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April 20, 2020

I Got the Free Time I always Wanted—& I’m Hating every Minute of It.

Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon


Before the pandemic hit, I was constantly busy, and (I thought) pretty happy.

Fast forward a few weeks into quarantine and I now realise I’ve actually been pretty deeply unhappy and just doing a great job of not noticing it.

But let me back up. About six months ago, I quit a corporate Head of Copy role to go freelance. My intention was to make more time for my creative side projects and write for businesses that were really trying to make a difference in the world. It’s something I’ve been talking about doing for years, and I finally made the leap. 

And then it didn’t really happen.

As a freelancer, I found myself working for more nice, harmless brands, but not genuine “the planet is f*cked and we need to fix it” change-makers. And I was still too busy for my creative side projects. 

Life trundled on. I spent most of my waking hours writing copy to sell products that weren’t necessary (no change there). Then I spent most of my free time on the sofa, on my phone, shopping and watching TikTok videos while daydreaming about the purposeful stuff I was going to do later…when I had more time, more money in the bank, or after we got the house done. 

Enter: the coronavirus.

My freelance projects were grounded to a halt overnight. The prospect of having no money coming in over the next few months (or longer) meant no more buying things. (My favourite time-suck.) So suddenly I’m at home, with all the time in the world for my creative projects—and guess what?

I’m doing absolutely nothing.

Why? Because I’m having a breakdown. Or an identity crisis. Or both. And I’m one of the lucky ones! Unlike the brave souls on the front lines or parents juggling full-time work and childcare, I’m at home with my husband and pets, no work, and an undefined amount of time looming ahead.

Time—the most precious of resources. It’s a gift! And I’m hating every minute of it.

At first, it was all so surreal and overwhelming, there was no room for self-reflection. Like most people, I was glued to the news and social media. My screen time went from an already bad two-plus hours a day to over five hours a day. Then I stopped sleeping. (Insomnia for me is a clear indicator of my mental and emotional wellness, so I know when that happens, it’s bad times.) 

I knew I needed to disengage from the outside world. I was fully stuck in my thinking brain. There was no gap between the thinker and watcher; I got caught up in every anxious thought, like a kite in the wind. Normally, I’d have work or social interactions to pull me out of my head and into the moment, but at home with my husband busy working, it was just me. Me and my irrepressible, anxious thoughts.

The tidal wave of motivational, “make the most of your time off” messages in my inbox only made me feel more anxious and depressed. In fact, all the productivity-championing sent me the other way. You’re going to learn a language? I’m going to eat chocolate, zone out on social media, and watch back-to-back Netflix. There! How’s that for productivity?

And I’m not someone who’s averse to self-help. I love self-help books normally. So the more I couldn’t be bothered doing anything, the more I hated myself. I wanted to escape from my head, my house, the world, the identity I’d constructed for myself, everything. I’ve never had depression before, but I was overcome with feelings of hopelessness and self-loathing. 

I knew I needed an intervention, but I also stubbornly didn’t want to do anything. Wallowing was my new normal. I didn’t want to feel inspired. I didn’t want to feel motivated. I literally wanted to end me—without the literal suicidal intentions. I wanted to give up and start again. I felt like anything I reached for in that moment to make myself “feel better” was just fueling that version of me and I didn’t want to do it anymore. My heart just wasn’t in it. 

I surrendered to the fact that I was lost. I needed help. But in a lockdown situation, intervention options are limited. No killer hot yoga classes, no energy healing treatments, no ayahuasca ceremonies. None of my usual coping strategies. I scanned my mental library of books (both read and waiting to be read) and it was my battered, old copy of The Power of Now that called to me. It’s been a lifeline. 

For anyone who hasn’t read Eckhart Tolle, one of his core teachings is to “accept the present moment and allow it to be.” In the time of a pandemic, that’s a big ask. I wanted to be the kind of person who was responding to the crisis positively. I wanted to finally start delivering for myself, after all these years of telling myself it was just time getting in the way of what I could be contributing to the world.

But this was not my truth. I felt like sh*t.

This initially made me feel even more like sh*t. Then came the epiphany. Not dramatic in the slightest, more like a slow, quiet, calm realisation: my wallowing wasn’t getting in the way of the power of now, it was the power of now. That was the whole point. This was the work—to stay in that space. To not try to self-soothe and distract myself. To confront the feelings that I’d been steadfastly evading with my constant busyness. To get honest with myself.

None of these difficult, uncomfortable feelings were conscious or accessible when everything was “normal.” I knew I wasn’t really living my life entirely in accordance with my values, but I didn’t feel the raw, frustrated, painfulness of my soul being ignored on a daily basis. When we’re busy, it’s easy to not pay attention. 

All these years, in my mind, it was busyness that was blocking me from doing the stuff I really cared about. Now that it had been taken away, I realised busyness was just concealing my real blockers: fear, insecurity, and self-doubt. Without it, I was having to confront the fearful, insecure, frustrated person I am underneath my usually productive, busy, “happy” life. 

My whole mantra—”So many ideas, just not enough time”—went flying out the window. Making a millimetre of progress in a million different directions was just a way of protecting myself from acknowledging that what was really holding me back this whole time was me. I’d been juggling a million things all the time because I was too scared to really commit to any one thing. It had nothing to do with time and everything to do with me and my self-confidence. 

So that’s my truth. What a revelation! Finally I can stop waiting for time to be on my side because I now understand that all this time I’ve really been waiting for me to be on my side. Gulp. And that’s a much harder problem to solve. But at least I now know I’m solving the right problem. I’m not hiding. I’m not pretending or making excuses. And that work starts right now, with this: my first-ever blog post. Double gulp. 

I’m putting it out into the world, as intensely personal and embarrassingly imperfect as it is, because it is my truth. And if the real Power of Now is meeting my true self so I can start to live my life more honestly and more meaningfully, then maybe there’s even more power in sharing it with others who find themselves in a similar situation.

“Accept—then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” ~ Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now


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