A story about stillness, getting back in motion, and trying not to loose your shit
It was somehow nearly a month ago that Chris and I left for vacation. Until very recently, we've rarely taken vacation together for various reasons of impracticality, but we're trying to make it work because it's really so much more enjoyable. Our recent trip consisted of five days in South Carolina staying with Chris' mom and stepfather, followed by 5 days in New England with my family. It was a really lovely trip. The travel was not bad- we had audiobooks, good snacks, and each other's company. All of our flights were on time, miraculously, and no one got sick. In South Carolina we spent most of our days out and about with Chris' mom or exploring on our own. In the evenings we would meet up with friends for drinks and the kind of lively, exuberant conversations that can only occur between kindred spirits that haven't seen each other in far too long. It was wonderful. Soon after we arrived in Massachusetts, we headed down to my parent's beach cottage on Prudence Island. Prudence Island is a seven mile spec off the coast of Bristol. It's a very simple place with little in the way of entertainment. Activities on the Island consist mostly of laying on the beach, climbing rocks, reading books, photographing nature, and eating excessively. Places to go are mainly limited to other beaches, the roadside farm stand, and the new community garden. It's a magical places that gently forces you to relax. We stayed there with my parents and a fluctuating presence of sisters, brother-in-laws, and my sweet nephew for the rest of our stay. The whole trip was enjoyable and satisfying, and Chris and I both found ourselves feeling like we'd finally unwound in a very necessary way.
But alas, this feeling did not last. Do you remember that feeling you'd get as a kid in those final days of summer? That utter dread that crept over you as you realized your days of freedom and sprinklers and freeze pops were over? This is the feeling I experienced when we came back from vacation. Dread. And although this is seemingly reasonable, it just isn't typical for me. Even after a tremendously enjoyable vacation, I am usually really happy to come home. My perspective is refreshed. All the wonderful little things about the life Chris and I are manifesting that I loose appreciation for in the day to day become vibrant against the contrast of something different. And because of that, no matter how much I enjoy my time away, I tend to find myself really happy to be coming home. This is not to say that I don't experience a little wince of resistance when it's time to get back to work- I do. But generally I can shake it off and carry on with my post-vacation glow, feeling renewed and rejuvenated. However, this was not the case last week. We came back late on a Thursday night, so I it took until about Sunday for the glow to wear off and the dread to hit. And then it started- the mental barrage of clatter- all of the various departments in my brain shouting off orders and querying for suddenly pressing information. Everybody panic! Real life has resumed and we have a ton of shit to do and if we don't get on it ASAP, we are failing people. Failing! Who can afford to fall behind? I've already been gone for two weeks! I woke up Monday morning with several to do lists already running through my brain and wanted to curl up in a tiny ball and disappear.
This was troubling not only because because- well, who wants to feel that way?- but also because, this is what I had been feeling for the past month or so leading up to this vacation (though more in the background than the foreground). I've found that waking up and feeling this kind of dread is strongly correlated with the immediate onset of a seemingly endless stream mental demands upon waking. My brain reels with series unrealistic expectations I have set for myself, and reminders of how I have failed to meet them, followed by the immediate devising of strategies of attack, all of which seem to presume that I am superhuman with constant vigor and ceaseless motivation. The effect of all of this is, of course, highly demotivating and overburdening; essentially serving only to stress me out, induce guilt over even the most minute of my choices, and remind me that I am never doing enough. But before you get concerned for me, please note that this is not my everyday life, nor, however, is it an alien phenomena. I consider this state to be an unfavorable, but nonetheless natural part of life for me. I say for me, because some of you may resonate with this strongly and others will not. We are all different- our genes are different, our brains are different, and our environments are different. For me, this is a part of my spectrum. It's not one I care to spend much time in, but it isn't going to disappear. What I've come to understand about this feeling of dread is that it's a state of uneasiness induced by a complete loss of internal balance. What I mean here is that I may be juggling any number of obligations and responsibilities successfully (what I might call an external balance), but my neurological balance is off. If I were to grossly simplify it, I would say that I've swung way too hard to my type A side.
I know this, and I have known this for years, but it always amazes me how it can take so long for it to register that this is what's happening. This feeling of dread, it's not some permanent plague upon my life, it's a symptom. And if I'm really paying attention, I can recognize that I don't need to be feeling this way, I don't need to be thinking this way. I can escape this seemingly endless loop of dread. Type A and type B are not two distinct categories of human tendencies, but two ends of a spectrum. Some people have a narrow spectrum and are thus more readily characterizable, while others have a wide spectrum. My spectrum is fairly wide and I am always trying to find the right balance, but these shifts are often not conscious- rather I have to recognize a symptom of swinging too far to one side in order to regain balance- and the point of balance itself is constantly shifting. The problem is that the symptoms that indicate that my balance is way off creep in slowly and subtly- one day I wake up feeling a little off and a week later I've got full on dread filling my every morning. But at a certain point I snap under the self-induced pressure and recognize what's happening. I write pages upon pages of all the thoughts filling my head and all the things that are weighing me down and then I read it back to myself to elucidate how ridiculous I am being. My type A self thinks that I can do it all, all the time. But when I look it all there in writing, I realize that I am being way too intense, and it's sucking all the fun and enjoyment out of my life. I sooth myself, and I focus on trying to slowly find my balance again.
It's important that I also recognize that the part of me the cracks the whip and sets unreasonably high expectations is also the part of me that has propelled me to succeed at a great many things in life and to constantly strive to do the best I can. There are tradeoffs being made here, and each season of life requires a weighing of these tradeoffs and a reassessment of balance. I was overdue. I guess, if there's a take home to all of this, it would be to try to get to know yourselves, because we are complex, multidimensional beings who don't fit neatly into categories and who change over time. Because there are parts of yourself you'll love and parts of yourself you'll hate, but they're not going away so you just have to learn their strengths and weakness and find a way to balance them (and re-balance them, and re-balance them...). As for me, this week has gone swimmingly well. I am back to feeling present in my life and appreciating the little things and also back to getting things done! Just without so much anxiety and urgency. One step at a time. Unsustainable changes aren't worth making. But in the spirit of productivity and inspiration, I should say there will be a new recipe post coming soon! Maybe even two, but I make no promises. In the meantime be good to yourselves readers... and happy summer!
Hi there! I'm Cara- plant ecologist, gardening addict, and whole foods enthusiast. My whole life revolves around plants, including my kitchen. Join me here at LWM each week as I post local, seasonal, plant-based recipes and write about my never ending quest to find balance and tranquility in this crazy little world.