After a wonderfully relaxing and invigorating two weeks of holidays, tomorrow I return to teaching classes. The time hasn’t been entirely free from work as I had a fair amount of scripts to correct, and in the end – despite the usual intentions to Do All The Work and Preparation and Re-enter Working Life in Perfect Calmness – I only really got the essential work done. So I’m returning with the same sense of foreboding and nervousness that I always get after a break.
There’s going to be a lot of work to my evenings in the coming weeks, and the children are being particularly tough to get into bed with the brighter evenings, meaning that little sliver of time when I still have enough energy to work, and they are asleep and not needing constant attention, is in one of its most eroded states.
I’m also feeling pretty stressed about an extra-curricular activity that I’m organising to have some of the students take part in a marathon relay. I’ve badly pulled a muscle in one of my calves and can’t train. I need to collect money and forms. One team can’t find enough people to run with them. Every week I have to call someone who may or may not answer their phone in order to access the training area.
All in all, it’s just a lot of extra stress and worry because it’s all so wishy washy and other people tend to be crap at getting organised and /or committed and that annoys the hell out of me.
And everything runs right up against everything else these days. Like, there is no “gap” between parenting and house-running and friends and children’s friends arranging meet-ups, and cooking and exercising and everything – there’s no “gap” between any of that and just walking into my classes at 8:50 tomorrow morning. And that feels weird and wrong and stressful to me.
Where did I get this idea that the world should pause and allow me to breathe before a change of tack? It’s something that I feel in my bones that should be there somehow! And I guess I used to take it? I mean, I find Sundays stressful even when they’re not coming back from a long break and heading into the final term within which EVERYTHING MUST BE DONE!
It feels like some scary bomb countdown is happening and the fear and anxiety rise in me, ticking away my life, living constantly in an imagined future for which I’m not prepared, paralysed in the present and unable to act.
It’s no way to live. It’s not living. It’s running out the seconds of my life until moments have passed and happened to me, rather than living through those seconds myself – enjoyable or not.
No, the world is not going to pause for me. I will have to learn how to breathe while the world keeps turning. It reminds me of jumping rope as a young girl. I used to find it so terrifying to “jump in”, to the degree that I just wouldn’t participate in groups that were playing rope jumping games. Okay, so I’m not particularly co-ordinated, but I just wouldn’t even try. I’d just watch from an envious distance, imagining what it would be like to take part.
I’m nearly 40 now, and I still approach parts of my life that way. Imagining a life when I’m perfectly prepared, internally panicking and externally snapping at those closest to me when it feels impossible for me to “jump in” unprepared. Failing to exist and enjoy what’s happening now.
So, what can I do? Take a breath. Do what I must, then do what I can.
A few weeks ago, I came up with an internal touchstone phrase. “I’m doing the best I can”. It’s an interesting phrase because I had often used it as a kind of a whine when things felt over-whelming, but it was a lie. I wasn’t doing the best I could. I was feeling aggrieved that things weren’t easier and that is not the same thing at all.
If I truly challenge myself to do the best I can, then it’s actually a very satisfying thing. It brings with it the realisation that I have choices to make about how I respond to situations – no matter how overwhelming things seem, I can choose what I will do next, and if I pause for long enough to make that choice, and make it the best choice I can, then I will no longer be paralysed. I’ll no longer be swept along in the waves of a life that doesn’t even feel like my own.
Even if I don’t get everything done perfectly, I’ll have done all I can, that will be enough and it will be mine.