Hi, my name is Leigh.

I am a freelance writer of personal essays, poetry, and fiction living in Los Angeles. I also publish on Medium.com.

We Can't Change For Other People

We Can't Change For Other People

We have to change for ourselves

Photo by  Modesta Žemgulytė  on  Unsplash

About two weeks ago, I asked my mom for help. I’d been feeling underwater with my new Hashimoto’s diagnosis, juggling a job that required too much work for too little pay, doctor’s appointments that I couldn’t afford, treatments that I couldn’t drag my tired body to, and elimination diets I couldn’t stick to. I knew that I needed some accountability, structure, and additional care. So of course, I called my mother.

I think it’s human instinct to want our mothers when we’re sick.

Lo and behold, she came. I am incredibly lucky to have a loving, present parent who has the means and the will to come when I ask her to. She was with me for one week, and I already miss her. While she was here, I went to bed early and woke with the sunrise, I cooked every meal for myself from scratch, I got out of the house, I exercised, I went to my doctor’s appointments, I even signed up with a health coach! I practiced all of these behaviors without resistance, and I felt great doing them.

I take better care of myself when I know someone else is watching.

The minute I got home from dropping her off at the airport, I curled up into a fetal position in my bed and phoned a friend. I was suddenly terrified of making all the changes I had committed to, and felt nothing but resistant to all the healthy habits I had willingly practiced during her visit. What gives? I had finally made changes I’d been planning to make for the past YEAR, and it felt like an easy transition. Why was I now feeling like there was a little kid in my brain throwing a tantrum because she didn’t want to eat her vegetables?

48 hours later, someone finally pointed out to me that maybe I’d been able to make all those changes because I was doing it for my mom….because she expected me to. I knew I would feel ashamed if she saw me bingeing, or spending all day in front of my computer watching Jane the Virgin, or not taking a walk when the sun was out, or neglecting my current supplement regimen…

My mother is also still supporting me financially. Being sick is expensive, especially when you don’t have insurance, and even more so when you have multiple conditions that can’t be treated solely with medication. I am incredibly grateful that she is able to help me with my healthcare expenses, but it also gives our relationship higher stakes. I even said to her that it felt like she was somehow investing in my health, and expecting a return on that investment. I needed reassurance that everything would be O.K. if I wasn’t perfect in my execution of these new behaviors.

I judge that I should know by now…

That shame is not an effective motivator for change. But I often forget — thinking that if I can just build in the awareness of enough consequences (shame being the most familiar), then I will finally get my act together and stick to the stupid (really not stupid) plan.

Other people often ask me why my health is not enough of a motivator for me to change my lifestyle. The problem is, it’s really not about my health. It’s about fear of change, it’s about resistance to other people’s expectations of how I should be treating myself, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to feeling restricted, it’s feeling like food and isolation are the only sources of comfort and safety I have left…sometimes.

I’ve ditched every other freakin’ vice and compulsion — why can’t I just have THESE TWO?!

Here’s the part where I get to figure out how to soothe the toddler kicking and screaming in my mind. Like the people who love me and know me keep telling me, judging myself won’t help. I have to be gentle.

Mhm. Did anyone ever make a major life change by being gentle? I’m still waiting…

Walking the changing path is harder if your only reason is you.

When I was a teenager, I worshipped the song “Fix You,” by Coldplay. I latched onto the idea that someone else could save me, and God did I want them to. The last thing I wanted was to be responsible for my own behavior. The idea that someone else could change me, or even that I could change myself — simply because someone else wanted me to, was my bread and butter.

It’s not that other people should never ask us to change our behavior, or that other people can’t be our motivation for wanting to change ourselves. It’s just that the motivation for changing can’t be transactional or tied to an ultimatum. It has to be beneficial to ourselves. Only then will the change actually last.

If someone asks me to change my behavior for them, I have to make it about how much I care for and respect them. I have to change because I want to stay connected to them, because they contribute something to my existence, because they help me to see my best self, and to practice living in fulfilling ways. I cannot change because I want them to like me, because I want to please them, because I want to prevent them from leaving, because I don’t want them to be disappointed in me or ashamed of me. That change, even if I could make it, would not be healthy or sustainable. I have to change because I know that changing will help me in some shape or form.

I know my mother will still love me…

Even if I throw the entire diet plan and health regimen out the window, quit my job, and decide to become a hermit, I know my mother wouldn’t disown me. I know that she loves me unconditionally, even if she isn’t the best at demonstrating it sometimes.

I think I was able to make such a radical and sudden shift this week because I knew my mother expected it from me. I think that’s also why the panic followed suit right after she left. My reason for changing was gone, and I was still expected to keep up with all the changes I had made while she was here.

I’m still new at this whole “changing for me,” thing, but I know that awareness is the first step to cultivating a new habit or mindset. I’m aware. Great. Now I just need to find my own reason for making these changes that are likely to improve my life pretty drastically. Am I worth those changes? Can I sustain them? What if I fall off the wagon again? Will I still love me? Will they be worth it in the long run? Is my health and wellbeing a good enough reason for me change myself?

I guess I’ll find out.

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