I recently bought myself a watch, the first time that I have owned one in years, and I had to reacquaint myself with the more traditional way of reading time since I’ve mostly been working with digital clocks. I mainly bought the watch for decorative purposes because it has a Mean Girls quote on it.
If anything the watch has made known to me my obsession with time and constant fear that I’m wasting it. I usually wrote this quirk of mine off as being productive, being ambitious, being an overachiever, but recently my constant exhaustion, the stress, the fact that I kept shutting out or snapping at people, has had me put into question how I am choosing to spend my time.
Somewhere around my second year of high school I worked out that every minute of my time I need to be doing something productive or something that is an active move towards my future or I am just wasting my time, and as my mom always says ‘time waits for no man’, so I would volunteer for extra murals every day of the week, I would squeeze in reading, watching, learning into every smidgen of free time that I had in order to feel like I was progressing. I learnt the art of multitasking, I once bragged that I was able to do my homework, watch TV, play the Sims, read a book and knit at the same time.
This progressed way into my adulthood, with me constantly feeling like I need to volunteer any free time I had in order to do something else. The minute I left high school, I threw myself into volunteering at my church, I made sure to always do extramurals at university (because they look good on my CV of course) and I had two part time jobs. After graduating and working full time, I still made sure I was always studying something, reading more than one book, creating projects, writing for various sites, until it left me very little time to relax other than my designated sleeping time.
And everything was timed – from my naptime and bedtime, to the time spent on Twitter, to how much time I spent watching television, I had little alarms going off every hour, planners everywhere plotting out how I would spend every minute. It was almost as if I was constantly Rory Gilmore trying to catch up with all the reading material after being months behind the rest of the grade at Chilton. I was always in a hurry, always chasing a deadline, always a tense ball of stress. I kept on hoping for this stress-free period, a moment when I won’t be constantly bombarded with work and things I *had* to do.
It took a long time for me to realise that the way I was acting was not normal. That this guilt I felt every time I overslept or I watched two episodes of a TV show instead of one, or I got a little distracted on Tumblr or chatting to a friend on Whatsapp was eating at me. It took two things for me to realize this – firstly, an older writer friend enquiring about my unhealthy tendency to kill myself writing articles that I don’t enjoy when I’m not getting paid, and secondly it was the fact that my parents are aging.
The second one wasn’t really a factor when I started obsessing about my future before, I was so focused on allocating my time for personal reasons that I did not consider what if someone needed me in the moment. Unplanned events always give me anxiety so when I am asked to do something on the last moment I usually freak out, even more so when I have a ton of deadlines. But lately my parents have asked me for more than they usually do, they are getting older, simple injuries are affecting them harder, they forget things, they are unable to do what they usually do, and so they ask me for help, and I hate being unable to help them because of the self-induced busyness that I have created for myself.
There came a time when I realised that I was so busy focusing on my future that I wasn’t spending enough time in my present, especially with regards to my parents. I was both lucky and unfortunate to have been born to my parents late in life but that also means that I did not get as much time with them as my siblings, and I need to treasure every moment with them regardless of how tiresome it will be.
One of my favourite writers, Anne T. Donahue shared in her latest newsletter (which I suggest all writers should subscribe to) that she started to enjoy the wonders of life once she started to ease up on her workload, she wrote:
“I wish I had known that earlier. I kind of wish I didn’t have to get sick for two weeks before realizing that I can still be a writer and a person with a life. That would’ve saved me some time and also any/all money spent on Gravol and Imodium. But also growing up is like that weird poem/kids’ game that somehow applies to adult life: “Cant go over it, can’t go under it, can’t around it, have to go through it.” And the world doesn’t stop when you finish your work early and use the rest of the day to get the oil changed because your car was 5000 km above the recommended time. (Or, you take a nap. Because honesty? Napping fucking rules.)”
So I have started putting measures in place to cut down on some activities in order to make my time more flexible, ease up on my alarms, spend time just vegging, and maybe ignoring that pit of dread in my stomach, but most of all to be able to be there for my parents, to help them, to spend time with them, and to enjoy the moments we have together.