by jenni earle
I used to desperately wish for a pause button on life. I longed for time to read, paint, take long walks, take long baths, explore a new topic, draw uninterrupted, and so on. When my kids were little, twice I took a mini-break. I would get to the breaking point of my patience, and sanity, and need a full 24-hours of quiet and time to pause. I drove an hour in any direction and stayed in a hotel.. The rules of the mini-break were: check into the hotel, order room service, don’t turn on the television, spread writing and drawing material all over the bed and dive in.
pressing pause schedule
the hours breakdown went something like this:
bliss, drawing, painting, cat napping, smiling at the delightful sound of quiet.
something that felt like discomfort, almost itchiness, would setting in and i would start questioning my desire to press pause “why do you love this so much? what is wrong with you? why aren’t you this satisfied with your beautiful life?”. Those questions rolled around and around in my head. I explored the guilt of this pause, by listing all the women I knew that didn’t need to escape their life. Generally I beat myself to a pulp.
cry in the bathtub. A real old-fashioned sob fest is more cathartic than sadness. Eventually I tired out, and so did the chatty comparison-based-mindset. I finally could stop and take deep breaths. As the warm, wet bathub air moved in and out my lungs, I took stock. I wasn’t a bad person, I was a person that needed a bit of quiet every now and then. that’s ok right?
*While huddled in a strange, foreign place I agreed with myself that it is okay. Taking time to pause is healthy. Only then could I relax and decide to use the time well.
In a robe or pajamas I drew from a place of non-judgement. I recognized how desperately I wanted to shed the heavy layers of “should” that existed in my day-to-day life. I wondered how my life would change if I could pause for longer periods of time and hear my voice. Then, I slept like the dead, waking up just in time to gather my things and check out.
On the drive back I steeled myself with a determination to carry this feeling, this knowing, this acceptance into my home.
But within 14 minutes of stepping through the front door I was right back in “should” mode.
In my daily life I couldn’t find a way to be free, clear and at peace. The well-meaning voices were telling me that I needed to calm down, enjoy the ride, and stop the whining. But I couldn’t escape the dreadful feeling that I had built a life I didn’t want to live.
Fast forward through a steep decline into what doctors call a ‘major depressive episode’. As i slid down into that deep, dark hole, i tried to grab hold of something, find a footing, but my brain chemistry and my vanished self-worth made the walls of the hole as slippery as mud.
sitting in the bottom of a deep, dark hole of depression, you only have one button to push. PAUSE.
when i finally hit the bottom, i was a mess of failed experimenting and misguided beliefs. Being honest about my level of desperation, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was like an out of body experience. I heard myself talking, I saw the shock on people’s faces and within 24-hours I was checked into the mental ward of our local hospital, the hospital where my husband was a surgeon, the hospital where I was president of the medical guild.
pull the lever and exit the car
The mental ward is the biggest pause button there is. It does not resemble anything like real life. You are stripped of identity and for once you can be so very tired and sad, without people telling you that you are fine. You are not fine and you may never know fine again. The only thing you can do is be real. Sitting in circles and listening to these humans; these lovely, kind, deep feeling humans, I thought, how did we all get there? What is the common thread?
Life can be a blur of one thing to the next to the next to the next. It doesn’t stop! Nor do we stop to notice how each activity feels. We speed along, even when our fingernails are scraping the sides of the walls and we’re saying “WAIT, I didn’t mean to get on this ride! where’s the fucking brake lever!” It can keep going like this as long as you let it, it can feel very hopeless OR you can realize you have been driving your life all along.
you can pull the lever and exit the car.
give yourself permission
The permission that I received to walk out of the hospital to make new, different choices was the thing that saved my life. I chose the word permission because, especially as women, it is so easy to forget that we have permission to do whatever the fuck we want! We don’t need outside validation to agree that we are going to improve the world. We are already smart, capable, fascinating humans.[caption id="attachment_6973" align="aligncenter" width="300"] photo by Liz Nemeth[/caption]
Armed with my notebook I kept up the work of hunting my purpose like my life depended on it, because it did! I started making small, intentional steps back into the world. I assessed how something felt to the raw, vulnerable, freshly unearthed part of me, before I agreed to participate or not. This was hard. I was actively seeking feelings that would prompt a yes from my most authentic self. Hearing that voice became increasingly easier as the months wore on and bigger changes had to happen to be able to stay the course of my purpose. Once you fall that deep, you are very weary of anything that looks even a little slippery. My relationship to my children changed. I eventually left my marriage and built a whole new life, one I am proud to say, feels strong and peaceful.
quarantine pause button
Now that I am writing this from my bed at 10am on a weekday, week 3 of quarantine, I realize how similar this feels to the pause button. I think we are all collectively getting a lesson in priorities right now. Our calendars are wiped clean, our endless distractions of driving here and there and keeping up appearances and social ties are gone.
we are paused and present. there is only today.
The beauty of this pause button is that it has reminded me of the greater good. We didn’t just hit pause for our own wellbeing, we are all hitting pause, making huge sacrifices and letting others wellbeing drive our motivation to stay in and quiet. It is truly a collective pause to save as many lives as we can! If you value your neighbor’s life enough to stay home, it shows you the value of each and every life, including your own!
who do you want to be?
There is no going BACK to normal. This is a global shakeup/wakeup! hopefully, we are going forward from this pause. This is a divine opportunity to check in and make sure when you come out of this cocoon, it is in the ways you want! dig deep and listen to your voice. Do you really love the work or social scene you were participating in before the pandemic? or do you want to bring something else to the world?[caption id="attachment_6972" align="aligncenter" width="300"] how will you use this time? [photo by Liz Nemeth][/caption]
Who do you want to be on the other side of this thing?
We are getting a chance to make new choices. to be quiet and slow in our assessment of how our choices FEEL to our most inner and authentic self.
PRO TIP: as you navigate these questions, be weary of big sweeping changes and binary thinking. there are many facets to your life, there are many facets to the facets of your life. for example: making new choices can be as subtle (and I would argue, life changing) as choosing to speak to yourself differently. By making small, purposeful shifts in mindset you will move toward feeling stronger and more respectful of your own voice.
As we all sit in this pause, I am more grateful than ever that I took the time to reconstruct a life where I feel free. I wear no masks or costumes, I don’t even like dressing up for halloween. I fought, nearly to the death, to take off my costume and I’ll be damned if I ever put one back on.
to us all,
wellness and safety!
P.S. To those that don’t have the luxury of the pause because you are an essential worker and have the task of keeping us all safe and fed and well, THANK YOU! I am fully aware how much you are doing so I can sit in my bed and write. Thank you thank you, a million times thank you!
[feature photo by Liz Nemeth]