Walking pace

Photo by Tyler Lastovich | unsplash.com
Photo by Tyler Lastovich | unsplash.com

A few weeks ago, I was walking home from our local shops with my mum. She’s 86 years old and had recently returned home after several weeks in hospital. Her mobility was relatively good again, though she still used a walking stick.

Walking side by side with her, trying not to seem anxious about her steadiness on this first jaunt beyond our house, I had to force myself to slow down. My normal walking pace is quite fast. So much so that my daughter is constantly telling me to slow down and asking why I’m in a such a hurry.

Forcing myself to slow down to keep pace with my mum was an excellent reflective exercise. My instinct was to hurry even though there was no reason to do so; hurrying is my normal. When slowing down, the walk became about conversation and catching up on how my mum was feeling about various things. We commented on other people’s gardens. We moseyed around the local shops where I’d usually just dash in and out. 

It was hard work to slow down. And it remains so. 

Wiser folks like Agnes Bosanquet have written about why it’s important to be slower in our ways, and I had always seen the value of this but hadn’t necessarily made concomitant changes in my everyday practices.

This year, having spent time in hospital, then having my mum in hospital, I feel behind on all things. This is not usually how I feel. I usually have a lot on but feel that, while a juggle, I’m getting there with most things. It is not pleasant to feel behind, and to be constantly apologising for lateness of responses and actions. No-one around me is disapproving or telling me I’m incompetent. The anxiety is all mine. The general malaise around higher education, which has been thick in my environment since last year, is a constant drain that doesn’t help. 

The kinds of feelings I’m writing about here are common right now for many people as the pandemic continues to derail and deplete our lives. For me, there are definitely silver linings to some of this disruption, but the wear and tear of the everyday now sits alongside the mire of consequences of our interrupted lives and the psychological load of comprehending the loss/grieving that’s all around us.   

In a move to reduce my own irritation at my constant apologising, one of the things I’ve done recently is to stop beginning all my correspondence with versions of ‘sorry for the delayed response’ and instead use ‘thank you for your patience’. It’s such a small thing but it makes a strange amount of difference. In writing this post, I had cause to search for more about this changed mindset and found this article that talked about the ‘Just not sorry’ app:

As you’re composing an email, the Just Not Sorry plugin will notify you each time you use a word or phrase that undermine your message (i.e., “I’m sorry,” “I’m no expert, but…”). You can also hover your mouse over the underlined words for a bite-sized explanation of how they might make people think less of you.

It’s an interesting though creepy idea, as is all the software that keeps ‘suggesting’ things for my texts, emails, and social media updates. I wondered about an app in a similar vein that could:

  • Question your adding of commitments when you’ve already got deadlines clustered around that week or month, or 
  • Notifies you with ‘this email appears to be requesting something of you – delete or respond with “No”?’, or
  • Warns you that you’re meant to be on leave or are sick when you try to check email at a time when your out-of-office is on. 

Back to being vaguely serious and on topic: forcing myself to slow down and cut myself some slack with projects is constant work. This post is not about a transformative change in outlook or serendipity about life and living. 

As I am finalising this post, the Victorian lockdown has just been extended another week. We know the drill well by now but that doesn’t mean we have to love the drill. Attending to wellbeing is often about maintaining work and social boundaries, and finding ways to keep one’s soul nourished. Stay safe, folks. 

2 thoughts on “Walking pace

  1. A lovely post, Tseen – I am glad you enjoyed slow walking in your mother’s company. Time slows us all down.

    I like the idea of a warning when you try to check email while the automatic reply is on. I am trying to avoid work emails this week as I recover from surgery – nothing too dramatic, but doc’s orders are to have three days of rest. Harder than I expected!

    1. Thanks for reading, Agnes.
      Being able to truly step away from work when on leave (whether sick leave or rec leave) is such an important life skill, and one that academics rarely learn (or value)! Hope recovery is speedy and smooth.

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