Of late my days feel long and spacious, almost empty. I sat with that empty feeling yesterday, trying to figure out where it came from, because when I compare today’s To Do list with one from a month or two ago, I have just as many tasks to do, if not more. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing, something that used to fill up the spaces around the tasks and make the days run faster. The missing thing is dozens of small urgent deadlines stacked on top of each other. Particularly order-dependent deadlines: must do item A today because I have to start item B tomorrow and both must be complete before C happens next week. I’ve had urgent deadlines filling my brain since last June. I was running fast, working hard, getting things done. The urgency kept me stewing in adrenaline so I could move despite fatigue.
Then mid January, I ran out of small order-dependent tasks. The big event was complete, leaving only large, long-term goals and small daily chores. I spent nearly a week with my executive function almost completely shut down. I couldn’t hold on to thoughts or plan anything. Slowly that came back online, but I’m still not back up to speed. And I shouldn’t be. The pace I was maintaining was a killing pace. It was draining emotional and physiological resources, as evidenced by the week-long collapse. The part of my brain complaining about how everything now feels slow and unexciting needs to learn how to be comfortable with slowness.
One of the big life shifts in the past year was Howard switching medications for his mental health issues. The one he was on shortened his sleep (which he liked) but also drove up his blood pressure (which was scary.) He too is having to come to terms with the fact that he has to slow down. The breakneck pace he maintained for years keeping up with both the daily comic and side projects as well was exhilarating even while being exhausting. There is a high associated with pushing your mind and body to their limits, there is also a cost. And that cost often arrives in a sudden and overwhelming collapse. I could see him pushing himself toward collapse, so we changed the medicines, which forced a (very frustrating) slow down. We believe that, over time, the slow down will result in better health. Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.
This week I am focusing on the slowness. I am learning to befriend both slowness and a feeling of spaciousness. It is a strange sensation to not have my head filled with anxious planning and deadline tracking. I miss it. I feel alive and capable when adrenaline surges and I can crisis manage lots of organizational details. Just because I miss something, doesn’t mean I should put it back into my life. I’m certain that in the future I will have more moments of adrenaline-driven competence. I will be better at them if I embrace the current period of peace. I’m learning to quiet my anxious thoughts. I’m learning to sit and let my mind wander without media distractions. I’m doing more reading of books rather than websites. I’m recognizing the ways that internet sites and politics thrive on creating urgency and anxiety in people. I’m noticing that despite my days feeling slower and emptier, my house is more in order. I’m finally doing all the non-urgent tasks which were pushed aside and which contribute to happiness and well being. I’m pondering how I can reject imposed urgency when it isn’t necessary. I’m recognizing that frantic urgency didn’t do as much to make my life and home better as this slower care-taking. I’m pondering how these realizations might apply to my citizenship in the larger world and what actions I should be taking to make that world better.
There are a lot of thoughts to sort through, and I intend to take the time to do that sorting carefully and thoughtfully. Because when life inevitably begins throwing urgent deadlines at me again, I want to be prepared to respond to them in a calmer and less anxious way.