So today has been a pretty big day already, and it's only about 2:15 PM when I sat down to start writing this.
The first thing I did today (after psyching myself up) was go to the gym. A week ago on Wednesday my mom went with me, mostly for moral support, while I signed up for a membership - this place is only a few blocks away from my new apartment so I've been thinking of signing up there for awhile now. While I was at it, I also signed up for several sessions with a personal trainer because, while I've taken gym and weight lifting classes in high school and college, I've not really done any self-directed working out before and wouldn't know where to begin. Especially since I'm totally out of shape - I haven't worked out on purpose for about five years now and the last time I did anything more physically demanding than a very occasional bike ride was when I had that custodial job a couple years ago. Most of my day everyday is spent sitting. So, yeah, out of shape.
Anyway, I didn't do anything with it until yesterday since that was the time I set up with my new physical trainer, Melanie. I was a bit nervous about going to meet her by myself, but she was really, really nice and helped me figure out a part of a good weight lifting and cardio routine - we're going to meet again next week to cover the rest. Today I worked out by myself, did the 'pull' workout she told me to do with the weights and 25 minutes on the elliptical machine. It was brutal, but I made it through, and I'm taking tomorrow off, so I feel very accomplished. I'm actually surprised that I made it through all 25 minutes on the elliptical, but I did it.
After my workout, I made a hard choice: See, I pass the grocery store whenever I go to or from the gym, and I'd brought the saddlebags on my bike in case I decided that I should go. Of course I was exhausted at that point, kept telling myself that I could always go tomorrow when I'm having a day off from exercising, but I convinced myself that if I went today then I could have a completely lazy day tomorrow. Here's the results:
Now I learned some things on this grocery run (which I believe is the first time I've ever gone to a grocery store completely by myself): First of all, I have inherited my father's ability to pack a lot of stuff into a small space. (And my mom was wrong to look at me funny when I bought the really big saddlebags for my bike, way back when - they were just barely big enough, and I had to push it a bit.) Secondly, it wasn't that hard - I had a list of what I wanted and it was simply a matter of finding it in the store, which wasn't that hard either since the way the aisles were organized mostly made sense to me and it seemed like I ran into an employee every time I got a confused look on my face. I think I might have had a harder time if I was looking for anything that I'm not extremely used to, but at least now I know that when I know what I want it's easy.
But this is all very encouraging for me, given that it was so simple for me to go to the gym and the grocery store in one trip - as I plan on getting to the former regularly, the latter could probably fall into place pretty easily. Now, if you've read back on how big of a problem my anxiety is, the fact that I'm suddenly just going to the gym and grocery shopping might sound like major sudden progress. And it is! But the reason why I'm not easing my way into this more slowly is because my rules can help me with this sort of thing if I do it that way.
When I want to do something new, it's important for me to do it the way that I want the rule to be from the beginning. Because if, for example, I decided to ease myself into going to the gym by going one day a week and then gradually increasing the number, each time I increased the number I'd have the stress of doing something new. If I went to the grocery store and made the rule be that I only had to buy up to a certain number of things, each time I pass whatever the old limit was, more stress. Think of it like wheel ruts - I make them very quickly, and wedging myself out of a rut I've already made is hard work. Better to make sure that the ruts are in a good spot to begin with so that I don't have to do that so much.
On the other hand, if I intentionally make a new rule about something very stressful, like going to the gym or buying groceries, the rule can actually help me with my anxiety. My new rule with the gym is that I am now officially someone who goes there so regularly that I plan the days I skip and not the days I go - not going is the exception. And I'm still trying to decide what my grocery store rule is because it had been my intention today to 'go, and see how it feels', but it felt so good and I know how good doing that was for me that I think the new rule will be that if I want something and that store has it then I go get it myself rather than getting help - at least until I've done it enough that it doesn't seem like a big deal, at which point I'll accept help depending on what's most convenient for me and the potential helper.
Now, I'm definitely not saying that setting a new rule is like flipping a magic switch that makes it so that the anxiety disappears - definitely not! In fact, if anything it bunches up most of the stress into one big, scary plunge I have to take all at once - the first few times I follow a new rule is very, very, very hard! And I have to really, really want it! This is why it can take me such a long time to do something that I know would be really good for me to do sometimes - I'm familiar enough with the sheer amount of stress involved that I'll outright refuse to do something if I know I don't want it badly enough. I've heard my mom explain this to other people as 'You can't make her do anything. But if she wants to do something, she does it.' and that's why. Because once I've followed a rule those first few times, it actually becomes more stressful for me to not follow the rule, because the rule has been set by then and breaking it bothers me. A few times more, and then I'll have gained enough confidence in the new rule to believe that following it is 'safe', and my anxiety drops like a stone.
I keep hearing people say that it takes a certain number of days to make a habit, but that's just not true for me - it's significantly faster when I actually want it that badly. The reason why I had to buy toothpaste (and floss, which didn't make the picture) was because a couple weeks ago I had a dental checkup, and while they were shaking their heads about my inflamed gums (my teeth, like those of my father and siblings, don't know the meaning of the word 'cavity' almost regardless of what I do), I decided that it was about time did something about that. So I took the little kit they gave me and went from... well, you don't want to know... to instantly brushing twice and flossing once every single day - I've only missed once (and it really bothered me!). But they only gave me a sample size of toothpaste and floss, so I need more now. And this is why being on the autism spectrum can sometimes be an advantage for me.