This past year, my husband has been warning me that I was becoming one-dimensional. I pride myself on being somewhat of a complex person, and in fact that is one of the things he loves about me. Our conversations are usually so riveting, but it seemed like this past year I talked about little besides work, work, work. He kept encouraging me to find something that would calm me down, take the edge off. The kids were telling me I was way too uptight, and I could feel it like a hard cold line in my jaw and shoulders. It wasn’t helping that I had signed on to take this certification course this past year that resulted in my obsessively studying for the four exams when I was at home. Even when I wasn’t at work, I was focusing on work-related tasks.
I tried walking, I tried drinking, I might have tried yoga but not nearly enough (seems like I quit going to yoga regularly at the end of last year). I tried going out with my friends on occasion, making plans for outdoor outings, setting up camping reservations, reading NPR articles and trying to absorb and share new (not-work related) information. I was trying, but then it seemed like even my hobbies were stressing me out.
I realized a little late in the year that I had too many vacation hours left, and I needed to use them or lose them. This may also have been contributing to my obsession with work.
I started using these mental health days to go on bird walks with the Houston Audubon groups. I went with them to Fiorenza Park (which I wrote about earlier), to Hermann Park, and most recently to Kleb Woods.
I ended up having to bring the toddler with me to Kleb Woods, which meant I did not really get to hear the lecture on birding in the Katy Prairie and also missed out on some of the bird action and bird talk during our walk. I try to find the best in every situation, so we still had a good time. However, there was this moment out there, as I was leaving, where I decided to find some geocaches and then could not find them. I struck out on three out of three. It got me going down a rabbit hole, contemplating the idea that I might not be any good at the things that interest me. Over the years, various obsession have struck my fancy – horses, dogs, geocaching, birding – and the truth is, maybe I am not really good at any of those things. It was not for lack of trying, but despite some gains, there were also losses. Triumphs, and then great disappointments. Viewing myself from this lens was very demotivating. It didn’t help that this geocaching strike out followed a day of great disappointment at work. I was feeling kind of down about the whole thing, actually.
I took this week off work for a little staycation to use up some more of those hours. I contemplated the idea of finding out who I was separate from work. However, the first couple of days, I wasn’t really able to focus on that, because despite being on vacation, I was dealing with emails and text messages from work that started to cause me anxiety. I did go out on Monday morning to the Houston Arboretum with the Hike It Baby group, giving me and my little son some time to focus on nature. We did some holiday family outings together.
It really wasn’t until today, though, that I had a moment where I felt all of that tension slide away for a bit. I had gone out to Bear Creek Park for another Hike It Baby walk, and after the walk, I took my little guy in his stroller on another little trail off Patterson Road to find some geocaches and solitude in nature. The caches were easy to find, and we were having fun discovering little things in the forest, like mushrooms, lichen, butterflies and such. Then, there was this moment where I stopped on the trail to listen to some bird calls up high in the pines. I looked up and watched the pines swaying in the breeze. I took a few moments to spot the birds through my binoculars. Sebastian was awake when we stopped, but soon fell asleep listening to the melody of the birds and the wind. When I put my binoculars down, I felt so relaxed. It was as if I had just been given a massage. I remembered that this was my antidote, and this is what I needed to make sure I had more of. More than that, I also realized that I don’t have to be good at my hobbies necessarily. I can just enjoy doing them, with no pressure of performance. If I enjoy a thing, I can just do it for enjoyment’s sake.
This feeling in the forest is who I am without work, and who I need to focus on being – a woman who feels great joy in embracing the delights of nature, who is most at home in the woods, who loves discovering small little worlds in our great big one.