On the Mysterious Secret of Slowing Down

Last Sunday evening after dinner I was washing a pot. I was washing it very mindfully.  I was noticing the feel of the warm, soapy water on my hands. I thought about how the pot was made and how I infused the homemade vegan chili in this large, heavy blue pot with love. Most importantly I was slowly and methodically removing the food that was stuck to the bottom of the pan. I thought back to a lesson I just cannot seem to always remember – “To go faster you must slow down”.

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I led a fast paced adult life until about 2 years ago. So fast that I hardly had time to think. Washing a pot with food stuck to the bottom has always reminded me of this paradox; thanks to a visit from my mother a few years before she passed away. When my children were young and I was first married, we had little money, but I kept a really good home. I felt very on top of things. But I was rushed back then too. I was so rushed that I never really had time to deal with pots that ended up with years worth of stains on them. In late 2001 my mother came to visit with her new husband Boris. I had only just met him, and I know he made my mother very happy. He was from Venezuela. My mom talked so much about how laid back he was and how he got her to slow down, grow out her hair, and stop fussing so much with make up and keeping up the house. I made a big dinner when they came to visit, and afterward there were many pots and pans that needed cleaning. My mother and Boris came into the kitchen to help and stationed themselves at the sink; she on dish duty, he on drying duty. What seemed like only moments later while I was putting the leftover food into containers, I noticed Boris drying off one of the pots. What caught my eye about a particular pot that usually had brown and black soot on the bottom was that it was so shiny and clean. Years worth of food and cooking build up was gone! I asked my mother how she did that and so fast… she only smiled with a glint in her eye and said “Boris showed me how”. She never told me with words, but with her eyes she told me to slow down and go easy. The next time I had to clean a pot and ever since I’ve taken my time, used far less pressure than I ever would have and they have always come clean. Working in a rush and with too much pressure used more time and never yielded the same results. I never understood how, it’s just the way it works.

I learned this 17 years ago, but I still don’t always remember or practice this principle. Two years ago I slowed down immensely, truly savoring the small, day-to-day moments, and oddly enough I found myself to be happier, more at peace and with more time than I ever had. It’s not only time, but also about ‘less’. Doing less, trying less, having less… all equal less stress and more joy.

Last week I had the luxury of traveling with my husband and a group of amazing individuals from my yoga studio to a jungle sanctuary in Costa Rica. Getting to this sanctuary required two commercial flights, a puddle jumper plane, a 45 minute car ride, and then a 20 minute hike crossing a river four times. It was hot and humid; the type of humidity where you never dry off, even after a shower.

The only way on and off the sanctuary is a 20 minute-plus hike. On the last full day of the trip, my husband Daren and I ventured off the property to the sanctuary’s closest neighbor Nena, in pursuit of pure organic extra virgin coconut oil. It was a short walk over a bridge that overlooks the ocean to Nena’s house. For the previous two days, Daren & I opted to take some excursions off the property with our group. Both days were a little hectic and obscenely hot at times. I felt ambivalent all morning about whether or not we should take the walk down the hill to get this coconut oil, mainly because it was hot. For some reason I said I’d like to go but I wanted to walk slowly. So off we went to Nena’s house for coconut oil.

Daren and I really took our time. We stopped and looked at monkeys. We watched little birds. We passed our friend the white cow. When we left the property and crossed the street we stopped on the bridge. Actually, Daren on the bridge and called out to me “Babe, look at this view!”. Slightly annoyed, I stopped to look. I was initially feeling rushed, looked at my watch and started calculating how much time it would take to get to Nena’s, buy this coconut oil, trek back, “relax” at the pool, and then dash off to the next yoga class. However, when I turned my head to the left and saw the scene, my heart rate actually slowed down a bit. I couldn’t believe I was about to just walk by and miss this scene! I took it in. While standing there I couldn’t help but notice this insane harried American thought pattern and I pushed it completely away. When I stopped and didn’t worry about the time, I was able to remember that I was here in this beautiful place, at this beautiful moment, with my beautiful husband and a group of beautiful well-lit individuals. I stopped my physical, then mental body from the rush of insanity and fleeting thoughts to appreciate the view and the view of my husband appreciating the view.
We stood there a while in silence. I took a few pictures and resisted the urge to snap more. More is not better. More pictures, more talk, more activity… more, more, more… No, no, no… I know this, but I live in a world that tells me the opposite; so it’s easy to forget.
It was I who broke the silence after a long while. I had the profound realization that because we walked slowly we weren’t as hot as we were the rest of the trip. I intellectually knew that before we walked and even made that suggestion, but it was even more profound to experience that it worked. It dawned on me that every time I go anywhere where the weather is warm all the time, the locals move slowly. I heard other Americans and Canadians joking about how the natives live on “Costa Rican time”. I’ve heard the same joke in other places. All these Americans and Europeans thinking it’s so funny to crack jokes about how slow everyone moves, when really the joke is on us. What is wrong with us? We are the dummies sweating in the sun because we are rushing around like lunatics. It’s our culture that is uptight, wound up and stressed. What are we in a rush to do anyway? At that moment on the bridge I decided to put my watch in my pocket and let the day pass as it may. Strangely there seemed to be just the right amount of time for everything once I stopped worrying at all about it.

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Daren with our friend the pretty white cow who was often on the path onto and off the sanctuary.
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The view I nearly just didn’t notice

When we start to move too fast, we often do not see what we need to see. (Huffington Post 2015 – Why Going Slow Will Make You Go Faster). This applies to work, our lives with our families and friends, or achieving any of our goals. Maybe it’s not just what we need to see, but what will enhance our everyday experiences.

In the midst of this jungle last week we were surrounded by wildlife. It was beautiful, simple, exotic, intoxicating, and natural. This was a yoga group at a yogic sanctuary. Yogi’s might be more aware than most about the beauty of being conscious, but are no less human and subject to falling prey to being unconscious in a world that keeps dangling shiny temptations all around. One of my teachers deliberately did not go on one of the daily excursions on a day that every other single one of the group did. She said she did not want to feel rushed, and she sat watching monkeys for several hours that day instead. The message she took away is that the monkeys were there all along, providing the same level of awe and entertainment, but had one not taken the time to just stop and observe, it would have been missed.

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The evening we returned to Connecticut from Costa Rica, Daren and I found ourselves on a line at a McDonald’s drive through on the way home from the airport at 11:45 at night. By that point in the day we had been up & en route home since 5:15am. We had only one square meal. We were tired, dirty and stressed. Hurry up and wait. We almost missed a connecting flight because Passport Control was a hot mess when we got back into the U.S. We were waiting on a very long car line at 11:45pm for an absolutely nutritiously poor meal (well Daren was waiting, I was looking forward to some soup at home). We were stressed. Daren was tapping at the wheel. I was mentally trying hard to not fall into the trap of ordering something greasy or feeling upset over the slow moving line, all while trying to stay cheerful so my husband could stay positive too. In my mind I was doing math again about the number of things I needed to do the next day to get ready for the week, wondering how I could fit them in. How much mail was there? Who is taking the dog to the vet Thursday? What should I pull out for dinner tomorrow? Should I go shopping? I needed to inventory the food situation at home first, right? With every thought I felt my blood pressure rising. And every time I noticed my breath becoming rapid and shallow or my heart racing, I made the conscious decision to breath deeply and live in the moment. That only lasts a few moments out here in the “real world” until the thoughts & heart start to race again. How could you explain this feeling to someone in the third world?

We may have been in the middle of the jungle, but the concrete jungle creates artificial stressors that make living life to the fullest impossible. It’s impossible because living life to the fullest was taught to me that one need to fit in as much “fun”, work, and activities that one possibly can. This means learning as much as you can, moving quickly, multi-tasking, making lots of money to do these amazing things (because heck they aren’t free!), AND providing these amazing experiences to our offspring. Making money means more rushing and more stress. For most, making money means sitting in a car or in some form of transportation for unfathomable periods of time each day, to do a job you hardly ever see the results of or feel connected to, for far too many hours each day. Then rushing home to activities and usually harried, unhealthy meals – if you are lucky with loved one(s). Weekends for the most are spent putting your living quarters back together from the rush of the busy week by cleaning, doing laundry, shopping, shuffling other humans around and spending “quality” time with other humans you are supposed to care for to keep your social life active and your role as a parent connected with your children. In between you must squeeze in the “fun” and “experiences” you are going out to make all that money for, but also it’s very important to exercise, meditate, perform self-care, visit the doctor-dentist-optometrist regularly, prepare healthy organic, locally grown ingredient-based meals at home and sleep enough hours per night just so you don’t get fat, stressed or sleep deprived. You know… so you can be happy and experience life to the fullest. Sounds insane to me!

The Harvard Business Review writes about how this slow to go fast paradox works in business as well. When we take the time to get things right, rather than plow ahead full bore, we are far more successful in meeting objectives (Harvard Business Review 2010 – Need Speed? Slow Down).
Physics teaches us that time is relative. Slowing down means time slows down with you. I can’t explain why this is, it’s just is. Another exquisite paradox is that it also helps you appreciate and truly experience more. Additionally life and experiences become less expensive, less material and far less stressful. This article is a bit more on the holistic side, but resonates with me because it talks about how when you work less you work better, find what really makes you happy, have the ability connect with others, and are able to savor life (Wholesome Living – 10 reasons why you should slow down to go faster).

The overall message for me is that slowing down = living life to the fullest. I keep forgetting, but the time between which I do is growing larger and larger. I hope that others who haven’t given it a whirl do! There’s nothing to lose but old, tired ideas of what it means to life our lives to the absolute fullest.

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Sunrise one morning from the Tower at the Sanctuary
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Sunset one evening on the beach of Santa Theresa Costa Rica

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The connection and beauty of two negative recent events in my life 

I have a deeper appreciation for life and moving about throughout the day, as I’ve never had before. Two things happened in the past few months that helped me to come to this realization. I started taking an SSRI and I had outpatient knee surgery. Two different things for completely different reasons, but in all honesty both were because I was moving through life too quickly and absentmindedly. Both have completely slowed me down and fattened me up (just a little!) And it’s not all a bad thing.

Back in March I literally lost my marbles and thankfully became completely aware that fooling myself into sleeping more or doing more yoga or meditating more often were going to be my cure. Truthfully, I was unable to do any of those things anymore where I was able to enjoy them. Yoga while it felt good physically did not slow my thoughts or help me to ‘just be’ like it used to. Meditation was a joke. My old tricks for going within and being still did not work any longer. I sat there diligently, but was unable to stop the racing in my head.

I did all I could to keep up with my life. I was (and still am) the most organized person I know. Trust me when I say that everything was as efficient as can be. No time management tips would help, I would read them and feel like I could write a better article and even had tips for the author. Stretched thin. No room for error. One miscommunication between a family member and the whole string of well planned events and pick-ups would fall apart. No way to live.

A few days before the marble losing I went to a routine Thursday morning report out for my organization’s senior leadership. As usual I prepared at the last minute, was in a rush, but put together something beautiful and well coordinated. I went into the usual conference room. My employee pulled up the presentation while I pulled up my rolling chair under the dark large oval wooden conference room table. SLAM! I hit my right knee really hard on one of the legs of the table. All around oohs, ouches, “I heard that”, “you didn’t need that knee, haha” went around. I shrugged it off and trekked on. About 24 hours later I was meeting with my small department of 4 and realized my knee hurt. I wondered why as I plowed through a packed, quick agenda. As I was talking and rubbing my knee I remembered that I hit it the day before and slightly wondered why it took so long to hurt. That night we went out to dinner with some friends at a ski lodge and it hurt even more.

The next day Daren and I went into NY city for the evening and we were so busy and so stressed that I didn’t have time to think about my knee. It was the next morning that seemingly out of no where I had my first well overdue panic attack. While I cried the whole way home I did notice my knee hurt, but it wasn’t until past 9pm the next night while getting ready for bed that I even noticed how swollen and red it was. Daren was at a hockey practice, I wanted him to look at it, but I was asleep before he even got home.

Long story short, the next few weeks were filled with panic attacks and knee aspirations. The panic got worst faster. I realized I had to start medicine. I had no where else to cut back. And have you ever tried “relaxing” while in a non-stop adrenaline rush? If you haven’t, take my word that it doesn’t work. I noticed once I started the SSRI how often my body was in fight or flight while my brain started to calm down. Wow, I lived like this all the time? Head starting to chill, body still reacting to outside stressors and knee getting worse.

I first went to a walk in urgent care 5 days after the impact where I was urged to watch my knee for a few days. Don’t run on it, don’t lean on it, call the orthopedist in a week if it doesn’t get better. It didn’t stop swelling, but it stopped hurting. So I didn’t listen and ran on it and did yoga on it and didn’t call the orthopedist for 3 weeks. Who has time for this? At first I was getting it aspirated every two weeks and I would wonder if I should even go back because the swelling stayed down… at least of course a day or two before my next scheduled appointment. Then it started to swell sooner and I was going for weekly knee drains. The 2nd to last time I went, it was swollen when I took my bandage off the same night. And the next time I went to the orthopedist I nearly fainted from the lightheartedness of the doctor trying to massage the fluid out of my knee into the needle. Nothing was coming out anymore. Some kind of wall built up in my knee and no routine procedures were going to help it any longer. I needed to consider surgery or live with this wall that created a big puffy golf ball knee.

It’s funny because I feel like the knee mirrored a really rapid physical rendition of the mental decomposition that I experienced over the past few years. I was in too much of a rush, not paying attention, & unknowingly hurting myself. Then ignoring all of the early warning signs and doing the least amount possible to tend to a deteriorating condition because I was busy, I had important things to do damn it. Until I hit a wall both mentally at first and then one actually built up in my knee. An impenetrable wall that needed medical interventions to break down. Both happened within days of each other. It wasn’t until I really had no choice but to live with the pain or deal with it medically that I realized my decisions to live like I do is harming me. My body is all I have, why wasn’t I taking care of it?
I had some medication adjustments, a rough few weeks. Far and fewer panic attacks. And finally outpatient knee surgery last Monday. I’m not believing that I am a changed woman yet, but I’ve had the MOST relaxing weeks of my life.

Since March I have rediscovered the library. I’ve been reading a book a week or so. Fiction books. Nothing intellectual or about business or world religions or how to live more simply… Just fiction books with no meaning. I’ve also started having bi-weekly massages. Daren and I have been spending more time at home, in our house, making the outside pretty for the spring and sipping cocktails in the evening while reading or watching tv. Fun tv. Not documentaries or the history channel. We watch the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. I’ve started coloring mandalas thanks to a few of my girlfriends who got me the most coolest yogic pack of goodies for my birthday. I’ve been frequenting the shops right in my town and enjoying what is so close around me. The natural food store, the eastern/Polynesian based massage parlor, the local taverns. I have discovered I love craft beer and IPAs. I often go to the coffee shop in my town now too. There is a green tea matcha latte I just love there. And when I have time I’ll bring a book or my computer and write for fun… like I’m doing right now on the beach, on Long Island. In my old stomping ground where just the roads and trees and weeds look like home. I’ve been going back to sleep in the mornings when I don’t have to rush off for work. The lexapro has made me less anxious and some might say more lazy. In all of my adult life I was raring to go the moment I opened my eyes. Did my body feel tired? Hell yes. But there was so much to do, even on the weekends. Weeds were growing, dishes were in the sink from the night before, there were pets to feed, exercise to keep myself moving, shopping, cleaning, kid shuttling, food to make, some place to go or person to meet or emergency to tend to. The list goes on. Who had time to sleep? I’d be wasting it. My dad taught me that as a young kid. We weren’t allowed to sleep in. In his Italian accent he’d bang on our doors and tell us we were “sleeping your lifes off”.

But now those things I just had to get up for didn’t seem so important. They could wait. They would be there yes, but they didn’t loom over my head like before. When I have given myself permission to try in the past I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. But now I spontaneously just do. Even when I intend to get up, sometimes I do and other times I can hear my body; and it tells me that it would like to sleep a little longer. And I’m a better person for it.

However, this past week took the cake in slowing down and chilling out. I had the surgery on Monday. It didn’t hurt too much at first. I got dressed and walked into the house from the car. I sat on the back deck with a book and my leg up. And I slept. For hours. I’m sure it was the anesthesia, but gosh it felt good. I woke up in time for dinner. We ate on the porch with my leg up. It was starting to hurt a little more. I asked Daren if we could walk Koji. I wanted to move but by the time we made it across the street I was really faint. Daren helped me back in and onto the couch. I stayed there the rest of the evening with some tea and the company of my family, the pets and Game of Thrones. I felt faint going upstairs for bed, in the middle of the night when I had to get up to use the bathroom and again the next morning when I came downstairs for coffee. I stayed home from work that day. Daren set me up with my computer, some books, tea, and the remotes. I slept even more. The house was nice and quiet. The animals slept all around me. I got up a few times and made some lunch and decided to get my shoes (extremely slowly) on to walk down the street. No more faint feeling. Nice & slow. I had no where to go and nothing to do and realized for the first time in a long time that it had been several days since I felt any kind of stress. My body too… No stress. No pumping heart or fight or flight. Just homeostasis.

Our cul de sac looked so sweet shining in the sun after a morning full of rain. I hardly walk down my own street or know my neighbors. Their houses look so much like ours but they all have their own unique little decorations and landscaping.

A co-worker offered to pick me up the next day. I accepted the offer. I walked slow into work. And moved slowly all day. I had to wonder why I always felt the need to take on too much, rush around or cram it all in? I took my bandages off on Thursday and really noticed the difference in my legs while on the ferry in Friday on the way down to Long Island for Memorial Day weekend. I saw and felt the swelling of the right leg and curves of the other. My feet, my nails, the differences in my knees. Yesterday morning in the shower I was amazed at the great beauty of legs in general. The veins, the joints, how they bend and move and carry us through life. I’m so lucky to have working legs. Anyone who has them is lucky. We take them for granted. I made myself some breakfast and ate in the sunroom while watching the birds. I was in awe of the food. I had an egg white omelette with mushrooms and some blueberries and raspberries on the side. I was thinking about each single raspberry and how with some water and the sun each little bump grew very slowly over the course of each day until they were perfectly ripened and picked off the vine. I ate each berry one at a time marveling in the sweet taste that I so often take for granted. I want to and need to slow down.
We spent the day outside yesterday. I figured out how to do 60 minutes of yoga and not need to lean on my knees or bend them more than 45 degrees. Food tastes wonderful. The trees are so alive with their new spring leaves. With each passing day that the SSRI helps me relax and my knee is healing I’m so thankful for life and I can feel the ever so subtle differences in my healing. Both mentally and physically. One little piece of healing at a time. The same way that each little raspberry grows a little piece of each bump each day. Life is so beautiful. I want to bask in it and kiss it, dance with it and roll around and laugh with it.

This morning I woke up at 6:30 when Daren got up to drive Kieran to his new job at the country club. I felt inspired and started to write this. Then I stopped. Instead of writing I just wanted to experience! I opened the blinds to one of the windows in Daren’s old bedroom and saw the sunny trees and just listened to the sounds of different birds. I laid back down and enjoyed the silence and birds and serenity. I started to get sleepy and pulled up the covers to go back to sleep. I want to turn over a new leaf and be more with nature. I did ask to cut back some hours at work and thankfully the powers that be said yes. I want to feel this way without a knee slowing me down or medication in my body. That means I need to do things a little differently. We all need to live a little more and “do” a little less. Be present a little more and absent a lot less. Every single stinking moment is important and it’s our choice to live in it and be grateful for it, or be absent and regret the past. I’m so ready to live more in the here and now and so thankful I am learning this before I let my life slip away another minute. Namaste.

 

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My struggle with stress

The familiar heart pounding experience sets in. My whole body tenses. I have a slight shake, and I kind of feel like I’m slightly rocking back and forth in the upper part of my body. My temples tense and kind of pulsate. Fear grips me. A slight bit of heat overcomes me. My body is in full on fight or flight mode. One would think I see a tiger that is about to eat me and I need to make a quick life saving decision. But the truth of the matter is all that I’m doing is checking my work email right now.

I feel like I’m doing too many things. In general. I feel stressed. Like all the time. Today is Wednesday, April 20th. I just came back from a most awesome yet very demanding week of visiting colleges with my husband and daughter. I was pretty relaxed all week. It is an unusual feeling for me. The noise in my head was shut down a few times. Totally quiet. Usually there is a myriad of several demanding things competing for my attention. And even on the rare occasions when there isn’t such as when I’m driving, getting ready to go to bed or uncommonly watching tv, there is still a background static of things I should be doing, forgot about, am worried about, want to look up… the list goes on.

This week it was mostly quiet in my head. It felt great. Maybe what normal non-stressed, anxiety ridden people feel like. Perhaps I’m changing I foolishly think to myself. That thought was shattered yesterday when my flight was delayed in Dallas. It was just me and Gabby coming home with many things to do as soon as we got home. First the connection was tight. I started to tense up then when I realized this only after the plane landed and I looked down at the next boarding pass. I mentally started to plot the route out of the deplaning process to the next gate. I watch with increasing frustration as people move out ever so so slowly. Stopping as they are pulling down their overhead luggage and talking to another passenger as if they cannot do two things at once and suddenly this very trivial conversation about the weather outside is more important. People with wheelchairs and strollers seem to just jump in our way, getting in as if they have all the time in the world. Stopping to laugh and admire the child who is running off and not getting in the stroller while blocking a plane full of people behind them. Gabby and I finally make it into the terminal only to realize we are in terminal A and need to be in terminal C. We are both starving. We stop at Starbucks knowing we will be a few minutes late to the start of boarding time, but agree it’s more important to grab food since we didn’t have time for breakfast and it was almost noon. Starbucks is painstakingly slow too. The girl making my smoothie is moving at molasses pace and kept stopping to flirt with an American Airlines employee who is leaning over the counter to talk to her. She doesn’t even look at me when she hands me the drink and says “have a nice day”. My blood started completely racing. We book on out of there and rush to the gate only to see there is a 10-minute delay. My mind starts mentally calculating what a 10-minute delay will do when we get home. I find that we can still be 45 minutes late and will have plenty of time to pick up the dog from where he is being boarded. Gabby and I find a seat quite far from the gate and take a moment to breath. I return a phone call to the dentist, write a thank you to the friends we just stayed with, and wrote a restaurant review. 15 minutes pass. Then 20. Radio silence from the airline. Only 10 minutes more. Then 10 more. Then it’s unknown. The stress really sets in. I call Koji’s boarding place to add another night. I go through all my work email. I start to mentally plot how to best carry in the bags, go through the mail, scrape cat litter, get the laundry rolling and shower before work tomorrow. I have a grocery delivery coming that will likely also get delayed if this plane doesn’t take off soon. My mind is racing. I can’t read or meditate or do any of the things that one would do to chill. Suddenly I get the idea to calculate whether or not I want to “waste” another vacation day tomorrow. As I weigh the options I notice my muscles and jaw relax at the thought. I text my boss and start to unwind just a bit. I will be ok. I’m still stressed but at a lower level. Gabby is stressed and has all her homework pulled out in the terminal and is balancing it on her legs. She later tells me she was on the verge of tears. My real life starts to set back into my thoughts. The quiet is gone. I’m back to my normal stressed baseline.

Life right? Most people have similar experiences or far worse. First world problems. They are so silly in comparison to disease and starvation. I struggle to realize this. Telling myself this doesn’t quiet the noise in my head. My husband and I are both outside of the home for work at least 11+ hours per day. We have 4 kids between the two of us. One is at college now and is a huge help when home. Another drives which made life so much easier. The 3 living at home are in 3 different schools. 2 of the schools are 30 minutes away in the opposite direction from each other and without transportation services for the two younger kids that don’t drive. One of the kids is in hockey at least 4 days a week and anyone familiar with the sport knows it’s actually a lifestyle. The other two play sports and one still needs rides quite often. We have 3 cats, a dog and 3 fish. We have ex-spouses with complicated schedules and arguments over legal issues. My husband’s ex travels quite often and doesn’t communicate well. She lives ½ hour away and the kids often forget things they absolutely need in either house. My ex recently moved over an hour away out of state and insists my 16-year old daughter drive herself up there every other weekend as if he still lived down the road. It makes me nervous for her to drive so far and on highways with a new license. She stresses about her homework and not being able to see friends when she goes up there. Weekends are filled with trips to these schools, sports and friends all in towns quite far from our home; prepping food, taking care of the lawn and garden, trying to squeeze in some personal exercise, getting the dog out of the house to burn out some of his high energy, maintaining the home and fixing whatever needs fixing. If we use a weekend to get away or visit the older one in college we need to squeeze this other stuff in elsewhere during the week between concerts, sports practice, dinner meetings, after work medical, dental, and veterinary appointments. Not to mention during the week there is getting dinner on the table, laundry, homework, lunch prepping, mail, phone messages, some crisis to avert or bill to straighten out or package to pack up and squeeze in sending out or returning. Every new thing elevates my stress just a little more. I mostly capitalize on it to plot the next course of action in the most effective streamlined possible way. Work is the same. As new emails pop in, calendar items are added, thoughts to explore from my well meaning co-workers and superiors are piled on; my heart pounds, I tense, and I breath erratically. I try to avoid people in the halls or in my suite who want to chat or connect over something mutual because I don’t have the time. I’m thinking 20 steps ahead at how I’m going to accomplish it all and stopping to smell the roses and have human interaction wasn’t part of the plan. I feel like I must look like a walking lunatic; however I’m always surprised to hear that people think I’m friendly and outgoing, seem to have all the time in the world and pull it all together so seamlessly.

I am so ingrained in this system that when I have a few minutes to read at night before bed or a moment to catch my breath and enjoy an afternoon out on the weekend or time with friends that I feel like I must be crazy to think I have a hectic life because look I have time now and I’m not stressed. All in all, that is probably like 5% of my life. It’s so enjoyable that it keeps me going the other crazy 95%. 95% of the time I’m in fight or flight mode.

Thanks to my decision to take today off to unwind and catch up, this morning I woke up softly and did not have to rush. I felt relaxed and well rested. I had coffee, checked Facebook, and responded to my texts with time, attention and enjoyment. When I left to pick up the dog I had the most lovely 9-minute ride. I felt the sun on my skin, the air coming through the window. I looked at the trees and bushes. I heard other people’s music. I was SO in the moment. I was not rushed, sort of like the people getting off the plane yesterday. While I waited for the dog and saw people dropping off their pets for daycare in a rush and in tights, heels, and neck hugging ties all stressed out that it was taking so long I felt thankful that wasn’t me today. Koji and I drove home in peace. We had nowhere to be. He oscillated between having his head out the window and coming over to me to give doggie love. We got home. I fed him and enjoyed watching him enjoying being home. We went upstairs to keep the laundry moving. He sat at my feet while I folded the big, messy, unruly pile into nice neat beautifully folded laundry. My bedroom windows were open. The sun was shining in. I folded the laundry with love. Looking at my clothes, the stitching, the lace… I never noticed these things before. My husband’s shirt he wore on Friday, his running clothes. I thought about him in them and how much I love him. When I went to put the towels away in the bathroom I noticed the pictures on the wall. I hardly see them. I remember the day Daren and I bought them in Marshalls a few years ago. They are pictures of tranquil beach scenes from a porch front. They match the blue and white walls and trim. My bathroom looked picturesque itself this morning with the sun shining in the windows. The plants on the window sills were sitting there alongside the candles. I hardly ever notice them. We rushedly water them every week as we cross off a chore on the list. We don’t lite those candles, but gosh they are pretty. We don’t have time. I want that time. I put away the laundry and feel inspired to write about this. I feel good, calm, peaceful, happy.

I walk downstairs and pull out my computer. I look at my to do list I made for today. I took the day off to catch up so there is quite a bit to do. The list starts to make my heart pound. I pull up my work email to put on my out of office and decide to go through all the new emails that arrived since the airport yesterday since it will make my job of going back to work easier tomorrow. I look at my calendar too for tomorrow. I have back-to-back meetings ALL day except for 2 hours. There were things to prep for that I should be doing. There is an email string with some friends of mine from work about a happy hour that keeps interrupting me in a good way but an interruption none-the-less. I start to stress. And then I stopped. I stopped and starting writing. It’s what my heart wants to do.

This is how I live. I thought it was normal to feel like this all of the time. For the past 4-5 years I have been telling my husband how stressed I feel. As I started to discover spirituality and yoga I felt the intense need to slow down. As I started to realize how incongruent most of my day is in comparison to what my heart wants to do I started to feel more stress ironically. I began reading up on things where I feel a natural call like helping those less fortunate, fighting for womens and minority rights, animal rights, educating our society on thinking of others, the homeless… Not doing these things felt wrong as I got in my car everyday to start my soul sucking commute to work. I make a salary I’m proud of and have a job that helps society, but the money made gets poured right back into the society I’m not sure I believe in any longer and “bettering” the kids. I had to start wondering all what for. What are the kids getting better at? Learning how to run around like crazy lunatics in the hope for “success”? 2 of them are seriously stressed as young teenagers already. What is success? Is it making a lot of money and doing the same for your offspring? Spending so much time feeling like you do a good job at work that enjoying life, human interaction, the family & pets are the last thing you have time for? Because we are so busy we use a grocery delivery service, a maid service and our dog goes to daycare. We order everything online. I don’t see my house and my belongings as I wipe the dust from a scenic picture I picked out. I don’t see the joy in my dog’s face as he runs free with other dogs. I’m not the one playing catch with him, I’m only reading about how much fun he had on the report card I get from his daycare. I’m watching the kid’s sporting events mentally calculating the time and how I’m going to get everything crammed in. When I fall down in an exhausted heap at the end of the night on the couch to watch tv for a few moments before I know I will drift off and a cat immediately jumps on me to sit in view of the tv, and starts purring; I am slightly annoyed rather than overjoyed that this little bundle of love wants anything to do with me after feeding them twice that day and scraping their litter was nothing more than another chore to cross off the to-do list.

I enjoy very little of what I work for anymore. I’m stressed all the time. I wake up many mornings already in fight or flight as soon as my eyes open. Daren will ask me what is wrong and I’ll tell him I’m stressed and anxious. I go downstairs to squeeze in my daily exercise at 4:45 am and try to enjoy a cup of coffee, but I feel like a beast and try not to snap at my well meaning family as they seemingly pile more information and requests on me.

As I said, I thought it was normal. It all came to a head a few weeks ago though. While driving to New York city after a long Saturday afternoon of running the kids around, watching Gabby’s fencing match, and knowing she is driving to Massachusetts alone; Daren and I had some time to catch up on home business we needed to exchange. A few disturbing conversations with the kids, I had slight worry from a semi-argument I had with Tommy earlier that week, and there was the possibility of another pending lawsuit with Daren’s ex. To boot we were running late to catch our show at the Opera and I wasn’t sure we would even have time to eat before the show. I felt the old familiar pangs of stress. But often times I don’t have time to address them so I ignore them. This particular night I didn’t want to engage in these conversations. Daren passed them along to me as one might pass along information at a meeting to their employees that they needed to know. I just listened and stared out the window trying to control my breathing and thinking about how to deal with all of this tomorrow after we come home from the city. Well at 2am I woke up in a panic. I often do. I put all the worries aside for the evening and they woke me up. Luckily this time I fell back to sleep. At 7am Daren and I both woke up. I had one of those mornings where I had the fight or flight feeling as soon as I opened my eyes. Daren was trying to have a nice sunny conversation that I was ignoring as I tried to understand why I felt so stinking anxious. He asks me what is wrong. I tell him I’m anxious. He tells me I’m always anxious. He doesn’t understand this and this is normal dialogue for us. Only that day something different happened. Because there was no house to take care of and place to rush off to, as we got ready to leave without too much distraction I started to get more and more anxious. It got so bad I had a panic attack. It was the first time I had one. I wasn’t scared, I knew exactly what I was. I rode it out. It passed but I had an unsettled feeling for the whole ride home and cried most of the way. Daren could not understand what was wrong. All I could explain is that I was anxious. He asked about what. I tell him about the various things and he says that is just life. I don’t want this to be my life. We have choices about how to live. I live how I’ve been told we should live and I’ve been confused ever since I started questioning this. Two days later while driving to work I started to feel myself working up to a panic attack again while thinking about the upcoming day. I kept control of it. I walked up the stairs to work and the act of being slightly breathless put me right into another panic attack. No one was at work yet so I went right into my office, pulled the curtain and closed the door. I rocked myself back to a normal state after about 10 minutes of hyperventilating and crying. Two days later the same thing happened again. And then it happened the next night, and then the morning after. The next Wednesday evening after Date Night and Daren and I sat in the car outside of the restaurant, I thought about how the night went so fast and I never had time to talk to him about how we can possibly change our lifestyle to ease up on life on the sooner side rather than waiting until the youngest kid graduates in 5+ years… I had the worst panic attack yet. 3 of the kids were home. We were late. I didn’t want them to see me such a wreck. I wasn’t sure what to do.

I knew I had to take the next day off and go to the doctor. I didn’t want drugs. I can control this. I’ll do more yoga, try to actually meditate before bed every night and not just once a week. I’ll start a regular pranayama practice. I’ll figure out later where to squeeze it in. While I’m off I might as well book the hotels for Gabby’s college search week, set up my new phone because the screen cracked on my old one, and do the 90 other things I never get around to do. I took the next day off too for two more needed appointments including having my dental bondings replaced. I felt like I was able to get stuff done and catch up. I knew I’d be fine if I could only catch up. I was a new woman. We had no kids that weekend but still did quite a bit of game visiting and kid shuffling. I also had my monthly yoga teacher training. None-the-less I was fairly relaxed and felt caught up. Daren barely recognized the nice, funny, chill girl he met and fell in love with. Monday the stress began again. Another panic attack. Tuesday I went to my PCP and decided I need help. I did not want anti-anxiety drugs but at this point I felt it could possibly be the only way out. I strategically scheduled this appointment to coincide with Gabby’s annual physical to take the least amount of time off from work as humanly possible. As I waited for her to come out, I started reading about Lexapro. I panicked even more seeing that it could cause weight gain and doesn’t always work. I waited days before starting. I was so afraid. I had an official diagnosis now and was so embarrassed by this. I could never let anyone know, they wouldn’t understand. What would the kids or our exes think? My in-laws? People at work? What if I gain weight? What if it I become dependent? I was having anxiety about taking an anti-anxiety drug.

What helped me come to a decision was the VERY few people online who said it worked. The ones who said they had no sexual side effects, no weight gain and that they can’t believe they suffered so long while this was an option to feel normal again. Some posted about how they came off the meds and learned to better manage their lives while on it a few months. They were my inspiration. I wanted that too. After much hesitation I took my first pill. I started to journal about my experience. It has been a rollercoaster. I did have some side effects but they are starting to get under control. It’s only been 5 weeks, and I’m kind of starting to feel better. I still feel my body in fight or flight, but my mind isn’t following as much of the time. It has less of a stigma to me now and I’m less afraid to tell people about my struggle. I’ve since learned that 1 in 3 people suffer from anxiety. We are out of balance because our world is out of balance. It’s a choice about whether or not to participate in this out of balance world. I need to start working in the lifestyle changes now and making different decisions. Today was a start by deciding not to try to cram in going to work, getting my sweet dog and not having him spend another day at the kennel, and taking the time to write about my experience and not just get on with my to do list. I would like to evaluate all the choices I make and how I spend my time. I want to enjoy my life. See the beauty in my pets and home. Be able to talk to humans that reach out to my without thinking about what I’m not doing. Notice the sun and how it falls upon the trees far more often. I want to be contributing to the world in a new way that doesn’t include being a part of the problem of rushing to the next thing to make money that you need to spend just to keep up with your life.

I feel a call to change and contribute my talents and passions in a new way. I’m not sure how yet. I’m not sure I want to share this but I probably will. Hopefully this is the start of a new journey. I feel peace and love right now. The stress I had when I started writing has lifted. I am home with my very happy doggie. I want to flip the current status and feel peace 95% of the time and stress for 5% of it. I want others to have that too. The world would be such a better place if we did that, and we all pitched in to help the world to do that. I know it’s possible, it just has to be. Namaste.

Koji enjoying being home:

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