A few days ago a friend of mine posted something on facebook that I absolutely loved. She said, life is a journey and not a race. That is something I absolutely love and relate to especially with everything going on around us these days.
I always used to tell my friends and family that to me living is about the experience more than about the destination. It’s about what happens to me on my path there. I am the kind of person that gets excited about the car trip or plane ride with her friends, and the experience of it, just as much as she gets excited about where we are going. I care more about the people I would meet in a job, and the things I would learn, and the horizons I would expand more than I care about the job title, or the pay. I enjoy the process of making a meal, just as much as I enjoy the taste of it, to me the journey of the senses is what makes life pleasurable.I care about the how, more than the where.
When the current circumstances started, and the pandemic hit, people around me started going into an insane over achieving race, that I have to admit, I got caught up in, at the beginning as well. Suddenly everyone was on a mission to get that perfect quarantine body, perfect that head stand,people were posting home workouts and challenges like mad, they were the same people that were striving to bake the world, become the best homeschool teachers ever known to mankind and the Marie Kondo of their group. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to being productive, I am not opposed to taking your anxiety out by being active, I’m not opposed to keeping busy if that really helps you.
I am however, opposed to sharing all this so intensely on social media, creating an unhealthy vibe that unless you are achieving 90 things per second, and unless you’re using this pandemic to be super productive, then you are doing it wrong. That race to an invisible finish line that no one can see has taken such an unhealthy toll on some people’s mental health and self-esteem. Companies kept stating “business as usual” to every employee they had, and the reality of it, was no, it was not business as usual, and it could not possibly be. Even employees seemed to be in an invisible race of who could outwork the other.
After a couple of weeks, this started taking a toll on so many of us, myself included. Suddenly, the days blurred into night, I started losing track of time, sleep became so disturbed and I always felt like there was something I was missing out on, something I had to do. Suddenly for someone who was home, saving herself the three hour daily commute to work, and the one hour commute to the gym and back, time was never enough. I was always running behind, and I felt like everyone on the planet was overlapping me. It felt like the pistol for the race went off and no one told me, and I started getting myself into a frenzy.
Because I was trying to do so much, I couldn’t do anything at all. I started stressing out about my workouts, was I working out enough, my group was doing an hour every day, they were posting so many videos, and all I wanted to do was do my hour of Yin Yoga and leave myself in peace; but I felt pressured, like I was underperforming on an invisible test, so I did, what I sometimes do when super stressed, and unable to balance, I quit both things. I packed away my yoga mat, put away my salt lamps, and put away my workout gear, I wore my gym pants, simply because they had no buttons on them, and were easier to sit with at home.
The frenzy at work, was no better. I work with some very hard working people, but most of them have been there well before me, so they’re more caught up than I am, they are also centralized, while I am remote. They know the ins and outs and all the sudden, I felt like such an underachiever, and if any of you know me, I don’t do well with that, I always take pride in making things happen. All the sudden, I felt like I was drowning, I felt stupid in some calls or meetings, everything was moving at such a fast pace around me, and no one seemed frenzied by the pandemic. I felt like a wuss, why was I so shaken, and drowning, and lagging, basically, why was I sucking. Thankfully I did not quit my job, like I did the other two. However, I do promise you that I must have tearfully resolved to quit about 15 times in the span of the first couple of weeks.
Every time my friends kept telling me that it’s just an over glorified flu, that nothing has changed, or my gym group said quarantine is not an excuse to stop working out, or at work they said business as usual, I wanted to scream at them, I wanted to tell people, no, it is not as usual, it is not the norm, and yes fear, anxiety, uncertainty all this is an excuse to slow down if you are not feeling ok. The sad part is, I felt like it was just me that was feeling that way, that the rest of the world had a better handle on this than I did.
Then all the sudden, and in a way I could not explain how or why, I just stopped. I literally just stopped. I stopped running the invisible race, I stopped pretending that I could get in the 1 hour workout, and the 1 hour yoga flow, and the 30 minutes of meditation. I stopped pretending that on the days I did all this, I can still spend two hours in the kitchen baking a cake, or cooking up a meal, and at the same time doing all the work I had, without ever saying that I was overwhelmed. I just stopped, slowed down, and did what I should have done from the very beginning of the pandemic. I started breathing, just to calm myself down.
I became honest with myself, this year, my only achievement, will be to stay safe, and to stay alive. Anything else that comes my way, are bonus points. A pandemic is not the time to overachieve, heck, a pandemic is barely a time to achieve. Any one that tells you otherwise, I hope they genuinely mean it, cuz otherwise they are causing themselves more damage emotionally than they can imagine.
I started understanding that my mental health, is something I would like to keep intact, just as much as my physical health. I took a step back, and started looking at things from a calmer perspective. You want to know that I saw?
My friends at the gym, they stopped posting with the same frequency, my favorite gym buddies were messaging me about how guilty they felt that they couldn’t keep up that same momentum as before, one of them even reached the point of physical fatigue. My chef friends, they sometimes opted to make a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, because they got exhausted from all the food they were making, and wanted to catch a break. I realized that I wasn’t the only one at work that was overwhelmed, took a few honest souls to admit that, to realize that I wasn’t sucking at my job, I was still relatively new at my job and learning to navigate a relatively new and complex job at a time that is definitely a novelty to most of us. I realized that these people, just like me, are learning what to do. I realized that mistakes will happen at a much higher rate if I don’t raise my hand if I feel like I’m drowning. That it’s ok to say I’m feeling overwhelmed, or to say that I need help and that it doesn’t make me smaller if I say I don’t understand, what makes me smaller is pretending I do understand, being too proud to ask for help, and making everyone repeat the work.
The funny part is, as is the case with every mental struggle, we all thought we were in this alone. Each one of us shamefully hiding that they could no longer keep up with the invisible race to being the most multi-talented human being of 2020. It was an award that most of us learned that we cannot and do not want to win.
Some people are still being very active and are achieving the great things, and that is absolutely fine. But the majority of us, realized that it is ok to be scared and that your fear will take up space until you process it.
For me, I understood that this is one part of a journey, that there is no finish line, no destination, no end achievement, except simply, staying sane, staying safe and staying alive. So I decided to slow down, to find my silver linings.
I took my mom and drove out of Cairo, to our place in Sokhna, because I decided not to lose sight of my blessings, and realize that I am blessed to have a roof over my head, and to able to go somewhere where nature prevails. As the world came to a pause, I took a break and started to revel in nature. To revel in the serenity of the sea, to watch the flowers bloom, and to allow my thoughts and emotions to be processed. I started reflecting on my priorities in life, 3 months of doing nothing, can really help you see what your true “life essentials are” and honestly, they aren’t much. I started taking time to reflect, to write, to pray, to medidate, to read, and sometimes, to enjoy the luxury that it is perfectly ok to do absolutely nothing. I started to accept that on some days, I will sit on my couch, or on a porch swing and stare in an abyss for hours, other days, I will go on runs, or practice some yoga. Some days I will be at peace with work, and other days I will want to quit at a rate of 20 times per second; and that is all perfectly fine.
When my friends call me these days ridden with guilt that they are not achieving anything and that they are losing control of their life. I tell them that there is nothing that they have to achieve this year, that it’s ok to lose control, we cannot control the universe. We are not God. Some things like a pandemic are out of our control, some things while unfortunate, like your business slowing down, or your salary being reduced are not the end of the world. At the end of the day, there is a much bigger picture to look at. When someone tells me they are scared, I don’t tell them they have nothing to fear, I reassure them that fear is normal, and that it only makes us human, but I also break down the fear with them, into what we can control and what we can’t, and we just talk it out. Sometimes, I just tell them that I’m scared too, and that it’s ok, and that we’re all in it together. I also tell them, that it’s one day at a time.
This year, there is no longer a norm, there is no “should be “ or “right way”, this year is about navigating new waters. It is about keeping my boat afloat, and trying as much as I can, to see the silver linings that surround me, because they always exist. I threw in the towel on the invisible race, and decided to take a stroll on this journey, I decided to once more, try to enjoy the journey without being so concerned with the finish line.