get off this plane.

No thanks on the 70-calorie packet of peanuts, and I’ll buckle up for unexpected rough air, I guess.

Do you hear the Call of the Void? Does your mind tell you to jump? What other disruptive thoughts have YOU had? Share in the comments – I might be the only person who thought to peel her cornea with the veggie peeler, but I’m sure y’all got some good ones.

I love comments almost as much as shoes and coffee...hint, hint.

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