The Big Question:
When it comes to big decisions and issues (and occasionally much smaller questions), one simple question has guided me: why? In particular, as I’ve started to wrestle with real questions about identity and labor and health over the last two years, why is a powerful question to ask myself before I commit to significant changes. As Phil Hayes-St. Clair notes in this Medium article, context is required to clarify the decisions and choices we make and why is how we get that context.
One simple question has guided me: why?
It starts with my health, of course. Last year, I was diagnosed with a fourth blood clot. I’d like to say it was a scary experience, but truth be told, it wasn’t. I suspected it at least a week before I went to the emergency room. In fact, I spent two days at Disneyland, walking miles on it because I didn’t want to disrupt my vacation to take care of myself. As a matter of fact, it turned out to be a running theme, health-wise.
Why and My Health:
After the first blood clot when I was 7, I knew the signs well enough to diagnose myself at 15, at 21, and then last year. Why did I take so long? This question turned out to be scarier to contemplate than the actual blood clot that turned into a brief hospital stay.
That why really prompted me to sit down and consider my health for the first time in forever. Honestly, I hadn’t had a proper physical in years (or decades) due to health care costs for a long time. Yet even with a reasonable plan (and co-pay), it took me four years to see my primary care physician and do a routine physical. Why? Because I felt scared of what I would find out and scared of what the future held for me.
But then I stepped onto the scale at the hospital, and I was 40+ pounds above my usual weight (300 or so), giving me another why to contemplate. Why did I feel so comfortable putting on 40 pounds in a year? Why had my weight changed after a decade or so of being at the same weight? And of course, the answer again … I felt scared and perhaps even frightening, I had become complacent. I don’t believe that weight and health are as inextricably linked as other folks do. Still, I knew that I feel better and healthier closer to 300 pounds.
When I joined Weight Watchers in August 2017, I started with the online WW program with heavy involvement on Connect, the social media app. The big question that I traced over and over again, why, became a baseline for understanding the program. What’s my why at this moment in my journey? I started keeping an ongoing list of whys. Minor ones look like being able to sit on a T train seat without feeling like I’m taking up all the space. Major whys meant appreciating long walks no matter the weather. All reflected moments of thoughtfulness.
For example, Christmas 2017 marked the first time I ever asked for a seatbelt extender. While I didn’t exactly feel shame, I felt surprised because I didn’t know that I had put on that much weight. And yet, that moment represented the first time I had felt comfortable on a plane in years. Why? Because I had continually sacrificed my comfort in order not to ask for a seatbelt extender.
Even now at 270 pounds, I don’t shy away from asking for a seatbelt extender so I can be comfortable. At the most basic level, shouldn’t I be comfortable? Asking for a seatbelt extender the first time and being comfortable on a flight showed me that I hadn’t been taking care of my health.
It turned out I felt less okay with my health as I thought. The pairing of the seatbelt extender incident and the blood clot made me rethink what good health for me looks like.
By the time I started attending meetings at the end of September 2017, I had lost 19 pounds. Luckily, I fell in love with a great meeting in Boston recommended on Connect, the WW social media app. Someone recommended a meeting full of diverse folks that welcomed all ages, genders, races, and abilities. The recommendation delivered.
The why question remains the most consistent question that underlines all our WW meetings. Why has furthered my healthy journey, my commitment to Weight Watchers, and more than 70+ pounds lost. I remain far away from what good health to me looks like (150 pounds or so), but I’m so much closer after a year and a half.
Most importantly, I’ve started making the changes necessary for a lifestyle change. I sincerely don’t care about being more attractive or skinny. I care about feeling comfortable and happy. Why? Because I know that my ideal balance includes good physical and mental health.
The Why Behind Mental Health
The question of why has also come up over and over again in my therapy sessions. Why underlines the questions about my depression, my current focus, my job search, my desire to lose weight. At its most basic level, the question is essential to emerging out of my depression, feeling stronger and happier than I have in years.
The Next Why
The next big push for why in my life is the scary money questions. Why can’t I stick to a budget? Why am I so afraid to take care of myself financially? Isn’t that feeling of security part of self-care? These are the questions that I want to address. I believe that why stands out as an essential part of finding balance and ultimately, happiness.
Ask ‘why’ five times about every matter. –
Taiichi Ohno, Toyota Production System pioneer
Do You Always Ask Why?
Do you ask this most basic question often enough? Do you ask it about your health, your mental state, your finances? Do you ask why something makes you happy or something makes you sad? This coming year I want to encourage you to always ask why.
What was the last why that motivated you? Let me know in the comments.