There is no rush

Sunset from Albany Bulb

There is no rush. That’s the new mantra I’m living by. I’m not entirely sure when it came to me, but it started popping up in my journal entries over the course of the last couple of months. You see, I’d just spent most of 2021 running non-stop. Literally (training for a marathon) and metaphorically. Towards the beginning of this year, it all started to catch up with me. This is the story of where I’ve been (mentally and otherwise) over the past couple of years. I’m intentionally skipping over some details. I may get back to them in the future, if I remember. For now, this is a brief synopsis.

There were a number of stressors towards the end of 2021 that all sort of blended together. I had just started a new role at work and was also in the tail end of my marathon training program. In early December, I finished my marathon, but I injured myself in the process. My relationship was on the rocks. Shadow’s separation anxiety got worse over the holidays. My new neighbors were being obnoxiously loud at all hours of day. In other words, the perfect storm. My therapist helped me observe that I was “working” on all fronts i.e. there were no periods of rest and recovery. This had a toll on my, both physically and mentally.

As the new year began, some of these issues began to resolve themselves. I ended my relationship. I took up swimming as a form of cross-training as I healed from my running injury. I installed a strict routine for Shadow to help with her anxiety. My neighbors weren’t around as much, so my apartment was once again a place of peace and solitude. I settled into a steady groove at work. As I reflected upon all of this, I resolved to never put myself in such a high-stress situation again. My schedule was full. There were no breaks. There was no “me” time.

For better or for worse, I’m a goal-oriented individual. It’s helped me get this far in life. Realistically, I can continue to push myself forward along this path. However, I am actively choosing to not do that. Instead, I am opting to remove obstacles and constraints that prevent me from truly enjoying the life I have built for myself. Specifically, I am creating more free and unstructured mental space and actual time for me to enjoy things I used to in the past. This blog is a perfect example of that.

I used to write voraciously in my teens. In fact, I still have a backup of my adolescent blog courtesy an old friend. No, I’m not going to bring that back to life – although I will preserve it for my personal records, and occasionally borrow snippets from it. I think the habit fell away once I started college. The demands of a CMU bachelor’s degree were far too great to allow for any trivial pursuits such as maintaining a blog. I never really picked it back up, despite a few half-hearted attempts over the years.

Who knows, this may also just be one of those flashes in the pan. And that’s OK. What’s more important is that I’ve chosen to take this time to record my thoughts. For both present and future me. And by extension, for you, the reader, to know a little bit more about my current state of mind, which may impact how I show up when I’m interacting with you. You see, there’s been a lot more that’s been happening behind the scenes over the past couple of years that I have not been very public about.

At the start of the pandemic, I was in remarkably high spirits. I had just got back from back-to-back trips to India, for both work and leisure. I had been enlisted to help get our India office up and running, which involved a couple of trips to Bangalore to help with hiring. Most recently, I had visited Delhi for my friend’s wedding. I also got to celebrate my birthday with my brother and one of my best friends. I had also just been presented with the opportunity to move to India for a couple of months to help bootstrap our new office and I had accepted the offer without reservation.

Shortly after I got back to the US, COVID manifested itself to its fullest and international travel was no longer an option, let alone relocation. Accordingly, my opportunity to move to Bangalore evaporated. This didn’t really dampen my spirits – I was still happy to work early (and sometimes late) hours to get the work done. During this time, I also started to focus on my nutrition and fitness in a way that I had not afforded myself in the past. The pandemic helped me cultivate a sense of routine which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it helped me maintain my sanity, a curse in that it set narrow constraints on what I could and should be doing.

Initially, the constraints were great. Due to social restrictions, there wasn’t really much I could do outside of my home, even if I wanted to. Remember – there was a time when you were expected to wear a mask even if you were out and about, with no one in sight. Apart from drives, hikes, and trips to the beach or park, there wasn’t really much I could do to entertain myself. Or so I thought. At the same time, I picked up some really healthy habits along the way, some of which I have retained and intend to keep for the foreseeable future.

For instance, I never really made chai before the pandemic. Nowadays, it is a daily ritual. A ritual that signals the start of the day. That anchors me in the here and now as I watch the chai froth and dance on the verge of boiling over. The days that it does, it’s a gentle reminder that I am rushing and not being as mindful as I could be. I also post a short boomerang of the chai to my social media stories. It serves as a heartbeat to my friends that all is well in my life. I have instructed a select few friends to reach out to me if they don’t see a chai post from me for a period of some days, because that’s a red flag regarding my mental health.

Some habits, such as daily meditation, have not survived the early months of the pandemic. And that’s OK too! I’m trying not to be too hard on myself and impose strict requirements in all aspects of my life. I also strongly believe that mindfulness is best experienced as a state of being, and not just in discrete time-bound activities such as meditation. In a way, letting go of the tight expectations of 15 minutes of sitting still in the morning and before bedtime frees me to be more mindful in those moments and attune to the needs of my body and mind. I am enjoying this mindfulness this very moment as I sip on my chai and write this post in some glorious sunshine.

This routine kept me going for several months without fail. However, there was an imperceptible decline in my mental state towards the middle of 2020. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I still can’t. Perhaps the lack of social contact caused a gradual decay in my happiness reserves? Perhaps the monotony of my routine robbed the joy of life from me? I don’t need to know the root cause. What I can say is that I fell into a deep depression. One far deeper than I had experienced in the past. It truly did feel like a bottomless pit this time.

As with any mental illness, getting help is the hardest part. The American healthcare system plays no small part in presenting obstacles, such as cost, insurance, and availability of healthcare providers. These are often challenging to navigate, especially when you needed help yesterday, not a month out from now. This time around, I chose to meet with a psychiatrist, and not just a therapist. The reason for this is that I suspected that I had a bipolar diagnosis. I’d held this belief for a year or two, but now was the time to act on it.

You see, the constraints imposed by the pandemic also provided a steady ecosystem for me to observe my mental state. The crash from an entirely high-functioning to a completely non-functioning state with no perceptible change in my environment led me to suspect that this was no ordinary depression. I know that the pandemic triggered mental health episodes for a number of people, but my crash felt downright alarming. I’m grateful that I had the mental capacity to seek help when I needed it the most.

This wasn’t the first time that my state of mind had fallen off a cliff. Each year, like clockwork, the spring/summer months brought about a low mood. 2019 was challenging – I was in Ireland, having been “deported” from the US. The summer of 2018, I was grappling with that very same decision of having to leave the US. 2017 – I was probably dealing with the end of a relationship (or what I thought was one). However, each of these periods of low mood were interspersed with months of somewhat elevated energy, creativity and spontaneity.

It doesn’t take a clinical psychiatrist to help identify a potential bipolar diagnosis, but it does take one to help prescribe the necessary pharmacological interventions to remedy the situation. And so began a process of trial and error to find the correct compounds and concentration to help me deal with my newfound condition. Progress was slow, but steady. The first prescriptions seemed to do the trick as they were slowly increased in dosage.

I’d say that the turning point for me was a couple of trips with friends in the fall. The social contact did me a lot of good, as did the break in routine. Planning for a trip involved using higher order cognitive functions which had been twiddling their thumbs for a couple of months. Fresh seaside and mountain air, lots of time outdoors, and a general change in environment were all welcome changes after being cooped up in my apartment for the better part of the year.

By winter, I was back to baseline. I had just bought a new car. I was interested in seeing other people, platonically and otherwise. I was contemplating moving to Oakland, something which I followed through on within a few months of first conjuring the idea. In other words, I was able to break the routine – the one that kept me sane for a couple of months, and then consequently drove me insane for a couple more months. The change was refreshing – it breathed vitality into my life. Movement felt good. I was welcoming new experiences. In other words, I felt great again.

In early 2021, I also introduced Shadow into my life. She was simultaneously a source of great joy and stress to my life. The last dog I had cared for was perfectly trained and very obedient. This one was a wild child from the streets of Oakland with a bad attitude to match. I had to draw upon every ounce of patience and all my experience working in shelters to help manage and train her. In return, she gave me some structure and unconditional love. She (probably) turned two years old yesterday. I can’t really be sure since the shelter approximated her birthday. I prefer to celebrate her “gotcha” day instead i.e. the day I adopted her.

The car, the new apartment, and the dog were all signs of me putting down new roots. I chose to really invest in my new place – putting in the time to choose one that I really enjoyed, and not just minimizing my rent. I’ve also invested in decorating and truly making it my own. I had treated my time in the US up till that point as ephemeral. Something that could be blown away by a change in law or immigration policy. Instead, I decided to stand firm and start living the life I wanted to live, not just the bare minimum that I allowed myself at the time. It was the foundation of the rich life I’m living right now. Happy to report that I’ve now been approved for a green card – more on that lengthy journey another time.

Fast forwarding back to the present, routine is good, but so is change. In the present, a loose routine gives me the skeleton for my day. I set some loose boundaries on weekdays, such as walking Shadow, work hours, getting some exercise, etc. Weekends usually sstart with yoga or running. But I then choose to flesh out the days in a relatively laid-back fashion. I no longer feel anxious about filling out my calendar at least a full week in advance. Instead, I look forward to the days when I have nothing to do, so I can have some quality time with myself. I’ve started going on entire date days and nights with myself, and it truly feels great to be attuned to my needs and wants instead of those of others.

For instance, I have the day off today. I chose to drop Shadow off at daycare to remove one constraint from my life. I brewed myself my morning cup of chai, put it in a thermos, packed a day bag with some books and electronics, and set out without a set agenda. So far, I’ve grabbed a croissant from a coffee shop, read some chapters of a book, and am now writing this blog post. This might seem commonplace to most, but it’s still a novel experience for myself. I have some loose commitments such as lunch and dinner with a friend each, but I’m perfectly happy flying by the seat of my pants instead of obsessively planning out details more than a day in advance.

I’m allowing myself to explore my town more. I have invested more time in getting to know Oakland than I have any other city that I have lived in. I’m already a regular at some establishments, and I look forward to exploring more of this town’s hidden gems. I am actively learning about the history of this place, starting from the very beginning with its Native American origins. Moving forward, I intend to learn more about how I can give back to this community that I now choose to belong to. I see a lot of inequity around me, and a city that is changing. I hope to become a responsible resident (dare I say, citizen?) of Oakland.

I’m being more kind to my body. I am actively avoiding signing up for any big commitments such as races, weekly or monthly mileage goals, etc. Instead, I take it day by day – listening to my body, and deciding on a whim whether I want to run, bike, or swim any particular day. I am being intentional about the food I put in my body, both quality and quantity. I am letting myself rest more mindfully. I’m stretching and rolling out tight muscles as needed, not just after I exercise. Again, things that may seem very straightforward to some, but somewhat novel for someone who is breaking away from a very structured style of living.

In a way, I’m turning off autopilot. It’s scary. Sometimes I worry that I’ll nosedive again. But by allowing myself more flexibility and space, I’m seeing new habits emerge and old habits rebuild. I’m writing again – both personal journalling as well as blogging. Who knows, I may even take up other forms of creative writing. I’m investing in photography. I’m rediscovering choreography. I’m dabbling in music. These are some components of my life that I have ignored for far too long. These are the qualities that help define me and make me unique. Most importantly, these are activities that help me replenish my own energy reserves. It’s refreshing to invest time in these endeavors with no set goal in mind.

In summary, there is no rush anymore. I’m at cruising altitude. I’ve gotten through some intense turbulence over the past couple of years, but I’m ready to lean back and enjoy this ride for a little bit. It’s taken a long time to get where I am, and I’m immensely proud of the journey I’ve undertaken and the obstacles I’ve overcome. But now, it’s time to rest and recuperate. It’s time to remove rigid expectations and discrete outcomes. It’s time to just “be”. There’s plenty of time for “doing” in the future, but it’s time to take a break. I’m really enjoying being in this state of mind for the last couple of weeks and I’m looking forward to preserving this quality of life as much as possible.

I hope to share more detailed snippets of what’s been going on over the past couple of years in the days and weeks to come, but for now, this is where I sign off. There’s no guarantee I’ll be back anytime soon. There is intent, but no strict timeline. What I can be certain of is that in the meantime, I will be enjoying my newfound freedom to the fullest extent possible. For now, so long and thanks for all the fish. For you, the reader, if any of this resonates with you, like, comment, subscribe, and all that jazz, but more importantly, reach out to me so we can chat. That being said, there’s no rush. 🙂