Do you ever look back at the prime of your life and wonder – how did I do it all?
Prime can mean a lot of different things. For me, as of late, the idea of ‘my prime’ has been centered around my health. Man did I used to be HOT! Then again, I bet every woman at every stage of her life feels like what she is now doesn’t live up to what she was then. I’m old enough to know that three years from now, I’ll be saying “hot damn” about photos of me in this very moment. Simba didn’t include that in his Circle of Life, but it seems to be just as apparent as any other part of the animal kingdom.
Although health has been the primary reason why my minds eye has been wandering over the past, that always brings up the “bigger picture” of those prime times. I talk to myself a lot, so I’m going to take you on that journey with me.
“Oh, ya… you thought you were skinny then. Give yourself a $25 per week grocery allowance, three jobs, full time school, and the world’s worst boyfriend and you’ll shed those last few pounds like no tomorrow. HELLO cheekbones! I’ve missed you…
Wait a damn second here! I wasn’t just skinny. I was TIRED as! (Ya, I totally just thought “tired as” which is proof I’m officially a New ZealAustrialianer). How did I do all of that when I was tired as? I didn’t have good doctors and cushy little sleepy pills to help me stay on track.
Oh, that’s right. I did it the old fashioned way and just wore myself the f*c% out! Hmm. That’s a work out plan in and of itself. So how do I do that now?”
All ADD tendencies included… there you have it!
I refuse to believe just because it was 5 or 10 years ago and I was “younger then” is why I had such power over myself and my life.
Let’s think about a few of those prime times.
The first that always comes immediately to mind is attached to the smallest I’ve ever been in my life. I was too small, but I was completely shredded! The thing is, I wasn’t even trying to be.
During that time I lived alone. I was madly in love with hope. I didn’t drink coffee. I was rolling through the final year of my undergraduate degree with straight A’s. Shit was about to really hit the fan all around and I wasn’t completely oblivious. While I had extremely dark days, they were only days, and I had the world’s best friends at the time that were readily by my side whenever I needed. Brian, Greg, Ben, Moki – all of these guys were on call at all hours of the day, squeezing themselves onto my tiny two person couch to spend the night when my anxiety and paranoia had rendered me entirely sleepless.
Although times were tough, getting through it back then was easy because I had some serious habits in place. Every. Single. Day. I went to yoga straight after work. That meant, I was not home until 8:30 or 9pm just to turn around and leave for work again at 7am. I had to do my school work during my lunch breaks or sitting on the floor of the yoga studio, waiting for class to start. I only had time to cook on Sundays. So every Sunday I cooked a week’s worth of chicken and roasts, prepackaged for self-made TV dinners. And that’s another thing… I had no TV. 99.9% of my habits and all I was able to accomplish would not have been possible if I had TV. I also didn’t have internet at home. I made these decisions on purpose. It forced me to utilize my time wisely. I had to finish my school work during the day or at a library. And when I didn’t want to spend an evening sitting with myself, all by myself, that meant I had to do something active. Hence… nightly yoga. My yoga studio was also near my friend’s homes so I could always go straight from class to a late night movie if I Wanted further distraction.
I had my life on such extreme lock down that even when my car exploded into a $20,000+ mess and a 6 month lawsuit against one of the biggest names in Utah, forcing me to move out of my simple living and far from friends or yoga, I still created new habits. I had no idea how to snowboard and could barely ski, but I invested in a season pass – boarding over 20 times in one season. When it finally came time to get a new car, I knew nothing about driving a stick and I bought the car anyway. I lived entirely by this “jump and see if you die” kind of mentality. It was crude. It was tough. But it worked. I knew very well that the very ability to make the decision to jump meant I was strong enough not to fall.
The bittersweet result of adding this kind of sensation to some of the hardest battles in my life (that always come all at once) is that I learned how to fuel my entire existence on manufactured anxiety. I floated on it. I lived a daring life by it. I was in a constant fight-or-flight in order to survive so many terrible things, bad feelings, hard career choices, tougher classes, higher rents, and the drama that other’s lives brought into my own. I drove fast. I stayed up far too late. I cranked out 25,000 word papers every week. I flew through 100 phone calls at work in the first 3 or 4 hours of the day. I started volunteering. I started training. I started meeting new people. I was filling my life so quickly it was as though I were trying to stuff people into the holes of a fast sinking ship. I just never knew that what instinctively helped me survive, would end up being the very thing that would destroy me in the end.
Today, I relentlessly try to figure out how to do it all with the absence of anxiety, fear, and paranoia. Even more so, I try to figure out how to not stuff my life with so much that I never experience the painful silence of sitting with one’s self for hours.
Don’t get me wrong. I no longer have loneliness. I no longer have anything in my life that instills a deep sense of fear in my ability to make it through each day. For the most part, I don’t feel like anyone is keeping me down or driving their own jealousy against me. I don’t feel attacked. I don’t feel like I am surrounded by people wanting to take from me. I don’t feel like the immediate people in my life are filled with drama they somehow believe I am either responsible for or pointing fingers about.
There’s always a but.
You would think being rid of that would give me a blank slate of time and willingness. I also don’t have any more degrees to go out and earn. I don’t have a new career to find. I don’t have to work 60-80 hours a week on top of a double-time MBA program. I don’t have to live off of expired foods from flash sale bins at the local Smith’s. So, why am I still in survival mode?
This is what I have figured out.
If my previous life were an arms race to stay ahead and destroy anything in my way, what made me go into a veracious and wild survival mode was the feeling as though I were falling behind. Right now, the sheer “laziness” of my life emulates that deep, inner feeling that I am losing a fight.
Thankfully I’m self aware enough that I’m not the type of person that’s out there kicking someone’s ass, cheating, or throwing about unnecessary drama in my relationship in order to instill some fake sense of “fight” in myself. I don’t need to feel the fight in order to know I am willing to fight for someone or something. But… (there it is again)… in order to be successful as a basic human being requires a great deal of fight and motivation.
Narcolepsy is a big part of why every fight from my past was a literal make-or-break, do-or-die situation. I was always on the brink of everything. If I woke up five minutes late one more time, I’d be out of a job. If I spent 30 minutes too long flirting on a date rather than going home, I wasn’t going to be able to make it through all I had to do the next day. If I didn’t make it through one more 25,000 word paper, I would go from an A to an F. If I went to an F, I would be out $6,500 for one class. If I had to shell out $6,500 to retake a class, I would be living on Top Ramen for a year and I would be another 6 months away from fixing my car engine. I literally set my life up to have so many consequences that although I was the one in charge of my life, I had absolutely no choice but to do.
Every single day I had to do. Do and do and do more.
Today, I do not operate alone. I am in an actual working relationship. Because I can’t live by only my own rules and create an unraveling thread that could eventually hang me in life, I have to do a number of things that aren’t planned anymore.
It is hard, if not entirely impossible, for me to explain how doing all I did with untreated narcolepsy was such a big deal. I had to plan EVERYTHING. I had to stand in an elevator and plan whether or not I would exhaust the energy to smile and speak to the person next to me. I had to plan whether or not I would take the elevator because if I took the stairs, that could mean I would end up doing less at the end of the day.
Today, I cannot plan altercations. I cannot plan conversations. I cannot even avoid them.
I can’t not cook. I can’t not eat for a week.
It takes more energy for me to refuse to watch television every night with Stark than it does to just drain my entire existence into binge watching Netflix for hours each night.
The funny thing is, I am living the life I want, but I can’t shake my own sense of survivalism. So, that gives me a great deal of excess energy. And the excess energy explodes in a variety of damn near schizophrenic reactions. I can go from bouncing off the roof with hyperactivity to sharp, squinting eyes of fiery hatred for no reason other than the internal swan dive of fast plummeting energy I feel as the day starts to wind up.
Just recently I had a long conversation with one of my best friends. In fact, great conversations with many of my greatest friends – Alissa, Byron, Noah, Davee – that taught me a lot. I was telling Davee in so many words, “The thing is, I have the life I want. But I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know how to treat it. In the 20 years before now, I knew exactly how to snap myself out of unhealthy patterns. It was always a hard reset button. Move on. Start over. Get strong. Meditate. Pray. Eat well. Call your friends. Be grateful. I knew exactly what to do. The problem is now, I’ve been so successful in my life after conquering a life previous to this that to go through the motions of healing means that I am pushing a hard rewind button rather than a hard reset. All my previous go-to moves do not work anymore because they’re either built for a life far different from the one I have now, or they are things I am already doing.”
So I’m in survival mode despite going through all the motions.
I’ve done everything right. I scored the perfect job. I’ve been promoted several times. I manage my own business. I meditate. I exercise. I take my vitamins. I am grateful. I keep a journal. I do this or that. But, I don’t have much time to do anything else. So ultimately, I’m still feeling behind and feeling behind is what makes me feel like I need to fight to survive.
The answer seems easy. I’m sure you’re already thinking it. “Just go back to school or get a side job.” That’s not it though. That’s that hard rewind I was talking about. The answer isn’t to alienate myself and be single again, managing my own time and predicting every minute of my day. I live with a man who is as paranoid about planning as I am paranoid about not knowing what to expect. Yin and yang. The answer is to balance and balancing is considerably more difficult. It is unpredictable.
I am trying a new version of life, however. After a work reorg, I’ve spent weeks reorganizing my own life and squeezing the budgets I have for my team. I get a lot of satisfaction from that level of autonomy. For two weeks now, I’ve been on a diet reset and jamming protein and vitamins into my life like none other. For two weeks, I’ve been going to bed at a more consistent time and waking up at the same time, regardless of what I have to do.
What I want to do is replace my previous survivalism mode of education with the R&D I need to do to advance in my career. I have three certifications I need to get. I have dozens of trainings I need to do. And I need to relearn SQL and Python. What I need to do to replace my previous life of two extra jobs specific to the creativity and entertainment fields is, I need to develop my website idea, my app, write my books, and attend concerts.
My problem? It is me against my narcolepsy in this instance. Without the fight-or-flight and without the deafening inner-battle of anxiety, fear, or paranoia, not even the world’s greatest coffee will lure me into a being so “full on” (oh geez, there I go with Aussie terms again) as I once was.
I’ve managed to get myself out of bed at 7am with or without meetings to go to, but I am flailing in this new territory. Ironically, I had to reduce the amount of instant anxiety I felt in the morning by being responsible for things I ultimately couldn’t control 13,000 kilometers away from me, and yet by removing that kind of instant fear felt at the exact moment of waking up, my ability to start my day is like trudging through a sludge of self doubt and short term memory loss. “What was I doing again?”
I’m on the verge. I feel as though I am almost there. I just have no idea how to replace such unhealthy fear with a healthier motivation. I’ve always struggled to do things on my own terms. I only do things because someone else needs it or because I’m being paid for it. And yet, three out of four years running I have written entire novels in less than three weeks. I’ll throw up 128,000 steps in one week when no one is even competing with me.
What really gets me is that in my conversation with Davee this last week, he insisted I needed to stop tracking everything! He insisted I needed to put away the lists, throw away the FitBit, and stop calculating life if I wanted to get rid of unnecessary anxiety. I get it. I know what he is saying. He said, “Change your personality! Seriously! You weren’t born this way.” Which, unfortunately, is far from true. I was literally born criticizing the use of time or I wouldn’t have been managing fake money accounts and playing office at the age of four rather than playing house with the neighborhood boys.
I do have an app that reminds me to do certain things to “check out” and take care of myself. I do have a project management app for work that reminds me all I have to do at work. I do have an app that sends automated reminders for urgent tasks. I do have an app that’s more like a notepad, full of random to-do’s I think of on the go. And then I have a notepad – two actually. I’ve learned the hard time over and over that if I want to stay within my marketing budgets, maintain a healthy team, or even maintain a healthy relationship that first I have to do less so that everyone around me feels like they don’t have to live at some super human level of doing/responding as much as I do. So, it seems the answer to doing more for all involved is for me to do less.
And right now I’m currently trying to figure out how to keep my promises (because I am a crazy person about keeping promises) in my career and in my personal life without feeling like I have to do it all at once while battling the desire to just drop things all together.
In the end, it is all just a matter of time management. Like things have always been for me. I have to manage my time in a sense of energy. Some people with chronic illness refer to it as a spoon theory. I have to manage my spoons, they would say. I just don’t know how to have a high-level career and be in a very involved relationship – both of which bring unpredictability to my life – without ending my day with too much or too little energy – both of which take my perceived super human strength and result in super human overreactions. Think, Hulk.
Maybe I need to become a runner…