Move a muscle, change a thought

My primary care provider shared a personal story with me a few months ago. We were discussing a few health challenges I’ve been facing in the past year, most of which have improved significantly, but not all. I’m lucky to have a pretty solid connection with multiple people I consider part of my physical and mental healthcare team, and she’s one of them.

I was describing a less-than-useful feeling that was dominating my thinking at the time.

“I just need to figure out how to get over the hump.”

It’s not a particularly refined way of expressing the fact that I felt stuck, but it’s also not a concept that requires much elaboration.

The first thing she said to me was that I needed to give myself more credit. I’d already “gotten over the hump” more than once with other specific and significant challenges and showed great progress. I could do that again with the remaining issues I face.

Then she paused for a minute.

“When I was in the middle of a really difficult time in my life, another doctor said to me: Move a muscle, change a thought.”

She paused again. Slowly, with deliberate and quiet expression, she continued.

“Move a muscle, change a thought…. Move a muscle, change a thought….”

“That advice really sunk in for me,” she said, “and I’ve relied on it a thousand times since. Go for a walk. Even if it’s just around the block. It’s not just good for your physical health, it’s good for your mental health. You’ll be surprised at how much it can help you dislodge the belief that you’re stuck.”

It’s taken me a while to act on her advice, despite the fact that I fully believed her, and felt the depth of personal impact she was conveying to me. Exercise has never been my strong suit.

I recently had a virtual appointment with her and was talking about where I was at with some of these challenges. It was clear I still wasn’t feeling awesome about where I’m at.

“It’s OK to take a few steps forward and a step or two back, a few more steps forward and a step or two back. You’re doing great. You’re making progress. It doesn’t have to all happen overnight.”

We wrapped up our call.

And I went for a walk.

Sometimes it takes a while for change to happen. I’ve since taken a walk for 7 out of 9 days. It won’t fix everything, but it’s a step. And it does work, even if just in the moment.

Move a muscle, change a thought.

Stuck in my youth & a tangent

We all have a soft spot for the music we grew up listening to. For me, that was 80s music. The decade when I grew from 7 to 17. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the only music I love, but if I’m being honest, nothing else truly compares. I was heavily influenced by the music of my elders, but my elders weren’t so much older than I was. An aunt and uncle 13 and 15 years older than me. From them, I developed an enduring love of the Beatles, the Eagles, and other classic rock.

But when I look at myself through my own eyes, shedding other influences, it always comes back to my passion for 80s music. It was a time when music was more pop than pop music has ever been. But it wasn’t only that. I’m a lover of lyrics – clever lyrics, sad lyrics, fun lyrics, deep lyrics. The rare songs past the 80s that I love are generally of the sad and deep type. And the music of the 70s was even more rich, full of ranging stories and with existential themes that are so powerful to me. So maybe I’m a bit torn, but when it comes down to it, I sit down after work every single day and turn on an 80s playlist that is more my own crafted radio station than it is a playlist – 17 hours or so of 80s music, and I still feel like I’ve missed 3 times that much music.

I’m writing for the first time in more than a decade, and it’s not easy. Even for the best writers, I think writing is always hard – a challenge you undertake only because you have to in order to mentally survive. To empty your feelings onto the page, do anything to share your thoughts. And for me, often it’s about either purging my thoughts, or trying to find my thoughts. An oxymoron, I know.

I recently reconnected with someone who has both influenced my writing, and inspired it, in ways I can’t really quantify. Neither of us has been writing these days. I’ve taken a longer break than my friend, but still, I feel an even more unusual kinship with her over our not writing than I have historically over our writing. Maybe because I’ve always viewed her as the epitome of writer. Someone whose words are so beautiful, in my head, she writes all the time and will never stop. But she did stop. And it’s caused me to rethink my own romantic view of what a great writer is.

I think this is all a reflection of the reality of life. Our biggest and best aspirations can so easily be overtaken by – by work, relationships, ups and downs, things that just block us from spending time living our own creativity. We live life every day and so many other things feel more pressing. When you’re not in the zone, particularly if you’ve been away from it for a while, it feels impossible to get back there.

I’m nowhere near “the zone” right now, but I’m happy to be writing anything.

After I wrote these initial words yesterday, I reached out to my friend to tell her how amazing it felt to have just sat down and put any words to paper. Any words at all. Good, bad, none of that matters. What matters is I took a step. A step I’ve missed taking for years and years, but I just couldn’t find that path in all those years.

“Hi friend… I’m writing to tell you about a small accomplishment. I wrote today. I wrote actual words on actual (well, virtual) paper. Not words for work, which are second nature to me and require little thought, but creative words.

It’s been more than a decade, but I sat down and just started writing. The super shitty kind of writing that has little appeal to anyone. But the kind of ungrounded, unsophisticated, disjointed, sloppy, uninspired writing you need to do to get anywhere near the good writing.

And for every second I spent staring at the screen and spewing out nonsense, you were in my head.

I want to overexplain all of this, but I know I don’t need to. I know you will get it.

I’m not so naive as to say I’m going to keep writing tomorrow and everything is going to naturally fall into place, but I am stopping very purposely to just savor this moment. I put words on a page today. And it felt fucking great.”