When I was a little girl, I loved car rides. This was before I met Motion Sickness. My family used to take vacations in the summer, and we drove to our destination whether that be the six-hour ride to Smoky Mountains or the 14-hour trek to Disney World.
My dad played Golden Oldie’s from the radio or Disney tunes on cassette. My mom would drive, my dad would film, and my brother and I would be content in the backseat. I was overwhelmed by the imagery. I loved following the different shapes and colors of the trees, watching the yellow lines on the road become one and taking in all the makes and models of other vehicles on the highway.
I could sit for hours in silence, feeling the fresh air and letting the music provide a backdrop for whatever story I dreamed up. I gave those trees a soul, and while I didn’t know who else traveled on the roads with us, I somehow felt connected to them. I used my imagination to give them their own stories. It was where my creative spirit was born.
So why, as an adult, is it so hard for me to sit back and do nothing? Why can’t I just remain still for a moment and relish the world going by?
What If I Could Do Anything?
This past week completely depleted me. My energy and blood sugar levels were barely hanging on yesterday afternoon. And I wondered if my return to DC had triggered the Depression again. But rather than be indifferent, I felt a tinge of anxiety. There didn’t seem to be enough time in the day or the weekend to accomplish everything I had set out to do.
About six months ago I stopped making to-do lists. I felt tied down by that list and no longer in control of my own life. I wasn’t enjoying how I spent the majority of my time. And while there would always be the have-to’s such as cleaning the bathroom, cooking dinner and ordering new medical supplies, there didn’t always have to be the should-to’s – those tasks I felt I “should” be doing when all I wanted to do was relax in front of the TV and color.
So I deleted my list.
I figured anything that was worth holding on to would come back to me – meaning if it was important enough then I would remember when the timing was right. It was hard to let go of this list – a list I had depended upon since I discovered the joys of organization and management in middle school. That list didn’t bring me joy – it only brought resentment.
But what if I forget to pay my credit card? What if I forget to renew my renter’s insurance? What if I forget to send my mom a birthday card? What if I forget to pick up Norm’s food? What if I forget to re-order insulin? The list went on, but slowly, over time, I allowed myself to let go of the what if’s and just be. I stopped living in the future and focused on the present.
And I never forgot. I never missed a deadline. I never missed paying a bill. I trusted myself to be responsible, and that trust went a long way. And for the time-sensitive tasks, I often sent myself an email and then snoozed it for a later date (a wonderful feature of Google’s Inbox).
Six months later, I still don’t have a to-do list. My brain does not feel like a chaotic mush. I know exactly what is on my plate day-to-day, and I give myself leeway. If I can’t accomplish everything I set out to do, then I recognize that a one-day delay won’t harm anything. It won’t even harm me, but the worry would. So I let it go.
But in letting go of so much, I realized how much time I spent worrying about the future and the should-do’s. And by letting go of this worry, I freed up so much of my time… to relax and enjoy life. Some of my friends now refer to me as easy going and calm. For those friends who met my Type A ass back in high school, college and graduate school, I imagine you’re smiling right now.
I have always been anything but easy going. And yet suddenly here I am, going with the flow, just being and not planning for the future. I’m taking things as they come and giving myself a break when I have a bad day or week or month. In some ways, I am now closer to a Type B definition than a Type A.
Type A for Amazing … Anxiety
Have I always been a Type B then? Did that child enjoying the scenery in the car ride to Disney World really feel no worry? Was she just present in the moment rather than thinking of the future? I can’t honestly testify to what was going on in my five-year-old mind. But I do know that I was happy. I was lucky.
And now that Type A persona is trying to sneak her way back into my head. She sees all this free time and starts taunting me with the should-do’s:
There is so much you could be doing with your life. Why are you wasting your shot?
Remember how you wanted to give back to the world? You’re being selfish. This is not giving back to the world. This is sitting on your ass.
If you don’t start on these tasks now, they will just pile up later. Do them now. Then you can play.
Except she never lets me play. There’s always more to do. And now that I am starting to pull myself out of that depressive hole, I want to maximize on life and take advantage of this newfound energy. I want to keep advocating for Type 1 diabetes and design some amazing t-shirts for my JDRF fundraising team. I want to keep working on that second book I always said I would publish. I want to commit more time to developing professional development events for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Washington, DC. I want to start a literary journal. I want to develop a creative writing class for kids and teens trying to manage a chronic condition like diabetes.
There is so much to do and so little time. But I am just one person. And as much as I love the idea of reincarnation, I believe I only have this one life. I’ve been blessed in so many ways, and I want to continue to make the most of it. I want to leave my mark, but I also want to be happy and fulfilled. So how do I accomplish all of that?
I don’t know. But I do know this should-do crap is only holding me back. It’s making me miserable and leads me back to the path of feeling like a failure. I will never be happy and fulfilled and able to leave my mark on a path like that.
The Art of Nothing
I can’t totally rag on my Type A persona. She’s brought me a lot of success. She is my drive and my ambition. She keeps me organized and on task and lets me thrive in a deadline-oriented world. She’s also an amazing multi-tasker and the epitome of super efficiency. But when it comes to my mental health and well-being, she is sometimes the worst ally to have.
When I started my new job five months ago, I began taking walks on my lunch break. I use this time to reflect on many things whether that be the new health care bill, a conflict at work, my relationship with my parents, my relationship with my friends, a new blog post idea or why everyone is so obsessed with superhero movies. I’m always inclined to write some of these thoughts down or make a note of them on my phone. I sometimes feel inclined to give someone a call.
But I don’t. I just let myself be. I give this 30-minute interval solely to myself. And the thoughts that matter – the stories that I envision – they always have a way of coming back.
So for the next few weeks I want to practice the art of nothing. I don’t want to just let that to-do list go – I want to let all of those ambitions go. I want to get off of this treadmill and stand still. And not for the second that it takes my heart rate and breathing to return to normal. I want to stand still for longer than what’s comfortable.
And when I finally move again? I wonder in what direction my first step will be.