I Don’t Know How To Slow Down

The birds woke me up at 4:30 a.m. Too early to get up, even for this early bird. At 5 a.m., when I had not fallen back asleep at all, I got up and grabbed the book I had been too tired the night before to even pretend to read. With freshly brewed coffee, I sat on my couch under a blanket and opened up my book. I closed the book, trying to recognize the Deja vu I was feeling. Setting the book down I recognized what felt familiar. Illness. And suddenly, I realized being sick was the only time I’d snuggle under a blanket with a book, the only thing that used to slow me down.

I’m always anticipating the next cold, whenever I’m not sick I push myself to get as much done as possible. I’ve done it my whole life and I don’t know how to function any other way. I was born with a chronic health condition and used to get colds on and off all winter. When the adrenaline of whatever I had pushed through wore off, my immune system raised its hands in surrender. In December 2012, on the last day before winter break, I woke up knowing a big cold was coming on. I could feel it and by 11 a.m. I could barely move. After a day and a half that I have no memory of, and four hours in urgent care, I was sent home diagnosed with influenza and pneumonia, which triggered a heart arrhythmia that wasn’t diagnosed until June of that year.  The rest of 2012 and the first month of 2013 were spent almost entirely on the couch. Month after month I waited for the exhaustion to ease up. It was easy to dismiss it as a long recovery and the normal wear and tear of two small children. I felt useless, restless, and frustrated with my body. I knew that the Afib had been the largest culprit, but it wasn’t the only one.  In 2013 I decided to name all my colds after Joss Whedon characters the way we name hurricanes. Anya came on in mid-February as potential strep and the year ended with another negative strep test named Jayne. That’s ten colds in one calendar year that forced at least half a day to slow down and rest.  

In 2015, after bursting into tears in his office, my doctor suggested I try an intense diet change; commenting it might improve my immune system, in addition, to jump-starting my malfunctioning metabolism. The metabolism remains stubborn, but my immune system responded with glee at finally being given the attention it craved. Colds became less and less frequent. When they did come on, they were less intense and shorter. I got a cold at the beginning of the pandemic and decided to pick up my tracking system again in addition to the intense contract tracing I was doing. Only, that one cold was all there was. April 2021, I got my Covid vaccine on the same day I celebrated 1 full year without a single cold, fever, or even sore throat. The insane irony that a pandemic was the source of the healthiest year of my life physically. It was also my most productive year, being able to schedule meetings and carve out productive time 14 to 15 hours a day. 

That means it’s been over a year since I’ve been forced to spend an entire day on the couch. For the first time in my life, I’m experiencing an emotional burnout. My days are structured and highly productive. Even my downtime is scheduled and planned out. Shabbat is focused on socializing and enjoyable but productive activities. The vacation days I’ve taken off work have all been to get synagogue work done. 

My kids have been telling me for months to work less. Take breaks. Stop and do nothing. I am physically uncomfortable with the concept of ‘do nothing’. If you ask me what I do to relax, I’ll give you a blank stare. So, the question is, if this is my new normal-how do I adjust my fear of wasting time? As I do with everything, I turn it into a project. Set a goal, break it down into steps, and then attack with full energy…. but that seems counterproductive. Telling myself I’m going to relax during a specific time period is like willing myself to sleep as I stare at the ceiling counting how many hours I’d still get if I could just fall asleep. Our time here in life is limited and uncertain. What is worthy of my time will be an ongoing project, and likely one I may never master, but I’ll keep plugging away at it.