If you enquire after me on any particular day, I’ll probably tell you I’m busy. Like many women with a job, family and home, I find it hard to step out of my life, for quiet contemplation, time out with loved ones, or even just to read a book in the middle of the afternoon.
So at the end of March when it looked like I would be furloughed from my job at Tribe Porty, I was curious and apprehensive about how this would affect me. As much as I might have wanted it, I couldn’t see myself developing a Netflix habit or a daily yoga practice.
And so it was, when confined to home apart from daily exercise and trips to the supermarket, I found myself not with unexpected freedom to explore another side of myself but constantly, mindlessly busy.
How was it that taking my 4 day a week job out of the equation, I could fill my time so completely with housework, home schooling, feeding the family, walking the dog and maybe a bit of exercise?
With entire days to play with, and literally everyone on the internet encouraging me to use this time well, why did I find it so hard to focus on anything other than the work right in front of my face? I had fallen straight into the booby trap of caring and housework, the essential, yet invisible work that largely falls to women and during lockdown, even more so.
Alone with my thoughts while I walked the dog or scrubbed the shower, I began to tune in to this endless mental chatter, and I wasn’t having a very kind conversation with myself. It made me tired and dispirited, frustrated with myself and yet more unproductive.
As a teenager sitting exams I could never start revising until my bedroom was immaculately tidy. As an adult I still use this distraction technique, only now I have a lot more than my bedroom to straighten out. During lockdown, when my days were stripped of the routine of ‘normal’ daily life I came to realise that I use ‘being busy’ to avoid slowing down and putting my mind to the kind of work that needs quiet time and reflection.
In the past, I’ve tried to quiet my mind with meditation but at best it made me bored and at worst anxious. I’ve had more success with physical exercise, which helps me spend time out of my head and in my body. In the last two years I’ve found solace in swimming in the sea, especially in winter. I heard someone interviewed recently who said he swims “because it gives him a moment of profound disassociation from the stupidness of life”. I totally get that. When you’re immersed in freezing cold water, the experience is so visceral, there’s little room to fret about your daily worries.
At the end of May, the brutal killing of George Floyd and everything that ensued, shook me from my lockdown navel gazing.
Watching events play out on the news and on social media brought many uncomfortable realisations, chiefly overwhelm and feeling helpless to know how I, a privileged white British woman should respond. What could someone like me possibly add to the conversation? I felt vulnerable expressing my thoughts publicly yet eager not to retreat by avoiding or ignoring the issues.
Around this time, a friend recommended me to Leesa Renee Hall’s Inner Field Trip, a ten day reflective writing challenge to help highly sensitive people unpack their inner biases. I signed up and for ten days I set my timer and using one of Leesa’s writing prompts, wrote for 20 minutes, unedited, stream of consciousness style.
And it was powerful. Giving myself permission to write freely, unedited and without self criticism for 20 minutes each day was surprisingly therapeutic. It helped me get some of the endless chatter out of my head and on to paper, where I could either dismiss it as unhelpful, or reflect and make sense of it. I could more easily see which of my thoughts I wanted to claim and which I could dismiss as those my brain, for obnoxious thuggery, had sent to mug me.
So I’ll keep writing, and through developing a writing habit, I hope to make sense of the thoughts that fly in like a malevolent fairy, slap me around the face and fly straight back out again, leaving me drained and irritable.
Sitting down regularly to write should slow me down and stop me from being constantly distracted by my mental to-do list. But I also hope that writing will strengthen my voice, make me less hesitant to share what I think and ultimately help me own my thoughts and know my mind better.