What is Discipline?

My whole life I have been trained to think about discipline, in regard to most things, as pushing yourself to do what you don’t want to do, what you don’t like to do, or what doesn’t feel good and natural. Another sense of discipline I have learned, particularly with respect to food, is restraint and self-denial. Being a disciplined person was about doing the hard thing or the unpleasant thing. I experienced discipline as an almost ascetic self-punishment.

And, I have been a very disciplined person, for the most part. You don’t finish a PhD without some discipline. Because of fatphobia, most of my doctors have remained completely oblivious to my self-discipline. IF they recognize it, they are awed by my “compliance.” OR they are flummoxed by the fact that I am so disciplined and yet still so fat. I am reconsidering my relationship to “discipline” in these months post-diagnosis. I have been for sometime, really.

I decided about ten years ago that I wanted to abandon the kind of self-discipline that was about punishing my body. I have a vivid memory of working out on my home elliptical machine with a kind of maniacal frenzy. My partner walked in and ask, “What are you DOING to yourself?!” Punishment, was the answer. I was trying to punish my body into being something it wasn’t. It was that kind of punishing attitude that led to a cartilage tear in my foot a few years earlier. I recognized the pattern re-emerging and stopped, luckily before I injured myself again.

So, though I have been avoiding that kind of discipline for a while, as I am trying to re-condition after having severely de-conditioned over the past two years, due to a massive mid-life flare of hEDS and MCAS, I find myself haunted by these past understandings of discipline.

To undermine my own propensity to punish my body for its failure to conform to social expectations, I have tried to rest when I need to rest and move when I am able to move. But unfortunately that wasn’t enough, at least not in the beginning. Because on days when I felt okay, I would move too much. And then I would experience a setback. So, I turned to an old habit of recording and documenting numbers, with the help of my PT. Dangerous territory for me as I can get a little obsessive about numbers. But I trusted myself not to get carried away (and I knew my partner would call me out if I got into the danger zone). My PT started me off by insisting I do NO MORE than 10 minutes of exercise a day. And then, I could increase by one minute per week IF I was doing okay with ten and not having an exercise induced flare.

So, five months later, I’m up to 24 minutes. It is slow going. But I am getting stronger. Still having flares here and there. I’m in one today from over exercise due to yesterday’s snow shoveling. But I’m learning a new kind of discipline. The discipline to treat my body with love and kindness, rather than falling back on old habits. The discipline to stop when it gets unpleasant, to rest rather than push through. I hope that once I regain my strength and stamina, I can stop carefully recording numbers and shift toward more joyful movement. Its been a trip. I still have voices in the back of my head suggesting I do more than I should, but I try to simply acknowledge that voice speaks from the past and return to my slow and steady pace in the present.

This process has made me really reconsider, why the hell do I even NEED discipline? Why do I think about my work, my life, my body in those terms at all. My dogs don’t. Children don’t (until we ruin them). They operate on intuition. The problem is my intuition sucks because it is SO disused from years of “discipline.” When we have been trained to have so little trust in our body’s instincts and rhythms, we stunt the growth of one of our greatest senses. My PT/re-conditioning process really needs to be about reconnecting with my intuition and learning to trust that I will make the right choices for my body in any given moment whether that choice is rest or movement. Today, it is rest.

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