Quiet. It’s a rather strange experience if one has grown too accustomed to the go-go-go pace of the modern world.
Recently—well, not too recently—my grandfather died. I was raised by my grandparents, so when a week and a half before Christmas he suddenly passed away? It was a blow.
Sure, he was 93. But, he was feisty like me and was far from the typical elderly person. He’d golfed (and played the entire course) until he was 90 and even a bit past that. He played cards and continued to battle crabgrass in triple-digit Texas summer heat armed with only a hand-sharpened garden hoe.
I kid you not, I went to visit one day and my sweat-soaked grandfather was digging up holly shrubs in 102 degree heat. He was almost 90 at the time. I suppose part of me expected he’d live forever. I’d at least expected to have him until 100.
Anyway, I caught a cold this past October, which, because I refused to slow down ‘enough’—which ‘slow down enough’ might as well be a friggin’ Leprechaun for me since I’ve yet to spot it—the cold turned into bronchitis in November.
This already had me down.
The stress of my grandfather’s death? Fair to say it was a large part of what tipped my bronchitis into pneumonia. Since December it’s been touch and go. It’s been so bad that I even gave into taking two rounds of antibiotics (I’ve not taken an antibiotic since 2004).
I’d feel better for a day and think all was well only to not be able to get out of bed the next day. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I’d caught pneumonia once before, back in 2003 and remembered how long it took to recover.
But this was different. Something was wrong.
Sometimes, I Hate Being Right
Last Thursday, I couldn’t take the nonstop cough anymore. Was no longer chalking it up to Texas pollen irritating my already raw lungs.
As I mentioned, I’d taken the two rounds of antibiotics, every vitamin, probiotic, decongestant, etc. and yet I coughed all the time.
I wasn’t sleeping. No one was sleeping. I was exhausted and couldn’t think. My cough went on and on…and on.
For the record, my mom was a nurse. Virtually every female in my family is/was a nurse. In my opinion, children of medical professionals are the second worst sort of patient.
As a kid, my favorite scene was the Black Knight in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, the scene where his arm’s been cut off. Though the stump is spurting blood, he boldly declares—‘I’ve had worse!’ And continues the fight.
And…there’s a nurse’s kid for you.
Finally, last week, I gave in. Oddly, I was shocked with the results. Despite the persistent cough, I was certain the fatigue was me just being overwhelmed.
It was in my head. I just was avoiding getting back to work. Surely, I was just suffering allergies and making mountains out of molehills.
I had a 100 degree fever, Type B flu, bronchitis…and residual pneumonia. Apparently, the antibiotics hadn’t been strong enough to kill off the bug entirely. Then, as a bonus gift, the bronchial pneumonia weakened me enough to let in the Type B Flu.
Not even Type A. I earned a B in FLU. WTH?
Suffice to say, they prescribed me Godzillacillin and a crap ton of other drugs. #YayMe.
Quiet is Making Me BONKERS
I’ve been trying to make peace with quiet. Resting? NOT my strong suit. I’ve turned off all the dings, bings, and chirps. Usually, I’d fill my head with audiobooks and podcasts so I’d be doing something productive. But I’ve even made myself turn those off, too.
I have a bit of a Pollyanna streak in me in that makes me strive to see the lesson even in every darkness, every setback. Then I feel compelled to share here.
Hey, I’m a blogger. Oversharing is my thing.
First, in the quiet, I’ve learned that it took a lot to get the chatter to shut down. I’ve also learned that I haven’t the foggiest idea how to grieve. Being trapped in quiet, unable to busy myself working, writing, teaching, cleaning has made me acutely aware of this hard truth.
Even Spawn (my ten-year-old son) asked why I never cried about Grandfather. Not even at the funeral. He fell apart, but me? Mom was stone. What was with that?
Hard to confess to your kid that you don’t know how to cry. Harder still to explain something you, yourself don’t even understand. I told him I grew up in another time, in a different world.
I told him that he was a million times stronger than me because he was brave enough to grieve. Not to let my stoney demeanor fool him. Mine wasn’t the face of a warrior, it was the face of a total chicken.
The bravest faces are wet with tears.
My greatest desire is he grows up to be better than me.
I didn’t mention how, in a broken family, you learn early to be like lichen, to never want or need or hurt or draw too much attention.
Compartmentalization becomes natural, and so does being busy. You start avoiding quiet, surround yourself with noise because it becomes a sort of barrier from everything you’re ill-equipped to face.
Incessant noise and activity drowns out everything inside that’s yelling what you aren’t, what you forgot, who you let down, what you might have done better.
If only, if only, if only….
But that is only ONE side. Sure, quiet has a downside, but in my forced timeout, I’ve thought about all I’m missing out on because I’m drowning it out. Does the benefit merit the cost?
Even Nature Appreciates Quiet Time
Right now we’re at the tail end of ‘winter’ here. Winter, like all seasons, serves a crucial purpose.
Trees go dormant for a lot of reasons, but the best one is TO STAY ALIVE. Metabolism slows and the tree goes into a sort of hibernation to survive the cold months and low sunlight levels.
But trees also go dormant because it’s impossible to be fruitful 365 days a year. There has to be some time to REST.
Plants are smarter than some of us *points at self.*
No Quiet Time = Brain Drain
Ferris Jabr wrote an excellent article in Scientific American, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime that I recommend reading in its entirety. Our modern Western culture’s puritanical devotion to chronic busyness, in my POV, is nothing short of psychotic.
Though study after study empirically demonstrates that humans are not created to be ‘perpetual doing machines,’ the data does little to deter our world’s increasing determination to pile more on our plate.
Multi-tasking, email overload, meetings, meetings to discuss meetings, deadlines, through-lines, pipelines, downlines.
Our workplace has begun reflecting our world…borderless. The 9-5 workday is relic of our not-so-distant-past.
In 1989, we got mail…in a mailbox or in a ‘finite’ In-Box (which was a LITERAL BOX). We could leave work at work, read our mail and see our in-boxes actually EMPTY.
When we got home, if we wanted? We could ‘take the phone off the hook.’ The younger folks might have to look that up. We had evenings of QUIET. Restorative time.
Now? We wake daily to digital avalanches. Data poured over us from reservoirs with limitless capacity, all dumped into a human brain that can only hold so much. Our In-Boxes never empty…ever.
I gave up on my Yahoo e-mail and finally just let it go feral a few years ago. It’s easily at over 100,000 messages by now. Every SUPER IMPORTANT message promises to only take a couple minutes.
Now multiply a couple minutes by twenty or fifty. We maybe make it through our URGENT messages just in time for…another meeting. We eat breakfast and lunch over our keyboards or in our cars while listening to voicemails and memos.
By the end of the ‘work day,’ we aren’t even close to ‘finished,’ but frankly we wouldn’t recognize finished if it peed on our leg.
Quiet is the ‘Nessie’ of Modern Life
And ‘finished’ is Sasquatch riding a unicorn.
Since we aren’t ‘finished’ we take work home. Work bulges over its boundaries into our marriages and family lives where we check our phones instead of paying attention to what our significant other is saying or our children are asking. We do all of this because we are ‘working hard,’ but are we?
No. I can tell you for a fact, since I am a Corporate America refugee.
This same ideology has oozed into the schools. Every moment crammed with no time for reflection or play.
Then, children emulate what they see from their parents. We’re plugged in nonstop, seemingly unable to be still or quiet. How are they going to fare?
No Rest for the Weary
Invariably, all this noise, this chaos, this busyness has a cost. One cost is that stress, like alcohol, impairs our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain we use for making sound decisions.
There’s a reason we have designated drivers if we’re going to imbibe while out on the town. The reason is because after one or two drinks we might not ‘feel’ impaired, thus because we don’t FEEL impaired, we make bad decisions.
When we fail to be still, to embrace the quiet, we begin running on adrenalin and…
Welcome to the Land of Bad Decisions
We’re constantly checking email, Messenger, messages left on 42 social sites and this behavior—like drugs or booze—impairs our ability to discern we’re tired…or that we’re teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
We also make a lot of bad decisions. Or, in my case, fail to make good decisions.
We miss red flags, like taking a break and going to the doctor before a simple cold becomes pneumonia.
Fundamentally, the speed of our lives isn’t allowing enough interstitial time—code for REST BREAKS—for us to process all the influx. Downtime, particularly quiet time, is critical for us to make sense of all the information we’ve ‘taken in.’
We sort through ideas, tie loose connections, note patterns, and ‘hot wash’ our decisions.
The Benefits of R&R
When we get quiet and take time to rest intentionally our brain shifts into another mode that sifts through conversations, seeks ways we could improve, where we messed up, what we could do better.
In ways it reminds me of my childhood when my mom helped me clean my room (since FEMA was unavailable).
She’d dump out all my dresser drawers and we would sort through clothes that no longer fit, needed repair or were plain worn out. Then, the good stuff, we folded and organized and it made room for NEW STUFF.
Same with the toys.
We’d sift through what was broken to trash, or what didn’t interest me for donation.
I’d always find Barbies and Barbie clothes (and a crap ton of Barbie shoes) all buried places where I couldn’t enjoy them.
Mom and I would return pieces of games back into their correct boxes so, instead of the games simply taking up space, I could actually play them with my friends.
Our brains do the same thing. Rest allows the mind to sort, sift, repair, reconnect, and get JIGGY creating and thinking and innovating!
I’m sure you’ve heard of pain management, but REST is brain management. A lot of y’all might be like me and believe if you’re not doing something every minute of every waking hour you’re—GASP—lazy! *screams* Yet, again neuroscience to the rescue.
Our brains frankly never turn off.
All the writers TESTIFY!
In fact, when we rest, nap, sleep, or even take power naps or do mini-meditations, our brains shift over to what’s referred to as the default mode network.
According to Jabr’s article (above):
‘…the default mode network is especially active in creative people. It’s believed that the default mode network may be able to integrate more information from a wide range of brain regions in more complex ways than when the brain is consciously working through a problem.’
This is why I tell consulting clients with a plot problem to give me a night. I do my best problem-solving when I sleep 😉 .
We might panic that we’re taking an hour for a nap, but we’ll oddly end up saving time because our brains work more efficiently and effectively.
Instead of circling the drain with fruitless attempts with the same dumb approach, even a small slice of quiet time can reboot the brain cells and actually return the time we invest with more to spare.
We’re more focused and, since we spend less time hunting for the reading glasses perched on our heads or the cell phone we put back in the fridge with the half-eaten yogurt…we can actually be more fruitful.
Oh, and healthier. Rested people have stronger immune systems.
I’m a QUIET Work in Progress
I finished my antibiotic a day and a half ago, and the cough is gone…mostly. Though loathe to admit it, I might have to go BACK to the doctor *silent screams*. I’m giving it until Monday to rule out seasonal allergies.
Problem is, I want to be INSTANTLY better, back at the gym that I MISS, in my garden prepping for spring.
The guilt of ‘doing nothing’ is overwhelming, I won’t lie. Though I am not ‘doing nothing’ it sure feels that way since I’m used to running at Mach 5.
Being sick has made me better at delegating. Hubby is a rockstar at scrubbing tile floors.
And, ONE DAY, I am going to figure out my limitations. To learn to say ‘no’ instead of piling on just one more thing.
What can it hurt?
The Sound of Silence
Being quiet is helping with that…I think. I’m far from perfect and definitely a work in progress. I am SO glad we are in the 20s. The teens SUUUUCKED.
For those who don’t know, I very literally lost almost all my family in the span of six years. I’ve lost count of the funerals, and wonder if the funeral home could offer us some sort or bulk discount or at least premium parking.
***Yes, this is how my mind works. I apologize.
In 2014 we couldn’t fit everyone in one picture. Now, I can count who remains on one hand. My grandfather was the last to go December 14, 2019.
Now that my role as caregiver….
I’m no longer a caregiver. Maybe it’s why I’m no longer as afraid of the quiet.
I no longer dread every time the phone rings, certain it will be an emergency. Someone in a hospital, dying or even dead. I actually put my phone on airplane mode to rest without panicking.
How long has this subroutine of terror been running in the background and I couldn’t face it or deal with it because I refused to be quiet enough to hear it?
Anyway, that morning of December 14th, I knew it was the call I’d been bracing for. I’d been waiting on it for years. One worries even about spritely old people.
The other shoe finally dropped.
Now? I can unclench my teeth. Perhaps even stop holding my breath. Maybe that’s what this pneumonia is also about. Permission to breathe again. Don’t know. Maybe that’s my author brain making something more than it really is. Dunno.
I’ll go ponder that in my quiet time.
I LOVE Hearing from You!
Do you struggle with being alone? Being in the quiet? Why? Is this maybe something that caregivers go through? It seems I’ve been in that role so long I haven’t stopped to really think about it. Don’t really ever share because I don’t want to be a burden.
Oh, I sound so ridiculous even to me when I write this down. But do you feel guilty taking a nap? Taking a break? I struggle with sitting still. Even taught myself to crochet so I’d be ‘doing something productive’ while I sat.
Do you struggle admitting you’re sick? Giving yourself the time to get OVER being sick? Giving yourself time to grieve? Time to have FUN?
Surely I’m not the only one. With the digital age, life feels like the old 80s video games. It just gets faster and faster and harder and harder until you die. Yes, I KNOW. Not exactly a positive outlook but have to be honest if I want to change my attitude.
I AM improving with learning to have fun, so there IS that. See, this is why we write. Cheaper than therapy 😉 .
Anyway, what are your thoughts?
And here are some On Demand specials up while I mend…
Normally $55, and now $35. This class will be deleted to make room for a newer version. Most of the content will remain the same since what I teach is evergreen, so it is definitely a bargain.
Normally $75 and now only $50 and this is over four hours of instruction on everything you need to know about plot. So if you want to know about the synopsis? You will BLOW it out of the water after this.
Normally $75 and also only $50 and this class pairs excellent with the plotting class (like a fine chardonnay and a Chilean sea bass). Treat yourself!