By Vega Subramaniam
No, don’t answer that. I’m actually not interested in prolonging that conversation in this moment.
In this moment, what I’m actually interested in is turning again to taking care of ourselves.
During a recent call with a friend, I asked her what she was up to at the moment. Her reply was, oh, I’m just hanging out on my couch. “Watching TV?” I asked. “Reading? Scrolling?” Genuinely puzzled, she responded, “no, just…hanging out on my couch. Just sitting here.”
What, now? “Just sitting here”? That is not my experience of life. It’s not that I live at turbo-speed or anything; far from it. It’s that if I am awake, I am in motion. Sometimes literally, floating from room to room on a constant chase after my memory: “why did I come into the study, again? Hm, can’t remember.” Float back into the living room…“oh, right, my notebook.” Back to the study, grab the notebook, back to the living room, drop the notebook on the couch, head to the kitchen for a glass of water…“wait, why’d I come into the kitchen? Can’t remember.” Back to the living room—oh, right, water. And it begins again.
But my “being in motion” is not always physical. Sometimes, even though I’m sitting in one place, I’m still in motion. I am scrolling, while the TV is on, along with responding to emails, in addition to talking with Mala, all at once, simultaneously, at the same time.
You know what it is? It is a gambit to deaden the constant noise in my head. I can’t sit still because if I do, then I’ll hear the dreaded cacophony in my head. That’s very dangerous, you understand. That’s red-alert levels of stress and anxiety and grief and rage—and, lately, more than anything, despair. My brain won’t shut up, and most of what it has to tell me falls into one of three categories: (1) nonsense; (2) execrable nonsense; (3) doomsday level, apocalyptic, truly off-the-rails nonsense.
Hence, my motion. I am on the run from the despair lurking just beneath my constant motion. “Hanging out on my couch” (and doing nothing else) is an unacceptable invitation for a meltdown.
…Is what I fear.
But is it what I know?
No, actually. It’s not what I know. What I know is that in fact, and counterintuitively, it’s only when I slow down that I regain my ability to silence the cacophony in my head. It’s when I stop running, pause, and breathe, that the noise dissolves. And then it’s just me and fresh, clear, life-giving air.
What a welcome reminder that now, especially now, is exactly the time to revisit and reinstate the full assemblage of routines and practices and every last damn thing that keeps our heads above water, because for the love of all that is holy, as many of us as possible have to survive. We have to crush these next few days and weeks and months.
For Mala, by contrast, that means quelling her fears by planning. As she says, “If I have my Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, then I can take care of myself in order to be in the best shape to execute on the plan.” Once she’s done the scenario planning, then she can shift her focus to the internal work necessary to keep going.
And for you? What are you doing that’s keeping you centered? If you’re drowning in anxiety, what can you return to, starting now? What will support you to return to yourself?
It’s on, friends. Let’s take care of ourselves.