Great. Only four posts in, and I’m already making puns out of my own post titles. This bodes poorly.
Ill-advised though it may be to have two consecutive posts with such similar titles, I shall proceed nonetheless, because that’s just the kind of stubborn sonovabitch I am.
A couple of weekends ago, I had a lot of time for reflection and rumination. This was a good thing. It helped me to put some stuff in perspective and get a sort of mental picture of what’s important and what’s not. It’s easy to allow down time to become do-nothing-except-slob-around-and-watch-TV time, but that’s a trap I’ve fallen into on one too many occasions. It’s unproductive and generally makes me feel worse about myself, because I basically did fuck-all.
This time, not so much. I got to thinking about how nice it is to be quiet sometimes. To be slow. To not rush. To look at the world instead of barrelling through it.
I’ve always been prone to overwhelm. That’s just the way my psyche is constructed. If there’s too much going on around me, I can’t focus. If I’m in a roomful of people who are chatting amongst themselves, I can barely hear the person I’m talking to through the background noise.
I know there must be a name for it. But damned if I know what it is.
Whatever it’s called, it sucks.
In previous incarnations of this blog, and also in what I used to call my “personal” blog (back in the days when I was silly enough to think that I could separate my personal life from my opinions and projects), I wrote quite a bit about my battle with depression and how that condition has affected my ability to get things done and see things through. Despite my feeling like a whiner and excuse-maker, I received a lot of positive and supportive comments on those posts, and I know, deep down, that mental health is a serious issue in modern society, and it’s only now being more openly discussed.
What I didn’t realize about my condition—until this latest period of reflection—is that modern society is part of the problem. The pace of life in the western world tends to be a bit frenetic. In what is perhaps one of the most profound ironies of our age, many people struggle to enjoy life.
Let’s just let that sink in for a moment, shall we?
You can read that in one of two ways. The reading most applicable to my situation is that I struggle to get past my depressive tendencies so that I can actually derive enjoyment out of life’s experiences. The other way to read it, however, is by far the more common and by far the more ironic. People are stressing themselves out in an effort to build for themselves the life that they want.
You see it every day. People glued to their cell phones, because the demands of their jobs make it imperative that they be reachable at any and all times. People burning themselves out because their kids have to be taken to hockey practice at six in the morning and then to soccer practice at six in the evening. People going into debt in order to maintain the lifestyle that they’ve become accustomed to.
Today, everything is done at supersonic speed. The information technology revolution has brought about an age in which many things happen incredibly quickly. And, guess what? Because things can be done quickly, we now not only expect them to be done quickly, we demand that they be done quickly.
Everybody’s in a hurry. Everybody’s rushing to the next thing, because that next thing is the one that’s going to make us happy. It’s going to make our lives complete. That thing that’s going on right now? That’s shit. It’s just the thing that has to happen in order to get to the next thing. The next thing is the big thing.
Well, you know what, folks? It ain’t. The next thing is no better than the current thing. Even software upgrades have way too heavy expectations placed on them. A bug fix does not a happy life make. A larger TV screen will not make you a joyful person. A new car will not make you or your kids any smarter or more successful.
[Being more successful might allow you to get a new car, but it doesn’t work the other way.]
My brain is not wired to accept too much input. I’m not alone in this. There are countless people in the world who are prone to information overload. Call us “highly sensitive”, call us depressive, call us anything you want; it’s just a simple fact that some of us out here are easily overwhelmed.
And in the modern world, overwhelm is not hard to come by.
I tried to work for Starbucks once. It was a disaster. I was looking for something full time, because my gig at the bookstore never got me enough hours and never paid me a decent hourly wage. So I applied at Starbucks (at the encouragement of a manager that I knew) and went into training to become a shift supervisor.
I lasted four weeks. The pace of the job was simply too much for me. The stress of learning how to make the drinks, combined with learning how to ring things in at the register, combined with learning about shift supervision, combined with how cranky and demanding customers could be (especially when they hadn’t had their coffee yet, which was why they were there in the first place) nearly sent me to the mental hospital. Again.
Spending some quiet time this month was, for some reason, more revelatory than previous episodes of quiet time. Regardless, the insights have been profound, and I now realize that I can’t make my brain work differently. The way I process information is not going to change. The way I look at things can change; the way I respond to things can change; even the way I do things can change. But the basic way my brain processes input is not going to alter in the least.
And I have to honor that.
Even the job I’m doing now is too stressful for me, and I’ve gone through some really bad bouts of anxiety over the past three years because of it. That situation has to change.
I hate driving, I don’t like crowds, and noise just bothers the hell out of me. I suck at multitasking, and get really annoyed when I’m interrupted in the middle of doing something.
These are features of my mental landscape that are unlikely to change. So I need to adapt to that. I need to do work that inspires me and makes me want to get up in the morning. I need to get back to meditating. I need to give myself the quiet time I need.
And I need to get out of the city more often. Halifax is a great town, and I’m happy I grew up here, but it’s gotten bigger, busier, noisier, and crankier over the years, and I need a break from that once in a while. The pace of modern life is everywhere, even here in the friendly Maritime Provinces.
I think we all could benefit from slowing things down a bit. For me, however, I’ve come to realize that it’s a necessity.
My mental health might just depend on it.