When I’m not happy with my life, I start doing math.
This is not a coping skill; it’s a sign that things are not going well.
For example – years ago, I lived in Staten Island, NY, and I commuted to the Lower East Side in Manhattan every day for work. It was the longest commute I’ve ever had. First I walked to the Staten Island Railroad. Then I rode the train to the ferry. I rode the ferry to Manhattan, got off, and then hopped on a bus, which took me to the Lowest East Side. I then walked 15 minutes to get to my office.
OH. MY. GOSH.
It was terrible.
It honestly didn’t feel weird at the time. Many people who live in New York are used to that kind of commute. But I absolutely hated it, and I think that had more to do with my overall state of mind at the time than the commute itself.
That was a really rough year for me. My dad had died about a year earlier, and I had come home from living abroad to live with my mother and work in New York. I quickly got depressed in the cold New York winter. I started daydreaming about finding a job as a college professor so that I could teach in Hawaii during the school year and spend my summers with family in New York. My job was okay, but it was indoors and not exciting. I missed AmeriCorps, doing projects outside surrounded by other young people. I was stressed and struggling.
And I did math obsessively, every single day. I would count up all the hours I spent commuting, and I’d make myself sick thinking about what else I could be doing with that time. I’d add the commuting hours together with the actual work day hours, and the math would get even more depressing. I believe it added up to about 80 hours of work/commute in a 168-hour week -practically half my time. Then 56 hours for sleep, leaving about 32 hours for actual Kerriann time.
But, the thing is – the math was terrible because I was unhappy about my life. If I had loved my job and felt great about my life status, then that commute would have been a dream – time to read books, time to talk on the phone with friends, time to write in my journal. I think about that ferry boat ride, and it sounds delightful – I was out on the New York Harbor, sailing by the Statue of Liberty, twice a day, five days a week. That’s amazing! A lot of people would love that.
But, I was unhappy. So I didn’t practice gratitude. I didn’t look for the good. Instead, I did math, and then got depressed when the numbers added up all wrong.
Ever since my son was born, I have noticed this tendency of mine – doing life-related math when I am stressed and unhappy – more clearly. It was difficult returning to work after maternity leave, and I found myself adding up the hours I was spending away from Edgar – the hours that belonged to my job, not to me. While looking for a new job, I found myself calculating commute and daily work hours and feeling physically weighted down as I considered different opportunities. “If I take this job, I will get two hours per week day to be with Edgar while he is awake.” (The math of a working parent can be really tough!)
The opposite of this stress-induced Life Math is what I think of as Vacation Time Zone – that feeling when you’re on vacation like time matters SO LITTLE. We spent a few days at the beach this summer, and I got to experience that special vacation feeling – a) you have no idea what time it is, b) you’ve been having so much fun on the beach that you don’t know whether you’ve been there for one hour or three, and c) time DOES NOT MATTER because you’re on vacation and have little to no responsibilities in the moment. I love Vacation Time Zone. I wish I could live in it always.
Now that I am enjoying my Summer Sabbatical, I am enjoying an in-between state. There’s a lot on my to-do list, but my life has a very open-ended vacation-y feel to it.
I can tell I am feeling some stress when the Life Math starts to creep back in. When I start counting the weeks before my new job starts, for example – that’s a really good sign that I’m feeling some kind of distress, and that I am not embracing the present moment.
One of my wise and gentle friends advises me that when I feel like time is running away from me, I can come back to where my feet are and just be in THIS moment. That’s my goal. It eludes me, often – but that’s my goal.