In the past month, I’ve driven my car only twice. Not once have I said, “Hurry up. We’re going to be late.” I haven’t donned a watch, so most days, at any given time, I have no idea what time it is.
I’ve had a month-long reprieve from logistics. It’s like living in some kind of weird utopia where time stands still, or like being on vacation but in your day-to-day life.
It is refreshing and more than a little unnerving.
My life, like so many of ours, is often ruled by the calendar and the clock. Much to my husband’s constant annoyance I am always late. When I dropped my daughter off at school, the first question she would ask was, “are we late or early or on time?” At work, I ran from meeting to meeting, exhausted by day’s end even though my butt had done nothing but melt into a chair all day.
I wasn’t special; I was a typical working mom. The badge of honor, at least for many women, comes from touting how much is on our plates (figuratively, of course, since God forbid we should sit down and eat). Our society seems to prize constant motion over sanity.
Two years ago, I read an interesting book by Debbie Mandel called Addicted to Stress, in which she says that chronic stress actually rewires our brains. Stress becomes like heroin and we actually get a high from our to-do lists. The more on the list, the more important and capable we feel. (I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that’s was my takeaway.)
Of course, we all know that stress ups our cortisol and that constant streams of that hormone is bad news for our bodies and minds. We do it anyway because it feels good, in some messed up, S&M kind of way.
I recognized myself in that book—and you might, too. Despite feeling overwhelmed and permanently exhausted, I got a misplaced sense of pride in reciting my to-do list and having others say things like, “I don’t know how you do it!”
That’s high praise for a woman trying to have it all. That’s validation. And the search for validation can make you do stupid things—like think that your to-do list defines you.
Until you burn out.
I don’t know if it was burnout that led me to the extreme life changes I made this year. I do know that when you start forgetting the names of people you’ve known for years or when you can’t remember what document you were looking for immediately after opening Microsoft Word, or when you very briefly forget how to put your makeup on, then something has to change.
Which brings me back to today. I have not felt this stress-free since I was 10 and, holy cow, does the lack of stress make me anxious some days.
Those are the days when I start questioning my choices. When I wonder if I’ve thrown my career into the trash, or if I can handle my husband making far more money than I do, or if I will morph into one of those super moms who pours all of her hopes and dreams into her children through excessive after-school activities.
When we take away one stress, our minds seem to want to fill the void. Take away my overscheduled life and my mind has the urge to fill the void with self doubts.
As the school year begins next week and social commitments in our new city expand, it would be easy to combat the doubts with appointments on the calendar. At least then, I’d be too busy to notice them.
But that’s the addiction talking. If there is one lesson I must carry with me from this month of detox, it is this: Clocks were invented to mark a moment in time. When they rule our lives, we focus so much on getting to the next moment that we never stop to enjoy the one we’re in.