Why Did It Take A Pandemic To Make Me Slow Down?

“Slow down, you move too fast,” the lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel’s Feelin’ Groovy, have struck a note with me lately. As a person who suffers from anxiety, I am conscious of my tendency to rush through life without taking a breath, shortchanging myself of the full benefits of life’s simple pleasures.

I’m semi-retired, but most days I still feel like I’m chasing my tail and there aren’t enough hours for everything I want to achieve

Girl lying down on the grass relaxing.
Photo by Eunice Stahl on Unsplash

Admittedly, my inability to say no is a big part of the problem – because I do waste hours of my week on unnecessary activities, and then get cross with myself for compromising what time I have left to do what I enjoy.

But even when I’m walking the dog, my mind is often elsewhere, thinking about that email I need to write, the call I need to make, or the machine load that needs to be emptied.

But the world won’t stop turning if I don’t empty the washing machine immediately

And on the rare occasions I allow myself to breathe, to throw the ball to the dog on the beach, or take in the natural beauty of where we live, my head clears, and I kick myself for not doing it more often.

Because, relaxing is easy, and doesn’t cost very much, and aside from my new hobby of swimming in the ocean, I’ve rediscovered many long-lost passions recently, like reading, walking, and listening to podcasts, not to mention my love of watching mindless tv series on the sofa.

I’m not saying I walk happily to the trolley bay when it’s on the other side of the supermarket car park or I don’t grit my teeth when the traffic lights ahead turn red, but I am making a conscious effort to try to walk rather than run.

Sometimes, it’s enough just to be. To be me. To be happy in my skin

I’m sure spiritualists have some fancy term for the art of “enjoying the moment” – something like unconscious mindfulness, I imagine. But each time I’ve tried to be intentionally mindful in the past, I’ve struggled to close down the tabs in my brain – this, despite my belief in the importance of living each day as if it is your last – an awareness of the unpredictability of life that was foisted on me by the loss of my mother in my teens – although, I don’t recommend it.

But if you don’t believe me and need any more convincing about the right order of your priorities in life, check out the biggest regrets of the dying, because one of the top five regrets is how much time they wasted on work rather than spending it with family and friends, or doing things that made them happy.

Unfortunately, a clink in the armour of the human brain is that many of us only realise what we have when it’s gone

Fortunately, COVID has rammed the importance of the philosophy home for me, and the physical effects of ageing are helping with the slow down. While I moan about the limitations of my body – and this year has been a real test – I am beginning to understand its language. When it lets me know I’ve pushed it too hard, I’m learning to listen to it, because those minor pains and aches quickly evolve into costly issues when they aren’t addressed.

Admittedly, it is easier to switch off or recalibrate physically than it is mentally. But another benefit COVID has gifted many of us is extra time at home. And although I’m certain my lockdown existence looks very different to the parents of young kids or essential workers, I don’t believe slowing down must necessitate being alone.

For example, when our kids were small, I used to dread the approach of the school holidays. And yet, it always surprised me how quickly the three of us adapted to the change of pace. Within a week, each of us started to slow down, to get up later, to take our time over meals and stretch out activities that we normally raced through. We communicated more, and because I didn’t have to manage that precarious balance between work, school, and extra-curricular activities, I was less irritable. Rather than the cabin fever I anticipated, we had more time and energy to try out new things, and the best days were those when we did absolutely nothing without feeling guilty about them – a foreign concept in our increasingly driven society.

It’s important to allow yourself days off, when you do absolutely nothing

Recently, a friend of mine took her two weeks of annual leave at home due to the current restrictions. At the time, she was feeling burnt out at work, and I know she was disappointed she couldn’t escape somewhere exotic for “a change of scene”. Nevertheless, she approached her two weeks with a positive mindset and a list of her priorities for her time off – relaxation foremost, with some walks, swims, catch-ups with friends, and some overdue organisational tasks if she found the time.

At the end of the two weeks, she was exuberant about her holiday at home, which had given her the opportunity to explore some previously undiscovered areas of our local landscape with friends and family, enjoy long breakfasts in the sun with her daughter, eat healthily, and replenish her sleep quota with daily naps. She returned to work re-energised, and when I caught up with her at the end of her first week back, she had rediscovered her old passion for her job.

Trips abroad, where we used to cram more into a day than we would at work, are not always what our body needs

I have fully embraced the return to simple living that COVID has necessitated, and I’m feeling quite nervous about my return to the hustle and bustle of normal life. I have to agree with Michaela Coel who mentioned in her acceptance speech at the Emmys the joys of embracing invisibility, rather than jumping straight back onto the demanding treadmill of our lives prior to COVID. I am loving this invisibility that has come with lockdown and middle-age. I have no desire to leap from our current restrictions straight back into my old life. Rather, I intend to set myself a realistic pace and be more mindful of how and when I really need to emerge from the shadows.

At 53, I Think That I Finally Have The Maturity To Embrace Yoga

jared-rice-388260-unsplash

You can call me “Madonna” from now on because, since my four-hour yoga retreat on Saturday, I am officially at one with my body, nature and the limitations of my pelvic floor.

Unlike the majority of my mates, I’ve come a little late to the yoga party. I’ve struggled to find my inner or spiritual self, or whatever everyone else seems to get out of it. And fortunately, the excuse of a dodgy lower back – the pain in which is exacerbated by stretching parts of your body that aren’t supposed to be stretched – has given me an excuse. And yoga is also expensive, especially when compared to homemade Freeletics on the beach, that increase your dickhead factor at the same time.

Many of my friends have turned to yoga in later life, for the purposes of body strengthening and to rid themselves of stress. And I must admit that the type of people that do yoga always seem to have an aura of calmness about them that I envy (sort of). They’re a bit like born-again Christians – they just seem like nice people – something I hoped would rub off on me as I set out for Saturday’s session.

I suppose that l felt finally mature enough to “own” my “queefs” as I contorted my body into poses I wouldn’t even attempt in front of the old man after a cask of wine, and to chant without cracking up. And the idea of switching my mind off for a few hours from my to-do list, what I’m cooking for dinner, and what’s next on Netflix, held some appeal.

But FUCK! Yoga is seriously harder than the “Jane Fonda Workout,” when you really try; particularly when you’ve been sold the event as a three-hour sleep-fest by a well-meaning friend and so you’re in the zone for an expensive three-hour nap. My relaxation scale goes from 1. being knocked out on medication, to 10. watching back-to-back episodes of “The Bachelor” on the couch with a bottle of wine, so, no, I don’t call balancing on the balls of my feet – bum three inches off the floor – relaxing. Although I did surprise myself with how wide I can still open my legs – something I shan’t be sharing with the old man.

The Sanskrit mantras sounded like a foreign language – because they are – and I had no real idea to whom or what I was chanting as I Ommed in unison our passionate Canadian yogi, who was on the guitar. But who am I to knock something that frees your mind from the anxieties of life? Indeed, I quite enjoyed working my fingers busily around my beads, ignoring that little voice in my head that kept asking me ‘what the fuck are you doing?’

Be honest, give anyone a neck massage, an eye pack and a warm blanket and most of us will do whatever the fuck is asked of us. And it’s easy to be cynical about things we don’t understand or that take us out of our comfort zone – something I AM a natural at – but when we give them a go, sometimes we surprise ourselves.

Not even the idea of a vegetarian lunch in recompense for two hours of physical purgatory phased me afterward. Admittedly, I’m not certain that I fully relaxed my skin, my organs or my bones (?) during the session, but I did manage to dislodge one of those hard bogeys that really hurt during the nasal breathing.

 

Learning How To Relax With Anxiety

We lead increasingly busy lives and I find it hard to relax even when I do have free time these days. Although I continually moan about having no time to relax, for some strange reason I feel more fulfilled when I’m busy, even though I know that it’s not a healthy way to live as I get older. car-888913_1280

 

I envy faiths such as Judaism and Christianity, which impose a day of rest. It’s the sort of discipline I need; an enforced break from the continuing bustle of trying to cram something into every minute of the day. I’ve tried relaxation methods such as meditation but always feel silly and I’m coming to realise that the calm provided by alcohol is not the ideal choice for my middle-aged body.

 

Living with an increasing anxiety problem aided by medication is like existing somewhere between a dulled life of “fuck it” calm, where nothing really matters, and a state of frenzied agitation. I rarely experience a happy medium in terms of balance.

 

On good days, my medication gives me a false sense of security of the world, where everything is just fine.

 

Until it’s not.

 

I’ll give you an example. A few weeks ago I drove my car around town in the rain and noticed that my tyres weren’t gripping the road as well as they should, which is when I remembered that the mechanic at my last service – over a year ago – had recommended that I would need to change them soon.

 

Unfortunately, “car stuff” falls into the “onerous task box” in my brain which is why I’d procrastinated about the tyre issue. I’m very negligent when it comes to the wellbeing of my car because I don’t understand them, and albeit a feminist, there is a devious part of my brain that puts them in the ‘man job’ department, even though I have a man who is not interested in cars either and has a similarly lacklustre opinion of them. My meds had helped me merrily ignore a potential safety issue for over a year, yet within minutes of my brain acknowledging that “Houston, we have a problem”, my anxiety had turned the problem into a catastrophe.

 

I needed new tyres. NOW!

 

Anxiety meds are fantastic in terms of dimming danger signals to help you cope with day- to-day challenges, by promoting an “it’ll be fine” attitude in the wake of any potential crisis or indeed anything that is under-stimulating, and going to get my tyres checked is certainly not high on the list of things I want to do on the weekend. But my brain began to ruminate subconsciously over the problem that night and after an associated nightmare about someone checking the baldness of my tyres and looking at me in that disappointed way that only your parents do, my anxiety was triggered. When I woke up the following morning I had one mission.

 

If anyone is considering a new business venture, the sale and fitting of wheels and tyres look like a good option to me, especially if you like working Sundays because so few retailers are open. I can’t believe that everyone else in front of me in the queue that day had experienced a similar night panic about the grip on their tyres – some of them were probably just normal petrol-heads salivating over new rims – but the whiff of testosterone nearly knocked me out as I walked into the one showroom that was open in Sydney.

 

To increase my anxiety and the mind-numbing tedium of an almost three hour wait, in my panic to leave the house quickly in the face of certain death on the road due to my shortsightedness, I forgot to take my phone with me. (This happens with increasing regularity at the moment and if you’ve ever done it you’ll know that it gives you the vulnerability of what I imagine it’s like to turn suddenly blind). Generally, it’s obviously a bit of a first world issue, but I had arranged to meet a friend long before the tyre man would finish and that worry induced a mild state of panic as I waited and fretted with not even social media to distract me.

 

It also served to prove once again how absolutely brain dead you become in middle age when you can’t remember the telephone number of one person in your life.

 

But trying to retrieve a number out of my cluster of dying brain cells did help to pass the time as I sat in that showroom, trying to ignore the torturing sound of drilling that pierced its way into my skull each time I thought I’d remembered any number sequence that might help me contact my friend who was waiting for me at the beach on the other side of the city.

 

Which is where I should have been on a Sunday. Relaxing.

 

By the time I was back on the road, as hyper as if I’d drunk six black coffees, it was inevitable that my patience would be thin, proven by the voice inside of my head that curses each changing light with, ‘Go on, change you fuckers,’ on what should have been my day of rest.

 

And I tried to remember to breathe.

Finding Time To Breathe

In this crazily competitive yet compelling world we live in, finding the time to breathe and smell the roses can sometimes feel an uphill struggle.

 


Embed from Getty Images

 

But in an exceptionally rare turn of events last weekend, the old man discovered that he actually did have some friends and deserted me for a round of golf with da boyz.

 

Giving me just that. Time to breathe.

 

It’s not as though we’ve ever been one of those couples that cohabit in each other’s pockets – I lead my own life and he…watches lots of sport on tv… but as I work most Saturdays, we do tend to hang out together on a Sunday.

 

So it’s rare for me to find myself on my own.

 

The torturous temptation last Sunday, OBVIOUSLY, was to lie in bed all day with only Facebook, Twitter, the Sunday papers and a packet of Snickers Pods for company, but I somehow managed to persuade myself that I am better than that, found some previously-lost backbone, got my ass into some sort of gear and went and did something for me for a change.

 

We are very fortunate where we live in Sydney, to be situated right next to THE Harbour Bridge, so with my newfound wisdom in my backpack, I decided that instead of looking at that damn bridge every day and bemoaning the fact that I never find the opportunity to walk it, I would do just that. Then I planned a little meander around the markets at The Rocks and would finish my little tour d’independence with a bracing swim at North Sydney pool.

 

Sometimes, it’s only when you push yourself out there, to the outskirts of your comfort zone of self-imposed laziness and lame excuses and ignore the ridiculous notion that you need to be with people to feel energised or fulfilled, that you fully appreciate time to breathe.

 

We all lead busy lives and cohabiting with a very noisy, highly theatrical 6’ teenager with a voice as deeply penetrating as Russell Crowe’s in a tight apartment, (which also happens to be my work zone), sometimes can make me feel claustrophobic and I need to escape…pronto.

 

The Harbour Bridge is 2.2 kms long and it was a typically, gloriously, sunny, Sydney afternoon when I set off.

 

I had obviously forgotten about these steps in the planning process…

 

Finding The Time To Breathe

 

And it took all my self-discipline to walk past this ice cream van with its tempting ooze of whipped ice cream with flake on the top, which seemed like a fair reward for conquering those steps…

 

Finding The Time To Breathe

 

Do you remember when you were a child and heard the first taunting musical notes from the ice cream van as it entered your neighbourhood, and you silently prayed for the next few minutes that your mum would rattle the change in her purse? One listener called into the radio station I listen to the other day for a segment called ‘the lies your parents told you’ and told us how his dad used to tell her that the ice cream van only played a tune when they had run out of ice cream.

 

Now that’s my kind of parenting.

 

Not quite as good as my invention of biscuit cancer (she was obviously an amateur), after which we were forced to up Kurt’s anxiety medication.

 

Panting Invigorated, I wandered around The Rocks with its market stalls full of ridiculously expensive Australiana paraphernalia that we like to off-load to our American visitors and then I headed back for a well-deserved and refreshing dip in the pool.

 

Finding The Time To Breathe

 

I find I can become quite melancholy these days when I walk by myself and have time to ruminate about where my life is going in middle age. Something as simple as the rare waft of a Gauloise cigarette can transport me back thirty years to the period of my life I spent in France; a child in full-blown tantrum recoiling from the straps of her pushchair and mother reminds me of NC as a baby; the pair of love-sick teenagers who can’t keep their hands off each other remind me of the overwhelming depth of passion the old man and I shared at the tender age of seventeen.

 

It’s funny how much you change as you grow older, in spite of your best intentions. These days I look at flowers and plants in a new, more appreciative way – something I swore I would never allow to happen in my younger days. And when I watch the party boats glide under the Harbour Bridge with their penetrating duff duff music and drunken young people, I shudder – so relieved am I not to be anywhere near them.

 

Finding The Time To Breathe

 

But the melancholy associated with looking back is tinged with gratitude, because I am healthy and in a new and exciting phase of my life, that has opened up all sorts of different opportunities that I never expected to experience.

 

And for a few moments I find a rare inner peace and at-oneness with the world, that lasts until I return home to find Kurt has set fire to the kitchen making pancakes or some other such minor domestic reality check.

10 Awesome Ways Middle-Aged Women Can Relax

10 Awesome Ways Middle Aged Women Can Relax
Splish, splash, I’m just taking a bath by M at http://www.flickr.com

I don’t know about you but I find it impossible to relax these days. It’s a problem a lot of women face because we’re always on the go, so when that window of opportunity finally opens, we find it impossible to unwind.

 

I’ve had a crazy couple of months recently with our latest house move and work commitments but this week my work schedule is a bit less hectic. Suddenly, I don’t know what to do with myself.

 

I feel too guilty to do the things I REALLY want to do.

 

I could catch up on all the housework I’ve overlooked for the past few months, but that’s about as appealing as having my eyebrows threaded by a blind person and anyway I feel far too knackered at the moment to consider anything too physical. So I’ve decided instead to listen to what my body needs. To relax. For me that seems to engender a liberal dose of laughter, a good read, alcohol and titillation.

 

A ladies' Burberry handbag in the company's tr...
A ladies’ Burberry handbag in the company’s trademarked check pattern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me know which ones you agree with:

 

  1. Pack the family off to McDonalds followed by a viewing of Terms of Endearment at the movies so that they remember how lucky they are to have you in their lives, pour yourself a hot bath, add essential oils, light some candles and consume a whole bottle of Moet et Chandon Champagne by yourself.

 

  1. Stand on the floor in the downward dog position with a water bottle full of wine by your side, close your eyes and imagine tantric sex with your dream shag. Exercise can be relaxing.

 

3.  Go for a healing power shop in David Jones but make sure that you start in the Food      Hall with the Oysters and Champagne, followed by a chocolate-dipped strawberry             binge.

 

  1. Pull out old family photo albums and stick imaginary pins in photos of your partner if he/she’s stressing you out.

 

  1. Go on Pinterest and laugh at all those amazing recipes that other women actually do with their free time while you’re drinking wine.

 

  1. Visit Designer shops such as Chanel and Burberry and have your Pretty Woman moment. Try on all those beautiful, sparkly ball dresses and Jimmy Choos that you’ll never be able to afford to wear and saunter around with all those Designer handbags that are far too big for anyone to seriously carry and then leave without buying anything.

 

  1. You could play it safe and buy a copy of every woman’s magazine but all you’ll discover is how fat Kim Kardashion is this week. So buy a copy of Playgirl instead and laugh at willies.

 

  1. Read back-to-back copies of Cosmo and be grateful you’re no longer judged by your looks, how well you give head or how good you are in the sack.

 

  1. Download every Heath Ledger movie and have a Tequila-thon with your girlfriends.

 

10. Then there’s sex. Apparently many of us still quite like it in middle age and the myth         about middle-aged women not having any libido is exactly that. More importantly,           it’s a great stress-buster, apparently – depending on who you’re with, I assume.              Personally, I’d still prioritize the David Jones Food Hall. Who wants to burn calories,          get all sweaty and clean up body fluids when you’re supposed to be relaxing?