Sunday, January 22, 2012

Taking the Stress Train to Crazy Town

I was running late on Friday. Meeting my dad for lunch, a lunch I had nearly cancelled because I was so swamped at work and was certain I shouldn't leave, but changed my mind when I realized that the only thing that was going to help me finish the busy, pressure filled day without screaming or sitting hunched over my desk with a grimace of pure anxious frustration on my face, was actually stopping for an hour of food and conversation with one of my touchstones.  I can tell my dad nearly anything and he knows me well enough to know exactly what I want to hear and better yet what I need to hear, with minimal sugar coating.

So picture me in my car, filled with frustration and minor road rage, just that day the stress of the last few months/weeks had settled nicely into a viscous knot in my right shoulder blade, determined to creep up the side of my neck. (This has happened before when I'm stressed, but it's been years. It's always been my body's subtle way of saying "Slow down, crazy.") So I'm hollering in my car at the "stupid, slow mother f%*&er" in front of me. I finally pull into the restaurant parking lot, find a space in the packed lot somewhere near the very back, what feels like a mile away from the restaurant, and then as I'm hustling down the sidewalk to get to the front door, certain that I'm quite late (a whole 7 minutes,) certain that I'm going to be late getting back to the office, certain that the deadlines and urgent needs awaiting me back at the office will catch afire while I'm off eating a turkey sandwich, when smack dab in front of me, blocking the entire sidewalk and entrance to the restaurant is a very old woman using one of those walker canes and being escorted by, who I can only assume is, her doting son.

This is how I feel about the day so far.

He holds her arm gently crooked over his and keeps taking tiny baby steps next to her as they make their very slow procession to the front doors. They smile and chat amiably, she is wrapped in a huge down coat and fluffy scarf.  And my immediate thought is "Damn it, these people are in my way, why are they so friggin slow?" Except I didn't say friggin. I didn't say anything out loud. It's the nasty voice in my head shouting "Why, why, why? Don't they know I'm in a hurry? F*ck!" And then I heard myself and felt how tightly I was gritting my teeth and holding my mouth in this thin lipped scowl. I was scowling and internally cursing this sweet old lady and her kind son. (Let's assume he is kind for this story, he could be a total douche most days, no idea) But here in my head I cursed them and I suddenly felt like a fool. In the ten seconds that these cursing, idiotic thoughts flitted through my brain I caught myself. I stopped myself. I realized that in two months or two years or two decades, nothing that I'm stressed about today will even matter. Being seven minutes late for lunch is minor. No one cares. And nothing is worth cursing old ladies. This is what old ladies do, they are slow. They can take their time. They need to protect their hips. They've earned it. I hope to have someone kind enough to walk me to lunch when I'm ninety. What is the hurry anyway? I think if you live to see your nineties you must realize that there is no hurry anymore. And there never really should have been in the first place.

I stopped in my tracks, in my foul mouthed, aggressively hurried tracks. I stopped cold. I stood there. I waited behind this sweet little pair until the son ushered his mother into the front doors and out of the frigid temperatures. He held the door for me after she walked in. We smiled at each other and at his mother and I said thank you. And the whole time I felt like an ashamed moron. I wanted to hug them both and apologize. Which would have looked insane. But I caught myself, right? That counts for something? This old lady and her cane gave me the exact attitude shift that I needed. The entire day turned around in that moment.

I was seated at a table, my dad wasn't even there yet ironically, and I thought about the rushing, the hurry. What's the rush? Where am I rushing to? What am I hurrying for? Where is it getting me? I'm not talking about skipping important deadlines or dissatisfied clients, but what's the hurry? Half of my stress comes from deadline expectations that I've trained my clients to expect. Maybe I need to retrain them, and myself, for a little while until some projects are finished. Maybe I need to slow down at home too. I'm rushing through books, anxious to get to the end. I want to consume all the wonderful movies and books and tv shows and everything excellent on the internet and Pinterest and blogs and magazines and I want to see it all. What if I miss something? And that's insane. That's Crazy Town. It's impossible. I will never read all the good books. I will never see all the good movies. I will never finish all of my work projects. I'm not supposed to. That's not how it works. So I'm going to slow it down. I'm going to put the brakes on the rush. I'm going to try to catch myself before I begin cursing old ladies, even in my head. My shoulder blade is starting to loosen up already. 

I don't think I can actually change my desire to yell and scream at slow drivers or slow walkers or slow slow slow anyone when I'm in a hurry, but I can stop myself and catch myself before I snarl while shopping behind your grandmother as she feels each peach in the produce section, or while trying to order a sandwich behind your dad as he asks how thin the pastrami is sliced today. I think I will still want to call everyone who irritates me a "stupid mother f^$ker" at least in the car, but I think I can cut back on that as my first response. I think if I'm in less of a hurry to get there, I might not curse everyone who's slowing me down and instead walk along next to them, if consciously having to slow myself down to baby steps now and then.

I've been slowly writing this post in my head since Friday. Planning to do some online research to find a little "no rushing primer" to help guide me as I try to slow my roll, and again, synchronicity, my friend Brenda posted a link to this article called "How Not to Hurry" on Facebook this morning. It was exactly what I needed. I'm not alone. I'm not the only person who probably curses old ladies in my head. And I'm not the only one seeking a change and a different pace for fulfillment. So thanks, Brenda, for posting this when you didn't even know I needed to read it today. I"m going to use this as a little bit of a guide. I'm going to stop trying to compare my level of busy to your level of busy as some kind of success measurement tool. I'm going to find the right level of busy for myself. And I'm going to live my life being as productive and helpful and relaxed and engaged as I can be, and utilizing the least usage of mother f&^ker as possible. At least when aimed at grandmothers.


Brenda said...

So glad that was helpful! I think we can all use that reminder (I know I can). It's also part of my crusade against "busy." I HATE that word and the competition it inspires. I think we should start to a competition to see who can be the most relaxed :-)

Bex said...

I understand this completely!

Most days -- I would say 95% of them, actually -- I don't get in a hurry.

On the days in which I *am* frazzled and hurried, I get upset with myself for being so (because generally it's my own fault, anyway), which in turn makes it worse, thus making my propensity to curse and scream (sometimes in my head, sometimes in my car) worse.

Sometimes an event like this is all you need for something to trigger your mind into CALMING THE HELL DOWN. I know I've needed it before, myself! Deep breath, all is well :)

lanie@ plumb tuckered said...

Ugh. It never, ever helps to be in a hurry.... around here, invariably, the kids pick up on the stress and, in what I can only assume is a protective move on their part, grow wary and slow down until we are all so frustrated with each other we want (and do) start screaming.
Someday I will learn not to do this. Until then, I am with you; noticing and correcting myself TOTALLY counts.

Nae said...

Woweeeee, woman. I love this post. Course here i am rushing through as it's been that sort of week over here too. I love the moment you 'reset' your pace. Suddenly feeling the need to be mindful - it smacking you in the face cold can be quite an attitude changer. You're normally the coolest cucumber I know, so I hope you truly had a breather in that pressure cooker in your head. Plus, being angry at little old ladies isn't sexy. :P I hope you're smiling and not smirking at me. :)

bethany actually said...

When the universe sent you a message in the form of that little old lady and her walker and her kind son, you got the message. I'd say that's an excellent sign that you can retrain yourself to hurry less.

I think I'm pretty good about not being in a hurry most of the time, especially since I had kids and started homeschooling. But when I get behind the wheel of a car I am still always in a hurry. Someone said to me once, "We're all rushin' to the same red light," and I try to remember that when I catch myself cussing at other drivers for having the audacity to go two miles under the speed limit.

Kassie said...

Thanks for the comments, ladies. I'm not normally quite so insane, more like 75% mellow, though I am almost always that foul mouthed, so I think it's a perfect time to look at what's driving my rush and try to slow it before it gets worse. My shoulder feels awesome today by the way!