Some weeks ago, not long after the murders at Pulse, amid all of Black Lives Matter and the presidential race and international crises, I started noticing that I was very tense.
I couldn’t relax enough to fall asleep. I kept wanting to cry. Everything startled me. I had an internal monologue that simply repeated “go away, go away, go away.” My fatigue, always present, ramped up. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. Seeing emails in my inbox, even innocuous emails, made me flinch and feel a deep aversion. Internally, I couldn’t get a hold on my thoughts or feelings, because they were always in a tangle.
I finally concluded that the world was too much with me, to bastardize Wordsworth, and that my body was hanging out in that stressful state known as fight or flight. We usually think of it as a response to an immediate crisis, but the whole world seems to be in immediate crisis right now, and sometimes our bodies get stuck there even when there are no immediate crises.
Fight or flight isn’t meant to be constant. It’s meant to save us when our lives are in danger, and then we return to rest and digest. Only, when we never get out of fight or flight, we never spend time in rest and digest, and all kinds of things — fatigue, chronic illness, etc. — can ensure. Since too much fight or flight is one of the likely things that landed me in the physical state I’m in, I knew I needed to change something.
I can’t change the world. But I could change my world.
I stopped watching CSI and started rewatching (if I watched anything) Dawson’s Creek. I stopped visiting all social media other than Instagram, since my feed is basically pretty trees and mountains and my friends’ cats. I asked my sweetie not to talk to me about any of the crises happening in the world. If I happened across a crisis, I shut my eyes and moved on as quickly as I could. I declined to watch movies that were emotionally intense and instead watched silly, frothy things that made me smile. I started rereading the Peter Wimsey mysteries which, while they deal with death, are by comparison to modern novels so circumspect and mannered (and funny) that they didn’t trigger any of the same anxieties. I tried to limit my caffeine.
It worked, although I didn’t realize how much it had worked until a few weeks later, when my sweetie accidentally set off three smoke alarms at once. (There’s nothing like three asynchronous smoke alarms to send your system straight into adrenaline.) Within two hours, I was so fatigued, so shaky, so confused, and so weak that my prior by-comparison energy, focus, and good cheer was notable.
A week or two back, I felt better enough that I started expanding my world again. I checked in on Twitter. I read some Facebook. I watched Numb3rs. And within a few days, I could feel everything descend.
For better or worse, right now, for my own well-being, I’m in hibernation mode. I’m strictly limiting my inputs to things that are reasonably restful. I’m doing only things that are either necessary or supportive. I don’t know for how long this will continue, but I suspect it will be a while.
It’s not that I don’t think the crises are important. I simply don’t have the energetic bandwidth to handle them at the moment, and engaging them does nothing other than deplete me. And depleting myself, with no compensatory benefit, just seems ridiculous.
So I’ll be over here in my cave, with my novels and my crosswords and my jigsaw puzzles and my music and my pretty pretty pictures.