As I’ve been determinedly trying to declutter my life I have reached the point of going through a lot of my papers. It’s an issue for me because I am a journal junkie. Embarking on a new project has never been fathomable without starting a new journal and depending on how long my attention has held, the journals are in various stages of fullness. I have boxes of them and there is no amount of Marie Kondo I can read to convince me that it’s a good idea to just toss them out, so instead I’ve developed a system of my own.
A lot of the journals are full. These tend to be the creative ones, full of ideas and drawings and writing from various stages of my life. I’ve sorted these out and cleared a shelf inside a closet to keep them. I probably don’t need them, and no, I don’t sit for hours pouring over them, but occasionally it’s wonderful to grab one at random and dive into old obsessions.
Other books are full of notes from different courses I’ve taken. I’m still unsure what to do with these. I am reluctant to get rid of them, but I could probably go the rest of my life never opening them again. I’ve cleared another space in the closet to place them. Here, they are taking up valuable shelf real estate instead of hiding away in boxes, meaning that I will be more likely decide to get rid of them eventually.
Finally there are the scads of half-filled logs of self-improvement projects. The best of intentions, diarised and then discarded at the bottom of a cardboard box. I could have just tossed all of them out, but I though it might be a useful exercise to go through them and see if I can learn a thing or two from past mistakes. Plus there was an awful lot of blank paper that could be repurposed. So I piled these books in the guest room and sat down to go through them one at a time to review accomplishments and failures and missteps, take stock and move on.
What I noticed, sifting through all of these pages and pages of promises to myself was the central focus was always my weight. These journals were all from the past 5 years (I threw out stacks when we downsized 4 years ago) but if you looked back at journals from when I was thirteen the theme would be the same. I know this for certain as I have already gone through the process of organising old diaries; even my most creative endeavours predictably all come back to weight at some point – a lament, a to do list, fluctuating pounds and ounces notated in the top right corner of a page. List upon list of goals which change subtly, depending on what self-help book or diet program I was pinning all my hopes on at the time. Some of them demand more cardio, some more strengthening, more yoga, more walking. Many focus on eliminating something specific – white foods, refined carbs, all carbs, FODMAPs, grains, processed food, fried food, sugar. Sugar is the current flavour, I’m still working on that journal! In some of my lists of goals there are casual mentions of connecting more with family and friends, or focusing on forwarding my career, or developing my creative interests, but without fail the true measure of success always seems to come back to an arbitrary ‘ideal’ number on the scale.
That ‘ideal’ number has been 70 kg solidly for the last 5 years. My weight has fluctuated a lot in that time due to the endless binge and purge cycle that is my diet, but in the end I am exactly the weight I was in the journal dating back to 2012. This number is not even close to the ‘ideal’ – which is in itself a compromise from a much lower previous ‘ideal’. Year after year spent trying to solve the same problem the same way and never making any progress. So much wasted time. So much real estate in my brain taken up with drivel. So many trees sacrificed for the paper!
I have been through all of the journals now, but I have given up on my initial idea of reviewing and collating all this information. There’s no need to. It has been a pleasant surprise that I have achieved almost all of the goals that had nothing to do with diet and exercise. I have completed all of the professional training I wanted to do, completed 3 years at my job and successfully applied for a new one in the government health service, purchased my first home, adopted a dog, learned a ton of new skills, travelled, written the first draft of a novel, and read a stack of books that weren’t self help. All while contending with the endless distractions of trying to lose weight.
I wonder now what I could have achieved in my life had my weight not been a lifelong battle but I also don’t want to waste any more time regretting the past. Instead I need to focus on spending the time I have left differently. It’s going to be a challenge. When I’m feeling down about myself my first instinct is to run to the bookstore, purchase a book full of promises and a journal full of blank pages and throw myself straight into another exercise in failure. Empty promises, like empty calories, are seductive. I’ll have to progress one step at a time and today’s step is to recycle this whole pile of past obsession and start with a clean slate.