I spend a lot of time alone. I work from home, on my own and my partner is away a lot. When I first knew the change from a more “normal” office job to this was happening I panicked. Would I be lonely? Would I get sick of my own company? Would I go mad from talking to the cats all day? I don’t even have children so my days aren’t even broken up by the school run.
So I did what any sane woman would do and put a poll on Instagram asking for advice from other women in a similar position. There aren’t a lot of us (or maybe there are and I haven’t met them yet) but I got some very sound advice. I break up my days with walks in the park and petting other people’s dogs, with yoga and meditation, with swimming (I swam 400m last week – which doesn’t sound like a lot but three months ago I was too sick to leave the house so I’m pretty pleased, but more on that another time).
It hasn’t always been this way
I used to work in law, I teach yoga, I write books. There was a time when I thought it was perfectly acceptable to do all three of these – to rush from one job to another and another, to fill up every spare minute. It’s good to be busy right? If you want something done ask a busy person. It’s like a badge of honour. “How are you today Rachel?” “Oh I’m very busy!” Oh good for you – no need to tell anyone you feel sick as a dog and are falling apart at the seams trying to keep everything together. No need to tell anyone that sitting in an open plan office with other people talking and shouting and yelling into their phones day in and day out is driving you insane. No need to tell anyone that you feel as though your nerves are on the outside of your body and that you’ve cried in the toilet twice today. Because you’re busy and you’re doing life right.
OK. So. Disclaimer. Maybe this works for you. Maybe you love being around other people and thrive on being busy. That’s great, honestly. You do you. But maybe, deep down you know this isn’t working for you. Maybe.
I didn’t think about it until I had no choice
As a child I liked to be on my own, I liked reading and listening to music and playing on my own. I hated birthday parties (a chore to be endured). As a teenager I preferred one on one times with friends (mostly playing on the Nintendo) to going out in a big group. At university I went out to pubs and clubs because I felt I was supposed to, but then had to spend two days in bed decompressing. My favourite night at university was the one I spent at home with my best friend watching Eurovision. Just the two of us (I still don’t know how we managed to flood the kitchen though….).
But because I was outgoing and confident, it never occurred to me that I might be an introvert. Introverts were shy right? Socially anxious? Not always – mostly they just need to spend a lot of time alone, quietly. It’s how they get their energy. It took me a long time to realise this.
So let’s go back to being at a law firm, in an open plan office, while teaching yoga and writing books. Let’s couple that with chronic illness and not asking for help. It’s no surprise that I was signed off sick in April – and for several weeks just the thought of leaving the house, of talking to anyone other than my partner, was too much.
I had to make some big decisions
Some of them I’ll tell you about over the next few weeks but this one I can share. As I started to feel better I made the decision not to go back to the law firm. And when I made that decision I felt that a weight that I had been carrying for years had been lifted. As though I was finally accepting who I really was – chronically ill, introvert and all. It felt like the biggest relief. But as I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this post, I also panicked. What would I do with myself?
I’d been so used to being busy that I’d forgotten what it was like to just be. I’d been praised for being busy – people boggling at how I managed to get it all done. But the truth was I wanted more time to myself, I wanted to be able to do nothing. The truth was I hated being so busy. And it turns out my days feel full and stimulating and to me just as important as they were when I was busy.
And I feel content again
It’s been hard to get over the guilt of not doing as much, of accepting who I am, and accepting my limitations and health problems. But now the things I do are done mindfully and, I think, more productively as I give myself more space and time.
I know not everyone is in the very fortunate position of being able to give up work (although this was mostly tied in with my health), and I know not everyone will want to. But I wonder if we need to move away from this idea of being busy as a status symbol. I wonder if there is another way of navigating this thing called life. And I wonder if there is one thing, however small, that you can change just so you can sit and be for five minutes every day.