I think we can all agree that, as a society, we are the antithesis of calm.
Everyday, whether we're conscious of it or not, we're propagating a runaway train of frenzied, hectic to-do lists and schedules. I'm totally guilty of waking up, making sure that Aleks has some sort of breakfast food to accompany him while he watches Netflix, and then settling straight into social media.
My nervous system is bombarded with all the exciting things that almost 1,000 of my friends are doing on Facebook, 400 perfectly curated Instagram accounts, and about 30 e-mail newsletters weekly in my inbox.
I may log on just to see what everyone is doing, or I might have had an actual reason to be on social media (pfft, does this really exist?), but after 5 minutes my attention is usually caught up in a storm of "wow, look at what that person is doing! I should be doing that, too." or "sigh, that long lost friend who I knew for 2 months when I worked in Ottawa on a university co-op term in 2003 is taking the most amazing vacation. I want to do that, too!".
There has never been a time in history when we've had instant access to so many people, or have been influenced by what every Tom, Dick, and Harry are doing every second of their lives.
It's not exactly new to want to share ourselves with the world. Samuel Pepys kept a daily journal of the minutia of his life (including talking about his pimped out new watch and his cat) from January 1, 1660 until 1669. It's just the fact that people can instantaneously read it that's been a game-changer.
However, with all the opportunity that this connectedness has created, is it really good for us?
If you've been following me on Instagram, you probably read in this post that I half decided (the other half was listening to what my body was telling me) to take all of August off. Like OFF. Like read 8 books, napping at 10 am, baking cookies, deleted the Facebook and Instagram app from my phone for 2 weeks, napped some more, went to counselling, an energy worker, a naturopath, and my doctor. Off.
I couldn't ignore my anxiety and what my body was telling me anymore. I would start crying for no reason. I was exhausted round the clock. My anxiety was making me feel like I had a vise around my chest, and like I was having a heart attack multiple times a day. What my body was screaming for me to do was to just be quiet and be still. To stop all the noise. To just be.
From the incredible response to that post on Instagram and Facebook, which included 175 likes, 52 comments, and 6 private messages, I can only gather that you all pretty much feel the same.
In fact, since I've started sending a message to all people who sign up for my free meal plan and newsletter e-mail list with the question "what are you struggling with right now?", I've had 161 responses. 125 of those responses included the phrases:
- no time
- busy husband
- stressed out
- no me time
Turns out, it's not just me, even though I was making myself feel like a complete and utter failure because I couldn't keep up with what everyone else seemed to be doing in "normal" life.
The proof was right in front of me, in e-mails directly from all of YOU, that I wasn't alone. So know that if you're feeling like you're the only one drowning, like you can't manage to get even one breath of fresh air and that life is pulling you under, that you're in the company of most of the people around you ... it's just no one is openly talking about it!
It occurred to me that some of you might want to know exactly how I managed to take a month off. I feel the same way when I see someone else on social media doing something I want to do. Like, how did they really do that? Not some generic answer, but the nitty gritty.
Well, there isn't really a "you want to extract yourself from your real life for 30 days, so follow these 5 steps" master plan.
I just had to listen to myself.
The day that I hit rock-bottom, which, by the way, is not at all necessary for starting this whole process, there was a thought that kept repeating itself in my head: "I want to take a month off of work".
I was scared shitless. I had no idea how I was even going to do it. How could I take a month off? Wouldn't my business fall apart without me? Didn't our family count on my income to partly support us? Wasn't I being the most selfish person on the entire earth? But that thought kept bubbling up, until it came out of my mouth and I told my mom and Ben. And they said "OK". Relief and tears washed over me.
Logistically, I had to let my essential oils team know, and put the vacation auto-responder on my e-mail, but that was it. Aleks was already in daycare, and he continued to go so that I could have time completely alone to figure my shit out. You may not need an entire month off, maybe you only need a week, or a day, but listen to yourself. If you work in an office, ask what their paid or un-paid policy is? I know you may not be able to afford to take an extended leave, and I couldn't either, but I was pretty much at the point of taking time off, or having to get some seriously hard-core mental health support. It really was that bad. My parents stepped in to partly support us while I took the time I needed, and it was greatly appreciated.
During my time off, I had to consciously ask myself every single day "Ashley, what do you feel like doing today?". It has been so long since I asked myself that, that I didn't have an answer for a few days. I waited until the feeling of wanting to do something entered me, instead of doing something just for the sake of doing it. I waited until I felt like reading (and gave myself the rule of no business or nutrition books), baking because I wanted to instead of recipe testing, doing a little yoga, learning how to hand letter, but mostly, I felt like sleeping. To be honest, there were days when I thought something was physically wrong with me. Who sleeps for 8 hours at night, then goes back to sleep 2 hours later? Well, me. And that was exactly what I needed.
I'll tell you what I didn't do: I didn't clean the house, or organize the basement. Half the time I didn't even empty the dishwasher until we were out of clean dishes.
I also did a 24 hour silent retreat, which I was terrified to do, but turned out to be some of the most restorative time I've had in the last 10 years. I left that retreat knowing one feeling that I wanted to experience very day: the feeling of being unhurried.
To me, being unhurried is different than being calm. Unhurried means that even though there are things that I could do, that I get to pick and choose what they are, and do things with joy and meaning behind them.
I can get Aleks ready for school feeling chaotic and rushed, or I can choose to feel unhurried.
I can choose to churn out product after product in my business, without putting my entire heart in it, or I can choose to feel unhurried, and wait until I get a divine download of a lesson that is yearning to be birthed into the world.
I can choose to post things every day on social media that don't mean anything to me simply because this person or that person is, or I can choose to feel unhurried and wait until that feeling in my chest grows that knows there is something that I have to share that will fill the world with a little bit more light and inspiration.
I'm choosing quality over quantity.
Now that I've been back to work a few days, is everything still perfect? No. Am I in a zen-like, blissed-out state 24/7? No. But everyday I am fighting like hell for that feeling of calm and being unhurried.
I wanna know: are you creating a life full of the way you want to feel ... or getting caught up in the noise? What are you going to do to feel the way you want?
P.S. I'm not sharing this with you so that I can feel all high and mighty. This past month was about being in the trenches, and feeling so low that I wasn't even worthy of a hug from my son. This is about me sharing my journey so that even one person can give themselves permission to do something they've wanted to do but didn't feel they could. Share the love if you think someone in your life would benefit from reading this post.