The One Question I Never Asked (aka Finding Life Balance)

I’m more excited than I should be typing this, but I can’t help it. By this time tomorrow, I will be out of Atlanta and in the company of my sisters, my mother, and my nephew on the other side of the country. It will be my first real chance to step away and review the true status of my life balance as of 2018.

I’m extremely grateful that I have the option and opportunity to step away from everything, if only for just a week and a half–and literally just in body. But sometimes, that is all you need.

(Mystic statements aside–seriously, I hope that’s enough time. :|)

I won’t go into the details of how this year has been for me just yet. I’m going to save that for a huge and exciting New Year’s Day Extravaganza POST AT YEAR’S END!

What I will do for now is reflect on the impact that this year has had on me, in regards to my life balance.

New City, Old City

Since I moved to Atlanta ten years ago, I have been struggling to find my proper life balance. In 2008, I arrived with the usual 20-something stressors of a woman with a new job in a new place:

  • New, bigger, busier city–and me with zero social skills
  • Relocating with no furniture, no family or friends, and no money

It’s a lot to process for anyone. At the time, I didn’t know that some of my stressors were due to my introversion, my social anxiety, and my high levels of environmental sensitivities. I simply felt like a mess in every situation I fell into.

A person can live in a city for years and still consider it a stepping stone to where they really want to be.

And honestly? Until just a few weeks ago, that was exactly what I considered this city.

I was living in it. I wasn’t living as part of it.

My Life vs. “Their” Lives

I look at some of the friends I grew up with (thanks, FaceBook) and watch the progress they’ve made as the years have passed. Some of them are rising acting stars, playwrights, successful novelists. Some of them have been happily married for years. One or two have a baby on the way. A couple of them have several babies.

I look at their lives…and a pang hits my chest.

It’s not envy. I couldn’t be happier for my friends who have all obviously worked hard for the lives they wanted.

Still, it is human nature to look at someone else’s life that appears, for all intents and purposes, to be perfect; reflect internally on your own; and, just for a blink, think, “Why is my life not that awesome?”

Oh–you don’t do that?

Well…I do, dagnabbit.

Life Balance Revelation

I’d like to share a story, if I may.

At the end of 2017, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to dive back into daily meditation. I used to be a huge proponent for meditating in high school but had grown away from it as the years (and college and depression) passed through. Meditating has always made me feel better, but the time it takes to prepare a sacred spot can be time-consuming.

“Excuses, excuses!” I’d told myself on that first fateful December 2017 night, and thus lit a white candle and inserted some industrial-strength earplugs to help me maintain my focus.

I chose a visual meditation method in which I ascended to a plane where an ethereal group therapy session was being held (yeah, I don’t skimp on my imagery!). The facilitator, a black woman with short hair and deep purple robes, welcomed me, introduced me to the group, then asked me why I’d come.

Immediately, I released all of my emotional woes to her and the group. As I had “imagined” everything around me, I knew it was a safe enough place to tell them all of my frustrations and problems. I knew I wouldn’t be judged for “taking up too much time” or being whiny or just mind-vomiting. I knew that “they” were there to help me.

The Question That Changed Everything

Sure enough, the facilitator and company listened patiently, and asked questions appropriately to gain clarity of some of my concerns. Internally, I was rather impressed with my own imagination. I hadn’t gone this far into characterization in a long time; maybe one of my woes (could I still write fiction?) wasn’t as far gone as I thought.

Then, the facilitator looked at me, took a deep breath, and asked someone that I had never, ever considered asking myself.

Why are you waiting to be happy?

My real eyes POPPED open.

“…Huh.”

I don’t know why this was a question that I’ve never asked myself.

I don’t know why, despite the significant number of counselors and therapists I’ve had, I’ve never heard that question.

It’s a simple enough question.

And yet.

Shaken out of my meditation, sitting there in the darkness of my bedroom as I repeated the question to myself, I had absolutely no answer to give.

Making Life Balance THE Priority

If I’m watching everyone around me have such a great life, why am I not doing anything to enjoy my own life?

Seriously. Why am I not getting off my lazy butt and looking into all of the events and adventures and projects that will lead me to my best life ever?

I mean, will the steps I need to take to gain my life balance be difficult?

Heck. YES.

But, I want to be happy. So, I took a deep breath and made the effort to be happy.

And 2018 has been the absolute fruits of that effort.

But.

One thing this year taught me is that life balance does not stop with just getting out of my house more, traveling to other countries, and switching my fashion sense (I like skirts. So sue me.).

The last three months alone opened my eyes to a lot of emotional and mental damage that I wasn’t even aware of. Mentalities that I thought had made me proud, independent, and strong had in fact made me bitter, isolated, and standoffish.

I thought life balance was only about external forces: balancing work with play, sleep with physical activities, social interaction with time to yourself.

I forgot about building and maintaining relationships; understanding why I behave and react to events the way that I do, and taking time to check in on myself.

Because I wasn’t doing that.

But this year was making me realize I needed to. In more ways than one.

I’m still determining what my game plan will be in 2019. However, I do know that my focus will be on developing a fully realized life balance for myself.

And that will start with getting away from home to clear my mind–if just for a moment.

Adieu, Atlanta. I will see you again at year’s end.

Getting Enough Sleep–It Feels Good, Cuz it Be Good

Question to anyone reading this: did you get enough sleep last night?

Be honest.  I won’t tell anyone.

No?

Me, neither.

And I know you’re not being flippant when you answer, because I’m not being flippant, either.

I didn’t get enough sleep last night.  Or enough sleep two nights before.  And I certainly wasn’t getting enough sleep two weeks ago.

How did I know?

Because I got a lot of very interesting and disturbing physical symptoms.

Signs I Wasn’t Getting Enough Sleep

Day One – Delirious Deception

The first day after not getting enough sleep isn’t so bad.  But of course, this is how it tricks you.  I actually feel a little buzzed, a touch giddy.  My mind is still relatively sharp, and I even feel a little bit more motivated to get things done.  I make jokes at work that are engaging, fun.  Hi-larious.

I get home feeling proud.  Could I go for a nap?  Sure.  But I’ve job–I mean, got some other work to do.  So let’s do that, instead.  Bedtime will come eventually.

Day Two – Just Five More Minutes

Bedtime does come eventually–three or four hours before I’m supposed to wake up.  My eyelids are slow to lift; my body is slow to rise.  Everything feels a bit heavy.  I have a headache, but nothing a bit of Aleve can’t handle.  I just gotta get through the day.

Concentration is tough. The three meetings that I must engage in make it even harder.  People ask me questions; I know I know the answer.  I mumble something.  They give me strange looks.  Great; I’ve alienated even more people from my life.  Why did I say that dumb thing?

Skip to Day Five – Smear-My-Face Exhausted

I hurt.  But I gotta get this project done.  Focus, B.  Why do I feel like throwing up all of a sudden?  This headache has been hear for the last three days.  And Aleve isn’t working anymore.  Stop getting distracted, B!  I’d love to take a day off, but I gotta work.  Everyone’s counting on me.  But no one likes me, so why am I even trying?  Why doesn’t anyone like me?  What is their problem?

Did I misspell something earlier?  It still kinda makes sentse, its gonna.

Skip to Day Nine – This Be a–a Suck

Everthing stupid.  Hate all.  Why is tree so crying don’t wanna work.  What I was doing?  Huh?  Ugh Gujhvh.

Skip to Day Eleven – SYS3TM F@lUr3

I can’t see.

The Deterioration of Health without Enough Sleep

I wish I could say the last few sections were me exaggerating, but I’m not.  Managing my sleep patterns has been a struggle for me since college.  I was not a college party-goer; however, I still became involved in the “finish reports at the last minute” club, all the way up to me hovering in my dorm door, hand poised over the printer’s paper tray as it spit out my latest “masterpiece.”

Today, I have multiple projects that I am juggling as I frantically learning to manage my time better.  Even though I gave up my proofreading business for now, I’m busier than ever–and with seemingly less hours in the day to complete everything.  My weekends are my only respite, but even then I spend 50% of the time visiting friends that I neglected during the week.

In a week’s time, I will be flying out to Europe for a week and a half for a global young leadership forum that my manager at work nominated me to attend.  The forum will be full of people–a plethora of networking and business opportunities that I must–need–to take advantage of.  And I absolutely need to be at the top of my game.

It’s bad enough that I’m a socially awkward super introvert.  I certainly can’t afford to be a half-asleep, overly anxious, mortifyingly moody, socially awkward super introvert.

I’m juggling a lot of balls, including my sleep quality.  Now that life’s momentum is truly running in my direction, I can’t afford to drop anything now.

One site that I learned of last week and am thoroughly impressed with (and fully intend to immerse myself in over the next few months) is Tuck.com.  Tuck: Advancing Better Sleep, is a online community of valuable, slumber-based information.  It’s dedicated to bringing not just more information on sleep itself, but also offers unbiased reviews on resources and products that will help you sleep better.

Honestly, as much as I love sleep, I’m surprised I’ve never heard of them.  But I intend to delve more into what they say, especially on the ties between sleep and mental health.

Enough Sleep will Give You…Enough

I know I am the worst perpetrator of not getting enough sleep.  I am also the last person who should be giving advice about it.  That being said, the last three weeks of adverse physical and emotional systems were more than enough to make me nervous.  If I want to be able to maintain all of the projects that I am working on, I need to be in the best condition I can be.

And as simple as it may seem, it begins with good sleep.

Though in this case, it will end with sleep.

Cuz it be night, and it’s my bedtime.

Everyone Needs a Moment of Escape

When I was a child, I used to have a simple, recurring fantasy about escaping from my mundane life.  I would imagine walking down a long dirt road or an abandoned railroad wearing nothing but the clothes on my back.  Even my feet would be bare as I dangled my sandals from two fingers and let the ground wear away my soles.

If I was having trouble expressing myself to my family (as you do when you’re six or seven), I would sit beside my bedroom window facing the backyard and think, “I could sneak through the sliding door, over the fence, and down the hill to the main road.  Nobody would notice me.  I could disappear into the night, and I would be…free.”

Of course I never did it.  My plan never formulated beyond reaching the main road.  Beside that, I feared my father and respected my mother too much to believe I would actually get away.

As I grew into adolescence and my introversion solidified, the need to escape intensified.  “Cool” high school parties called to me; though I felt compelled to attend them, I found the elements that made them up unexciting.  The long hours exhausted me.  The endless conversion stressed me out.  Even the loud music and the drinks would slowly drill me into the ground.

The whole experience was beyond my comfort zone.  Or maybe I was too immature for it.  Perhaps the parties (and everyone involved) were part of a melody whose music I couldn’t hear.  Regardless of the reason, I wanted to leave within ten minutes of arriving–and if I’d had the means to do it, I did.

Why The Need to Escape?

The urge to escape is not a new one, for myself or a lot of individuals.  According to sources like Psychology Today and Anxiety Centre, there can be many causes to prompt wanting to leave everything behind:

  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Burnout
  • Boredom
  • Frustration
  • Over-stimulation
  • Stress

Any combination of these, of course, can further exacerbate the urge.  In my case, my childhood self wanted to leave frustrating situations.  My adolescent self was over-stimulated by my environment.

And my adult self?

Let’s just stick in the rest of the above.

Heck–let’s say “all of the above”.

Is it Healthy to Leave Everything Behind?

When attending the aforementioned parties, the urge to escape would bolt itself into my mind without any warning.  It became a demand, then a command.  I would rise from my feet (if I was sitting), murmur a generic “I’ll be right back” to whomever was most likely to hear me.  Then, I would walk away.

Sometimes, it was to an empty corner inside the house or building of said party.  Maybe a guest bedroom no one was supposed to be in, or a sky bridge connecting two hotels.  Once, I walked through a neighborhood whose roads had all but lost their paving.  None of the streetlights worked; each path lay in a heavier darkness the further I traveled from the party house.

I would be too emotionally overwhelmed to comprehend how my behavior would appear to others.  Days later, however, recollection would leave me mortified, and I would apologize to my friends and family.

I began to practice preventative meditation and learn other ways to prepare for all scenarios that would delay this “flee and flight” response, hoping that I could reduce the urges and the probabilities for embarrassing myself.

Nevertheless, my shame never dimmed the images of the dirt road or the sounds of my feet as they crunched the gravel beneath them.

How to “Escape” Appropriately

Despite my research and pre-party prevention, the desire to escape continues to return.  There have been many times when I’ve walked out on friends and family to find a quiet spot to collect myself.  When I returned to the  group 10, 15, 30 minutes later, friends would peer into my eyes, their countenances awash with curiosity, worry and fright.  Sometimes anger would flash through, and justifiably so.

I learned I had to be even more preventative to not only give myself time and allowance to step away, but to give my loved ones time to anticipate my removal from the grid.  Case in point, this vacation.

Other options to utilize escape time:

  • Plan regular vacations, including random three-day weekends.
  • Take walks in nature (parks, botanical gardens, etc) where you can’t see or hear the sounds of the civilization.
  • Embrace the silence after arriving home from work or after you put the kids to bed.
  • Leave parties when you want to–not until you feel obligated.

I think half the battle is giving ourselves permission to escape, if only for a moment.  If we don’t give ourselves that chance, then we remain stuck in a loop where we believe we don’t deserve peace.  And we do.

Peace of mind = peace of soul.