Why ask why?

Little kids start asking the endless string of "why?" questions at about the same age they figure out they can soothe themselves by playing with their genitals.

I have no idea whether the two are related in small children, but I thought I would go ahead and make the connection for you before I publicly spend myself asking and answering some "why" questions of my own.

My string of "whys" started this week with physical distress. Every day, about four to five hours after I woke up, some kind of hormonal reaction started spiking, culminating in anxiety and unbearable tension in my head and chest, an iron maiden of white noise. Eventually, and conveniently enough for my work day, it would subside after about an hour, but not before reaching a sharp pitch of familiar distress.

It was the feeling I always had before a compulsive eating episode. It was the physical feeling I used to medicate with food. And it was hard as hell to ride it out and not medicate it now, physically painful to the point where I was mentally begging not to be in my body, begging to be able to let go.

Anybody who tells you that getting past an eating disorder is a simple matter of willpower is full of shit. Imagine it. (And I know some of you don't have to imagine.) I used to wake up every day knowing I was going to feel that horrible anguish at some point in the day, for some percentage of the day, and not know how to make it stop.

It is some kind of victory now to know, in the throes of a frightening sensation like that, where to find a small, completely calm island in my mind and body. Where I can gently ignore whatever rampaging thoughts and feelings, look at what's happening dispassionately, and say, "Well, this is some kind of horrible hormone spike. No matter how bad it feels, it's temporary. I don't have to react; I can stand to suffer a while."

Why was this happening? Was it something I had been eating — maybe the soy milk? Was I drinking enough water? Is it because I haven't been sleeping well? Cyclical fluctuations exhibiting new effects? All the above? (Worse yet: Is my body so screwed up that it is always, for the rest of my life, going to backlash with this kind of torment every time it reaches a given level of body fat? After all, that's the pattern to date.) I really didn't want to roll the dice on feeling this way even one more day, so rather than play with one variable at a time I attacked on all fronts that I could control. And the spike diminished significantly.

It may be completely gone now. I hope so. But in its wake I am self-soothing with "why" questions: Why am I spending so much time and energy building a more athletic life? Why do I want to improve at the sports I race in? Why race? What do I want to excel at in sports, if anything, and why? Why do people pursue excellence anyway, and what does "success" in amateur athletics mean?

Certainly the answers aren't important. Anytime you ask "why," you can ask "yes, but why??" to the answer. It always reduces down to "Because that's just the way it is." At which point you realize you could have spent your time ACTUALLY considering how to improve and excel or better, ACTUALLY improving and excelling.

I know that's how it will play out. I also know that I really wanted those answers on hand to repeat to myself when I was on the teeny tiny calm island riding out the Horrible Horrible Hormone Spike. I really want those answers firmly in my head the next time my endocrine system makes my brain compute, "medicate or let go, those are your choices."