Chasing Numbers, Chasing Wellness
It's easy to get wrapped up in numbers, but the desire for the perfect score can become an addiction. Your imperfect self, meanwhile, is waiting for validation.
I was obsessed with numbers, but not in a geeky mathematician sort of way. My first high came when I got a 3.5 GPA and made it to the top five in science. In adulthood, my infatuation with test scores transferred to the digits on the scale. But when I was pregnant and told I had gestational diabetes, my little obsession grew into something potentially diagnosable. An undesirable number wasn’t a game anymore.
It could mean the health of my child. It could predict the quality and quantity of my life.
To quell the fear, I began collecting tools. There was one to check my blood sugar and another to monitor my breathing. My mood became dependent on what those measurements revealed. When I hit an ideal number, I’d ride that high like when I was in high school. But a few pounds over could ruin my day.
My desire for the perfect score became an addiction. It was another version of needing things to be a certain way to feel okay. But wellness was a moving target that was impossible to hit all the time. The sicker I got, the more numbers there were. It wasn’t just weight. It was vital signs and lab results. Every new gadget seemed to legitimize my need to know.
There were fitness trackers and accessories to monitor sleep. If I had less than eight hours of sleep, I’d berate myself for looking at my phone or exercising too close to bedtime. If my blood sugar were high, I’d punish myself by skipping a meal.
One night when I was in that addictive haze searching relentlessly for what those numbers meant, I fell into a hole. My three-year-old cried because he couldn’t find his “phone,” a rectangular toy that lit up. At the same time, my older son was begging to use one of my gadgets to check his health too. I started to ask myself what was different now than when I didn’t know. I was still the same person. Maybe packed with more knowledge about what was going on in my body. But that’s it. It didn’t define who I was or my self-worth. Worse yet, my compulsion to know derived from my fear of not being there for my sons and because of it I was actually missing out on being with them.
In his online course Living from a Place of Surrender: The Untethered Soul In Action, Michael Singer says, “You have a choice: every single moment of your life is either about getting what you want, or letting go of the part of you that is keeping you from being OK. Getting what you want is not going to make you permanently OK. However, you will always be OK if you let go of what is making you think you need something. … You free yourself to experience the moment unfolding in front of you, instead of defining what that moment needs to be for you to be OK.”
Surrendering feels like a heavy ask. Who wants to settle for a life that’s hard or full of suffering? Numbers were attractive because there was a right and wrong answer.
To deal with life’s unknowns, I grasped onto things within my control like getting a high grade or dieting to lose weight. But when my life became filled with numbers, the world lost its color. Nothing mattered except getting those perfect digits.
Nowadays, when I’m in that boat of the unknown, between diagnostic tests or doctor’s appointments, there is respite in the moment. While I was chasing wellness, I was neglecting myself. It was a rejection of who I was now, the girl without the best scores, normal test results, and ideal weight.
Having nothing to do but rest gave me the opportunity to reconnect with that imperfect me waiting to be validated, unappealing numbers and all. As Peter Fernando writes in Finding Freedom in Illness, “What we don’t see is that the seeking, thirsting, and hankering for value through a fixed image of ourselves is the present moment cause of the loss of connection to a more sustainable kind of value. … We forget the potential to feel valuable through simply being.”
The numbers grew out of control when I felt out of control. Now they are about giving me information. When my weight is rising and health is declining, it’s not time for criticism and judgment, but for self-acceptance, surrender, and forgiveness. Instead of, “What’s wrong with me and why can’t I get to that number?” I’m apt to ask, "What’s going on inside of me and how can I take care of that?"
(Read more from Brandi-Ann Uyemura here.)