Friday, 10 April 2020

Getting off the treadmill

I've hiked up the mountain trail by our house every day for the last 4 days, and let me tell you - I feel reborn. Since my breathing problems started 2 years ago I gradually cut back on any activity that would aggravate it (which is mostly strenuous exercise like uphill hiking), with the result that I hadn't been up that beloved trail in over a year. I thought about it often, but was too afraid to attempt it, worried that it would be too hard.

There was also another reason that made it easy to put my health and exercise on the back burner: I put work ahead of everything else. 
Last September I accidentally stumbled onto a treadmill of working like crazy, making lots of money and not doing the things that I need for my mental, physical and emotional well-being.
I've been running on that treadmill for 7 months, going faster and faster until I had to hang on for dear life, breathless and disorientated, white-knuckling it and having no idea where I was going.


And then it came to an abrupt stop. A few days ago I flew off painfully and landed in a heap on the floor, hurting like hell. Most of the day I was dazed and confused, and it's only now, five days later, after four mountain hikes, a refreshed bedroom, a few tears and lots of time to think that I'm slowly starting to catch my breath.
Last year I made more money than I ever have before. I wouldn't classify myself as a person who is hugely money-driven, and I've always valued quality time with myself and my loved ones over climbing up the career ladder. I'm a firm believer in work to live and not the other way around.

But something happened to me. It was such a thrill getting pay cheques every two weeks that were higher than what I used to make in one, or sometimes two months! I got addicted to it. 
I also got a kick out of seeing my husband's pride. And it was proof to me that after working part-time for years, which I had done because I needed enough down time to stay mentally healthy, that I seemed to have grown tougher.
Look at me now! I would proudly think, I can be like everyone else! I can work hard and make a great income, while also still looking after my pets, my house, my husband and myself. 

Except - I didn't.

I didn't spend nearly as much time with my animals as I used to. I seriously considered getting a cleaning lady, which is ridiculous for a 1,240-sf house, but which I suddenly thought I needed.
My husband and I spent less time together than before, because when I came home exhausted, all I wanted was to conk out in front of one of my shows he didn't like, so more times than not he would watch TV in the living room while I watched Netflix in the bedroom.

And as for me?  

I stopped doing pretty much everything that was good for me - but I had a great excuse for all of it. 

  • I replaced journaling with scrolling through social media in the morning, and justified it by telling myself that I only used to do that because I didn't have enough work to do.  (My mom's old philosophy of only bored people worry about themselves all the time had another shining moment in my life.
  • I stopped writing. That one hurt. I miss it when I don't write, because if I don't, I don't know what the hell I'm thinking. I've always been like that: I can't think on the spot. Like, not at all. Let me tell you, if there's one thing I could change in my life, it would be that. It's a great deficit in your life if you can't think quick on your feet. It actually plays a big part in the situation I'm in right now - if I could take in, process, and quickly act upon new information, I would have handled this current situation more competently. But I am who I am, and thus here I am.
  • I stopped being creative. Which, for me, is largely to write. But, as my mother taught me, only bored (or, in my opinion, people with enough time and mental space) worry about themselves, and creating art is just that: giving yourself enough breathing and thinking space to reflect on yourself, society, humanity, and life itself to create something special with it. And I didn't have that time anymore over the last few months, but you know what surely made up for it? The numbers. Just look at my pay cheque! Look at how many hours or days in a row I worked! Wasn't that something? Actually, it wasn't. 
  • I stopped exercising regularly. Sure, I'd still go for walks with Lily. But more often than not they were quick little 15-minute strolls squeezed in during my lunch break. They were still better than nothing, for sure, but Lily didn't get to be off leash once during those short little walks, and neither did I. I was leashed to work, preoccupied with whatever was going on that day. Lily was literally leashed to my hand. Neither of us had enough room to breathe, to soak in our surroundings or revel in the beauty that was all around us.
  • I stopped LIVING. Long before we moved, I would dream about what my perfect life would look like. It looked like this: Long, quiet mornings sitting in the sun, sipping coffee, and either journaling, reading blogs or writing my own blog post. It included cooking lots of meals. I was looking forward to baking (which I've loved doing since I was 12 years old), learning how to pickle, and to always have enough food in the pantry or freezer for surprise visitors. I thought I'd work just enough to live comfortably (3-4 times a week), to have enough time left over for the important stuff: spending time with my husband. Writing. Hiking in the mountains, even if it's slower and more breathless than I anticipated. Going for quad rides. Napping. Spontaneous visits to friends or to the pub. Swimming in the lake. Floating down the river. Lying in the hammock and doze or read. Take pictures of EVERYTHING. Flying to my family or hosting them here. 
But instead? I just worked. It's easier in many ways. It's an excuse for poor housekeeping. For not cooking. For not exercising. For not looking after yourself. For not stubbornly chasing your dream that gives you anxiety, is incredibly hard (also rewarding, but let's not think about that), and so not commercially successful. Time to grow up, right? Time to be realistic. Time to put all that juvenile dreaming behind us and get.down.to.business.
How can anyone counter the most important argument of our time: "I was working/I'm making the money/I'm providing for us"? Nobody can, of course. The measure of our worth is how productive we are, which obviously means how much money we make. And in that regard, I've never been more successful than last year.

But I lost myself. I was unhappy. I numbed myself with too many TV shows, candy and wine. I had nightmares. I didn't blog. I didn't write. I didn't exercise much. I rarely cooked. I gained weight.
I knew I couldn't continue on like that. But I was incapable of stopping the treadmill.
Until someone else did it for me. I'm fairly sure the intent was to hurt me, and it did, for the first 24 hours.
But now, after I've finally had the time to take a break, to think and reflect, I know that this is the best thing that could have happened to me. 

I needed the full stop. I didn't know how to stop the treadmill on my own. I needed someone to force me to pull the brakes and to stand completely still.
I haven't stood still in way too long.

I don't want to spend my short time on this earth chasing money, the coldest and least rewarding activity we ever devised.

I want to spend it pursuing my passions, even if they continue to be scary, which frankly, has been the most disappointing discovery of aging so far. I thought it would get easier - apparently it doesn't.
I want to spend time with my kids and my grandson. I want to host people, cook new dishes, do nothing all day without feeling guilty. I want to write, all the time, fearlessly and willing to write badly in order to get better. I want a life that has as much whimsy and impracticality in it as it does "responsible adult behaviour" (hopefully more).

I don't want to hide behind numbers and income anymore. It takes bravery to live life according to your own rules, but I finally want to be brave enough to live it like that.

I have no idea what the future holds. But I know this: I'm getting off the treadmill.
I'm ready to walk the rugged, difficult, wildly beautiful path that I haven't discovered yet.

It's gonna be an adventure.


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8 comments

  1. Wow. Just wow, Miriam. I can feel your relief as the week progressed and you could start to breath again. You are so resilient and strong! I love that you are willing to live your life authentically no matter how raw and intense. Take care. Elaine

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    1. Dear Elaine, I'm not feeling resilient at all right now, more like an ostrich with its head in the sand. I've never understood ostriches better than I do now.

      But so far we've survived every single day we've been on this earth, so our track record is excellent! We should be able to add a few more thousand days to them.
      One day at a time, easy or hard.

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    2. Hmmm, well here's the interesting thing. I don't believe you need to feel resilient, to be resilient. The fact is you keep walking one day at a time, as you say "easy or hard". That my dear girl is the definition of resilience for me.

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    3. You are very wise, Elaine. Thank you!!!!

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  2. You go girl! The world needs more people like you and the only way that happens is if we all pull that emergency break, look at our life and start the change within. No better time than the present.

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    1. Thank you so much! As many of us I'm struggling quite a bit right now, so it's nice to read such kind and encouraging words. I appreciate it!❤๐Ÿงก๐Ÿ’›

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  3. Oh my gosh, so much of this spoke right to my soul... I'm right there with you, Miriam!!

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    1. Many of us are in a time of growth, which is painful and exhausting. But I believe that we will come out of this stronger and wiser than before!

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