What happens when you stop? When you take time to slow down?
For a long time I’ve been too scared to stop. When I finished work 6 years ago I filled the time with stuff. Rather than stop. I tried everything to fill the time and to give my life some sense of purpose. Because I felt it was the right thing to do. But largely because I was too scared to just stop.
A friend of mine has recently retired and I’ve watched her going through the same process. Many people have said that once you retire you shouldn’t rush into things, you should take time to decide what it is exactly that you want to spend these years of your life doing. I didn’t take that time. I couldn’t possibly take that time, because I was terrified of what I would find there in that quiet. I was terrified of the void, of the unknown and so I filled it with stuff. Stuff that I imagined was leading me to finding purpose in my life – because what purpose could a middle aged childless woman possibly have in this world and so I started to create something. Anything. But it increasingly made me tired and anxious. Worst of all, it stopped me enjoying the time I had to spend with my husband.
I think I knew I really needed to stop when I went on yoga retreat earlier this year. I knew then that I was pretty much at the end of my tether – but the yoga retreat was something else that I believed would help. And I think, in a way, it did, because I recognised at that point that something had to change. I couldn’t carry on the way that I was.
Although I did. Until a couple of months ago. When I finally stopped, or should I say, was forced to stop. I’ve been studying for another degree with the Open University because I do just love learning. I’d signed up for an English Language course based on grammar and how we use it in the world. I really was not enjoying it. I thought I was good at grammar – but it seems that I am not. I was struggling with the way the course was structured, I was struggling to keep up. Largely because I didn’t really want to keep up, because I didn’t really want to be doing the course. In the other modules I’ve done I’ve really enjoyed the assessments throughout the module. I hated this one and decided that I needed to withdraw before I got too far along with it. And so I did.
This happened to coincide with various other things. I’d planned and hosted a party for my parents 60th Wedding Anniversary. I’d set up and opened a pop-up Christmas Card Shop in Bristol. Nothing particularly major, but a flurry of things all happening and finishing at the same time – including the deadline for my first assessment.
When I withdrew from the course I had nothing. Nothing at all. There is not one thing in my diary for 2023. Normally by this point there are several things in our diary that help us to structure our year, but there is nothing. Normally I would be utterly horrified by the prospect of there being nothing, but something inside me realised that it is finally time to stop. Just stop. Stop trying to fill my time with meaningless stuff that I imagine I need to do to give my life meaning. Just stop. Take time to chat to husband, to friends, to write to people, to go for walks.
Just a few weeks in I have discovered:
There is a really annoying voice in my head that keeps telling me I should be doing things. I now recognise this voice and appreciate that it is just an urge, it is just a voice and actually I don’t have to listen to it. I don’t have to sign up for a course that will fix me, or will help me structure my life. Not acting on what it is telling me to do is really difficult and really uncomfortable, but eventually the voice quietens down a bit.
I do really enjoy walking. If I’m having a moment, going outside for a walk really does help and there are some beautiful places to walk not very far away from where I live. I especially love Nordic walking because that gives me a combination of walking, being outside and having a good old chin wag along the way.
That my faith is more important to me than I had appreciated. I’m not going to go all happy clappy any time soon, but I realise that the quiet faith of my grandparents is actually quite strong and quite important to me. Helped in part by the Christmas Card Shop which was hosted in a beautiful Baptist Church, which wraps it’s arms around you in a wonderful warm bear hug. It’s a place where I feel safe, normal and truly accepted and there’s not too many of those in the world.
I love being with people. I love volunteering in the local St Peter’s Hospice shop. I love chatting to the volunteers at the Christmas card shop. Generally, people have lived such fascinating lives and it is so interesting to find out more about them.
Out of all the things I enjoy doing, making things is probably top of the list. Since I’ve stopped, I’ve been churning pom pom hats like they are going out of fashion. Knitted hats, crochet hats. I’ve sewn some Christmas pyjamas for myself and husband. I’m making things at a rate that I have never managed. Largely because all I am thinking about is what I am making, not thinking about what is happening next, or where I should be next, or how I should be. I’m just focussing on what I am making and actually completing things! I have a very long list of things I’ve wanted to make but have been putting off.
I’ve started to read fiction books again. Partly to help me decide which OU module to study next year, but at least it’s prompted me to read fiction again. That creative part of me that has been put to sleep for far too long is coming back to the fore. Instead of seeing a void in the time ahead of me I see opportunity to make things and there is also a little voice in my head that things I might want to try painting sometime soon – or at least embroidery!
I’m also finally beginning to understand what is going on in my body. I do yoga when it feels right, I sit when it feels right. I walk when it feels right and I am sleeping better than I have for a very long time. I’m finally feeling like I am in a place when I can tackle my diet, making healthy choices, being interested in food rather than just eating what is put in front of me. I’ve even been in coffee shops and declined cake. What is the world coming too!
It’s proving to be very difficult, but I am also trying to stop second guessing where I am headed, or wanting answers, or wanting to know now what I should be doing and why, or worrying about what might happen tomorrow, or the next day. It’s hard. I’m not really a go with the flow kind of person, not in the least, but I am beginning to understand the benefits of moving through life more slowing. Of appreciating what is here and now.
For the first time in a very long time, I just feel content. And that’s a great place to be.