Out of Office
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
The thing I won't forget is the sand in the bed. We were in Maui, just north of a beach town called Lahaina, in a one-bedroom condo that we'd rented for five days. There was a window air conditioner that sputtered above the bed. There were clean white sheets, a white blanket, and sand. Mike and I collapsed into bed after being on the beach one day, and normally, sand in the bed would irk me beyond reason. But we were on vacation. This wasn't our bed. I didn't give a damn about the sand and I certainly didn't give a damn about cranking the air conditioner all night.
I brought my laptop, thinking I would write. I brought books, thinking I would read. I did neither because sometimes, there is no activity more valuable than rest. Creativity is work, and I was tired of the grind and constant push, not just at my day job but in my writing life and in my running life. There is no reward without struggle, but sometimes, a person needs a goddamned break. I have never been good at resting though, so although I arrived in Hawaii ready for a break and tired of the grind, I was also unable to let it go. I checked my email periodically, refraining from answering anyone. I thought about work more than I should, as if thinking about a hamster wheel will suddenly transform it into a road to somewhere good.
Mike and I drank Mai Tais and slept in and I ran far less than I normally would. We snorkeled and paddle boarded and ran down and back up the side of a dormant volcano. My pale skin turned pink in the sun and Mike implored me more than once to reapply my sunscreen. Our first night in Maui, we went to a luau and sat on soft cushions on the ground as course after course was brought to our table. Everywhere I looked was beach or jungle or blue, blue sky melting into an even bluer ocean.
I have worked very hard for a very long time, and some days, even in the midst of work that I know will only move the needle forward, I feel as if I'm moving backwards. In my mind, there is always something I could be doing better, should be doing better, and that fact, in and of itself, makes it difficult to relax. Most of my running coaches figured this out early and actively encouraged me to rest. They knew I didn't need pushing; there are plenty of voices in my own mind that push me forward, whether I want them to or not.
Jerry Rice said, "Today I will do what other's won't, so tomorrow I will do what others can't.” At one point, I had that quote taped to my mirror for so many years that the paper turned yellow. The ghosts of things I could be doing keep me up at night, and sometimes I dream that I'm stuck in traffic or late for a meeting, or in a room that I can't get out of. While we were staying in Maui, I had vivid dreams; of getting lost, of running from a crazed murderer, of losing my cat, of being lost myself. The internet might interpret each of these dreams in eighty-seven different ways, but I know the root of them is always anxiety. My fear of not doing enough is directly tied to my fear of not having enough, of worrying over how I'll make ends meet and what I'll do if my car engine dies or if I need an emergency root canal. Fears don't have to make sense to exist and I can usually shove them into the darkest corners of my mind by simply keeping busy. But every so often they resurface, usually in my sleep, and I wake up feeling half-crazed and groggy with relief. None of it was real, I tell myself, unless I believe it to be.
The impetus I feel to keep on moving and working and creating is why I've been able to sustain writing and training and a demanding day job for as long as I have. I like being busy, and I need to run hard and write hard and work hard in order to feel sane. One therapist described my brain as "itchy" as she watched me jump from topic to topic while mashing a stress ball and fidgeting my legs. There is nothing admirable about always needing to do or think. There is nothing admirable in not knowing how to rest, and nothing special about rest itself, except that it is necessary. I am lucky to be able to take a vacation to Maui, and also cursed with a brain that hates the idea of rest almost as much as it needs a break.
A part of me wanted to stay in that sandy Maui bed forever, listening to the air conditioner sputter and watching the trees outside the window makes shadows with one another. Despite my resistance, going to Maui was restful, if only because I was in a new place with no agenda other than to explore and take too many pictures and fall even deeper in love. Another part of me perversely needed to get back to my routine, back to the hamster wheel, and I love and hate that part of me. The part that sees more potential, even when I'm exhausted. The part of me that sets high expectations of myself and works tirelessly to not be disappointed. Setting my out of office message felt a bit like relief and a bit like a prison, and the only thing drawing me back to reality, back to the moment, was being in a new place with Mike, who would hold my hand, gently tell me to put my phone down and say, "I hope you're not checking your email."