For the longest time I defined my success, happiness and progress by what I was doing. Staying busy, not only was an adjective, but also became a verb, and a noun to describe my state of being. It defined me. I figured, if I didn’t slow down or if I wasn’t constantly in motion, then I wouldn’t have time to feel anything other than motivation to tackle the next project. My own application of Newton’s first law so to speak.

But what happens when we are forced to slow down? What happens when Newton’s other laws catch up to us – I’m speaking about Newton’s third law in particular. What happens when our coping mechanisms – be it ‘business’ or the state of doing – gets taken away from us?

I honestly don’t like to think about it, slowing down. Ironically, usually the times when I need to slow down the most are the times I’m forced to stop, to realize the dangerous game I’m playing. I use the word ‘dangerous’ purposefully, because an unhealthy state of mind is just as troubling as a physical one.

I came to this harsh realization about a month ago, when I was dealing with another injury, a broken foot. This time, I was physically forced to stop, unable to bear weight in my left foot. But it felt deeper than that. All of a sudden, I felt worth less, depressed and like I had nothing to offer the world.

While the injury was physical, what was making this challenge even more insurmountable was my mental state. The fact that my self worth was tied up in what I do rather than who I am.

You may be asking, so what? After a period of rest, my body will heal and I’ll be back to what I was doing, happy again. Or, I’ve done this before, it won’t be that bad. But my concern lie in the observation where overnight, my self worth had flipped a 180. I was the same person I was before I had broken my foot, but somehow, the next day, as the healing process from surgery began, I felt I had no worth because I couldn’t do things in the same manner. As if my self worth was tethered to the foot itself.

I was perplexed. The more I thought about it, the more saddened I became. Attaching my self worth to what I could do, how busy I was, and my athletic ability, is easy to do, but it has no weight, nothing I can hold onto. Attaching worth instead to the quality of my character, or who I am when I’m left to just be – that is far more valuable, and true. In fact, the irony of it all, is how long I spent working on discovering and valuing the ‘non-doing’ parts of me through numerous injury recoveries, and the writing of my memoir Out and Back. Perhaps I just needed a reminder?

“An athlete’s biggest Achilles’ heel is that our coping mechanism is wound up in the things we do athletically. Our frustrations are only compounded by lack of exercise, so we’re in trouble if we can’t get rid of them by going on a run or ride or ski. Without exercise as an outlet, the emotions and physical unrest marinate and mix together, creating even more of the same.

This was the process I had to honor every day of my recovery, as well as every day I was healthy. There’s always something to battle, something to learn from, and some opportunity to become better. Every low has an important moment in life, to show us what we are made of and offer a chance to cultivate motivation, desire, dreams. Those moments push you through to whatever obstacle comes next. What I had to remember was this: You are more than just an athlete.”

— Out and Back

I am more than what I do. We all are. But really, think about that for a second, because it’s more of a statement to questions your mental health. How do you define your self worth without associating it with an action? What makes you, you – at your core? This was something I had begun to forget, this was something I needed to revisit.

I believe this is a very important part of mental health – how we define our self worth; especially in the low moments – not in action or varying degrees of doing, it’s distracting – but in inaction, in being, just how you are, in who you are. How we show up around struggle, setback and love or joy  – for ourselves and for those we love.

I’ll admit, this aspect of mental health can be a bit confusing for me; it’s hard to hold onto. It’s more subtle and less actionable than I’m used to, but that doesn’t make it any less important. In fact, I believe it’s the most important aspect of mental health – how we define our self worth. Because, at the end of the day, we only have ourselves, and how we value our inner self and our worth can cultivate some of the most powerful forces that we have as humans.

So, I ask you: how do you define yourself when you strip away all the action verbs? How do you accept yourself – in all the aspects of Newton’s laws – and just be? Yes, I still have trouble with it too, especially the part about resting. But I’ve realized the more self-acceptance I have, the better I am at being in motion, being at rest, and moving in new, unexpected directions – when a force is acted upon me, requiring me to stop. There’s no judgement, because at the end of the day, I’m the same me, and my worth isn’t contingent on my direction, speed or itinerary –my worth comes from me.

May Is National Mental Health Care month. I’ll be writing about different aspects of mental health all month. Hope you enjoy.

All photos credited to Blair Speed

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