I was a very busy person when we first moved to Vancouver from Edmonton seven years ago. Our little family had to find someplace to live that would be in a catchment area of a school that was welcoming for our son Aaron. I was starting a new job at the children's hospital, after not having worked in a staff position in over ten years. We didn't know many people in our new city and were mourning the wonderful community we left behind on the prairies. Worst of all, I had to spend hours setting up all of Aaron's disability services and apply for support all over again, which took months of phone calls, form-filling and meetings.
In the midst of this, a friend invited me to a what was termed a "special needs mom retreat" at her church. This was way out of my comfort zone, but I promised myself that I would say 'yes' to all the social invitations that came to me in this new city. At the retreat - which was actually lovely, complete with massages and delicious food - I won the door prize of this pretty Be Still watercolour that now resides on our bedroom wall.
The early years here were a lot and I was certainly not still. I'd call this situational busyness that comes along with a big move. Unfortunately, busy is a habit and I remained like a chicken with my head cut off for a long time. My life came screeching to a halt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago. It was only then I was forced to become still. I spent months waiting for my cancer diagnosis, waiting for my surgery, waiting for my treatment. The world whizzed past me as I waited. I moved as slow as a sloth for many months, weighed down by my heavy cloak of fear.
I first became aware of the ebb and flow of the busy and the slow when my son Aaron was born in 2003 and diagnosed with Down syndrome. I took peer support training when he was two years old and the facilitator taught us that being overly-busy is a stage that many families get stuck in. Some of that busy is necessary - medical appointments, therapies, advocacy work, meetings - but some of going a million miles an hour is a coping technique so one didn't have to be still at all. I'd collapse into bed at night, exhausted from trying to fix my child and also from trying to change the world. It was not healthy. The busy was a clever technique, encouraged by society, that helped me avoid myself.
It was Aaron who helped me put on the brakes. In Praise of Aaron Slow is one of my favourite essays about the joy of slow that Aaron brought into my life. When I see other families who have kids with disabilities immersed in the busy trap, I want to put my arm around their shoulder and gently suggest that they stop running away from their pain. But that is not for me to say. I had to figure this out for myself, and they will too.
Now in these past two years, I've watched the whole world fight tooth and nail against the pandemic's forced stillness. For the first three months, we stayed close to home, doing puzzles, baking bread and watching Netflix. Then the government chose the economy over our health and 'opened up.' Many people were relieved to return to restaurants, shopping and their packed social lives. Being still remains uncomfortable for many folks. The pull of 'back to normal' is really about having bragging rights that one is busy. Busy working, busy running around, busy travelling - and mostly, to capitalism's glee, busy spending money.
But is being busy the end game? Don't get me wrong; this pandemic has not been a gift. But a side-effect from COVID has been the lesson that slowing down is actually ok. The only way we are going to heal from the trauma from these dark two years is to be still. In the stillness we can process all the bad stuff that has happened to all of us. You can't zoom your way through healing. There is no shortcut.
Resist climbing back on the hamster wheel that is our modern day life. Carve out bits of nothing into your day. It might give you clarity about what's important to you. At least catch your breath and allow yourself to rest. We've been through a lot. It will be in our stillness that we will make the time to extend ourselves some much-needed grace.
The eBook version of my new book, Ducks in a Row: Health Care Reimagined, is now available for pre-order at Amazon, Kobo and Google. Both the paperback and eBook will be released on January 18, 2022. Visit my book page for more information.
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