Rowing was a religion for me, composed of a set of rituals and movements repeated until they became a meditation.Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches
I am just now, very belatedly, listening to the Artemis Fowl series on audiobook. I know, I know, they’re middle-grade and perhaps not meant for a woman of my age, being somehow already in my mid-thirties.
However, I am a firm believer in the idea that books are not meant for any particular time of life. You may read a more adult piece of literary fiction at 15 (as I did when I read Jane Eyre) and find it changes your perspective on life. On the flip side, you may read works meant for young teens in your thirties and find yourself grinning ear to ear at their brilliance (as I am now). Regardless of your age, good writing is good writing, is it not?
OK, Erin, what is your point.
Well, in the first Artemis Fowl book, without giving away any spoilers, we find out that The People (magical beings such as fairies) are required to regularly perform The Ritual to ensure that their magic powers remain topped up and ready to use. If a fairy goes too long without performing The Ritual, their powers may fail them when they need them most.
While we mere humans (or, mud people as we are called in these novels) may not have a supply of magical powers, we too rely on various rituals in order to feel and perform our best.
Some people swear by a good morning ritual, encompassing a hot shower, meditation, a filling breakfast and some time spent outside. I know many formerly avid night owls who have found that the right morning ritual is a game changer as far as ensuring they actually get out of bed on time.
Me? I’m still trying to figure mornings out (she says remembering that she snoozed her alarm FOUR times this morning).
Others, myself included, find that putting together a relaxing nighttime ritual can mean the difference between a fitful night of restlessness and the most rejuvenating beauty sleeps.
Why can I manage a nighttime ritual and not a morning one? Because…mornings are hard, OK?!
But I digress.
The point I’m trying to make is that ritual is important, and no more so than over the past year-and-a-half of this bloody pandemic. And yet, exactly because we are living through an anxiety-inducing global health crisis, long-established rituals have been among some of the first things to fall by the wayside. And I can’t be the only one noticing how detrimental this is to both mental and physical health, not to mention our sense of stability and well-being.
Now, I’m not saying there haven’t been some damn good reasons for letting some of our rituals slide. You parents out there who have been homeschooling their children while trying to work from home? I can’t imagine how difficult this has been and I’m sure ritual was the last thing on your mind as you focused on just getting from one day to the next with as much grace and sanity as possible.
However, for most of us, rituals have been dropped not because we didn’t have enough time or energy to perform them but rather because when everything else in our lives became abnormal, it seemed fruitless to insist on normal routines and habits. Everything has been turned on its head, so why fight the chaos?
Well, dear reader, in my experience there is a very good reason to continue to push back against the tumultuous forces of disorder and despair churned up by this one-in-a-lifetime crisis instead of giving in to the desire to float hopelessly and helplessly amongst the detritus of our once normal lives.
That reason? Your long-term health.
Allow me to explain.
For the last while I have been feeling absolutely exhausted on a daily basis. I’m talking, completely worn out. No energy for even the smallest of tasks. I would spend so much time just lying on the floor while Aria played, making sure to interact with her constantly while expending the least amount of physical energy possible.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know having a toddler is tiring enough. You are ON all day long and acting as educator, entertainer, chef, psychologist, physician, hygienist, personal care worker, and innumerable other full-time jobs while also attempting to keep on top of housework, exercise and other relationships. It’s a lot, and it’s normal to feel tired – as far as I understand things.
But I wasn’t just tired. I was BONE tired. I could fall asleep at the drop of the hat and resisted going for walks, working out, or even cleaning the bathroom in the fear that I would expend the last dregs of whatever energy I had left. Much like a fairy who has gone too long without replenishing their magic.
And I had no idea why. I mean, I thought about googling it but knowing that this would likely just send me into a spiral of anxiety (not to mention straight to the doctor’s office for another battery of tests to tell me I’m perfectly healthy), I refrained.
Well, without resorting to google, this week I pinpointed why I had been feeling so drained.
You see, in the insanity that is being a stay-at-home parent of a toddler during a pandemic (read: requiring me to entertain her without the help of playgroups or toddler activities), while juggling three freelance contracts and a never-ending to-do list, I had let what simple rituals I had in place slip until they were basically non-existant.
The simplest ritual that I had forgone? Eating three meals a day.
Now, I realize not everyone eats three meals a day, or even two full meals. You do you! But I was not eating enough at any rate. Not even close.
My sister, knowing how run down I had been, suggested I download an app to track my eating to make sure I was getting enough nutrients to fuel myself, especially as I wanted to rev up my workout routine again. So, having always looked up to my sister for how well she took care of herself, I dutifully downloaded the app and filled in the food I had eaten that day along with the exercise I had done (two hour-long walks and 45 minutes of yoga – not bad considering all I wanted to do was sleep) to see where I stood.
The prognosis? Not good. Not good at all.
Out of a total of 1800 calories I should have been eating in order to meet my weight loss goal of a pound a week I had eaten…800. It was 4PM. And the exercise I had done had burned 1200 calories. So at 4PM I was looking at a calorie deficit of -400. No friggen wonder I was so exhausted.
Look, I’m not a dietician or a nutritionist, and I am certainly not a doctor. But I do understand that your body needs a certain amount of calories to even perform its basic functions, and more if you’re going to lead an active lifestyle (which is just life with a toddler). If you don’t fuel your body it goes into starvation mode meaning it only fuels the most necessary systems (a very simplistic explanation).
The day after downloading the app, I vowed to do better. I ate three solid meals and even made sure to snack in between when I felt hungry. I drank my water. I paid real attention to the quality of food I was ingesting.
And you know what? The brain fog cleared. My energy returned and I started to feel like myself again.
One simple ritual reestablished and suddenly everything seemed possible. That’s all it took. Like a fairy regaining their magic after performing The Ritual, I felt powerful again.
Based on this success, I’ve crafted a new nighttime and morning ritual I plan to start this week to make sure I’m also getting all the intellectual, creative and energetic calories, on top of the nutritional ones, that I need to function at my best. I’ll let you know how it goes.
But my point, dear reader, is that this pandemic has been hard. While the toll on mental and overall physical health has been explored by many brains smarter than mine, I have yet to read much on the longstanding habits and rituals which have been interrupted by the stress of it all, to the detriment of not only our ability to get through this crisis relatively unscathed but also our long-term health far beyond the end of the pandemic.
If I had not gotten a handle on my eating, who knows what damage might have been done to my health in the long term. And I know I’m not the only one who has eschewed even the simplest of rituals as this struggle has dragged on and on.
So hang on to those rituals, treat them as sacred, or reestablish them as soon as possible. Make them your religion, even if you already follow one. The more effort you put into rebuilding and maintaining them, the stronger they will get until before long completing them will be a meditative and rejuvenating act in itself.
Take care of yourself, dear reader, so that you can march energetically into post-pandemic life instead of limping your way to normalcy. You’ll be all the better for it.
And, remember, life is beautiful.