Moving the Goalposts

Moving the Goalposts
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Happy Monday, and welcome to the third week of 2024.

Last week, I gave up on one of my New Year's Resolutions. Well, "resolution" might not be the right word. "Goal" might not be right either. An item on my task list, more accurately. An item on my "Move to NYC" list of all the things I needed to get squared away once we relocated, which if you'll recall was back in July. The new year seemed a good time to finally check the remaining items off of it.

"Find a therapist."

After spending an hour or so trying to figure our what sort of mental health coverage our insurance provided (if any) and searching for "in-network" providers on the insurance website, and then looking at the providers' own websites (if any) and reviews from other patients about them, I decided that finding a therapist was causing me way too much anxiety. And hey, maybe I do not actually need therapy. Look at me! I'm fine. Fine! Fit! Healthy!

So I crossed the item off my task list. Priorities change, you know. Goalposts shift. Resolutions get broken. No big deal.

To celebrate, I ordered the "resolution breaker" donut (plus five others) from The Doughnut Project

The Internet, of course, knew that I'd been searching for therapists, and the next day, I was inundated with a steady stream of ads for various mental health apps and online counseling providers. For BetterHelp mostly — a company that has certainly tried to profit from the difficulties that people have in finding and affording quality mental health care. It should be no surprise that more and more people, desperate for help, are turning to digital resources (and god, forbid, chat-bots); but what companies like Betterhelp offer is just not great. I tried Zoom-therapy after Isaiah died – we were mid-pandemic – but the lag and the inability to see or read body language made it incredibly frustrating. (Also the therapist looked younger than my dead son, so — bless her heart — she wasn't the right person for me at all.) Post-pandemic, it remains difficult to get in to see a shrink in person, and online therapy offers, if nothing else, ease of access. But many patients report that these apps match them with highly inappropriate and inexperienced therapists; and several online mental health providers have been caught engaging in some very shady business practices. In March of last year, BetterHelp was fined over $7 million for violating the privacy of its users by sharing their data with Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, and other advertisers.

Despite all the promises of convenience and efficiency, technology isn't necessarily conducive to meaningful human interaction, particularly when you're in a vulnerable spot. And the solution to problems with health infrastructure is not going to be an app that promises you, the individual, some feedback, some breathing room. The solution to problems with health infrastructure is fixing the infrastructure for everyone.

I gave up on the resolution on Monday. By Wednesday, I'd started to second-guess myself. Sometimes, when things feel too good, I feel like that tragedy is just around the corner. I wondered too if maybe I was looking for the wrong thing. I mean, yeah, using the Internet to search — bad idea, clearly. But also, was it grief therapy I wanted or needed? I've "done" grief therapy already (when Isaiah's dad died in 2005); I know the steps, know the banter. Should I perhaps look for a therapist who can help me think through what's become my major coping mechanism for the trauma: running?

I quickly realized that, in NYC, therapists who help people with "performance" cater to Fortune 500 CEOS, Broadway stars, and Olympians. This search was more amusing than frustrating, and I kept a tab open for the website of an office near Union Square that might work – they had grief counselors and addiction specialists and sports psychologists and psychiatrists. I kept the tab open, but I didn't put "find a therapist" back on my task list.

On Thursday, I was here at my desk, finalizing the "week in review" newsletter, when I witnessed something awful: a young man jumped off the roof of the building across the street. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a big black figure fly then fall – that's a huge raptor, I first thought. Or had the wind blown something off the rooftop patio? Or... Fuck. I texted Kin immediately. Then I called that office in Union Square; I had an intake appointment. And therapy. I'm back in it. Back at it. Witnessing that death resurfaced a lot of things for me, and it's pretty clear that, strong as I am, fast as I am, fit as I am, I'm held together with yellowed cellophane tape that's dried out and brittle and will fall apart if jostled even slightly.

This isn't the newsletter I'd planned to send you today, although I did want to write something at the not-quite-beginning of the new year about resolutions and goals.

Me, I'm a task list-maker; I'm a planner. The terminology gets slippery, I think, because while I set tasks and make plans, these don't always rise to the big, bold capital letter-kind of pronouncements of New Year's Resolutions. But to attain any goal, you have to start somewhere, some time; and the first month of the year is a logical time to reflect on what happened during the previous twelve months or so and to think about what you'd like to have happen in the upcoming ones. Sometimes you want to keep on keeping on; sometimes you know things have to change.

Sometimes I'm quite good at the follow-through when I decide the latter. In January 2021, I quit drinking; I started running. But I'm just as likely to begin big new projects throughout the year. I started Second Breakfast in June. I started weightlifting when I turned 50. And like everyone, I start projects that I just don't finish – I was supposed to be working on a book proposal on baby monitors. What happened to that idea, Audrey. Sometimes I set goals that I simply can't or don't achieve. I still haven't out-lifted Adele (whose deadlift is 165 pounds), although I've said I was going to so for the past two years. And that's okay. Priorities change. Goalposts shift. I think it's important to be intentional — setting goals help me to that end. I think it's important to be flexible — even when you shift the posts, it still counts as a goal. And I think it's important to have some self-compassion – shit happens, and then your goals don't. Such is life.

I've seen a fair amount of pushback in recent years on making resolutions. Some sneering and scowling isn't new – complaining about the newcomers at the gym, for example. But there's an element to the criticism of resolutions that I'm sort of struggling with – and this just be my own shit to, ya know, resolve.

"Resolution Culture is about optimizing, it’s about perfection, it’s about buying things, and it’s almost always about setting ourselves up to fail according to a set of arbitrary standards rooted in ranking the value of human bodies. Because if we fail, we have to resolve to do (and buy!) it all over again. And that’s the underlying diet culture business model. " Virginia Sole-Smith wrote earlier this year. By focusing on personal change, she argues, we neglect to address issues bound up in larger systems of oppression. While she's right that many of the pressures on us to change are bound up in diet culture, hustle culture, capitalism, it seems like a false choice – it's not like you make resolutions or you make revolution. Furthermore, there is no outside of these systems, no unsullied position of righteousness, no political perfection that comes from — of all things — refusing to have a New Year's Resolution or (and this is sort of key to me) support others' hopes for personal change.

There's a lot of work to be done — work on systems, yes, and work on ourselves. So crikey, don't be shitty about other people’s goals — even if you disagree with the direction or the expectations or the implications. "I am rooting for you" is the only thing you need to say, okay? You're not going to dismantle diet culture or end capitalism by chastising someone — friend, family or Internet stranger — for deciding to lose weight, to organize their clothes closet, or sign up for Pure Barre.

For what it's worth, here are a few of my (fitness) goals for 2024:

  • I'm running my first triathlon in July — the Women's Tri in Philadelphia. Goal: finish all three segments of the race — I don't have a time goal because I have no idea what I'm doing, let alone how fast I can do any of it in
  • I am doing three of the NYRR programs to guarantee my entry to three key 2025 races: the NYC Half, the Brooklyn Half, and the NYC Marathon. For the latter, that means running 9 NYRR races and volunteering at another
  • My goal races for the year are spring and fall half marathons – the Women's Half in April and the Staten Island Half in October. I'd like to finish one of these — probably the latter — in under 1:50

These would be cool to accomplish:

  • I'd like to be able to do a pull-up
  • I'd still like to out-lift Adele, dammit
  • I'd like to beat my previous times in the 10K, 5K, and mile – get in those time-based PRs while I can

I'm also trying to eat less meat. I love hamburgers far too much to give it up entirely, but I'm going cook meat just once a week.

And I really am going get therapy. (I need to find a dentist too. Maybe I should resolve to "stop procrastinating." But that's just "optimization culture" talking, right?)