What To Do When You Can't Stop Doing

I've been trying to focus for about an hour.

I've been trying to focus for about an hour.

I'm not doing work; I have no deadlines; no commitments - I'm literally trying to do nothing.

And I can't do it.

Music isn't enough. My hands need to be busy; typing, sorting, flicking through the pages of something I'm not even looking at because all my eyes see are words in soft focus.

I hold my phone but I need to reply to emails, messages, Instagram comments, swipe, tap and double-tap - all now, all at once - I get panicked when I have little circles of notifications on my screen. It's not neat, it needs to be neat, people are waiting on me and I owe something to them. Reply now, tap now, clear now.

I can't stop.

I sat next to a divorce lawyer on a train to London last week. She was lovely, I think, she picked up my ticket for me when it fell on the floor and I didn't see. She smelt like Chanel and expensive tailoring and peonies. She was successful. And she was busy. Her work sprawled out on the table, folders upon folders of cases and names and settlements.

I looked in front of me.

There was a girl looking back. Mirrored in the finger-print-smeared laptop screen. Green eyes, brown hair, fingers tracing her lips. Beneath her was a Word document, the cursor flashing expectantly for the next key press.

I was looking at myself, on the same train to London, next to the divorce lawyer, doing work. And I get it, we all need to work. And working on a train isn't strange. I call it my moving office. I'm more concerned about when we try to do too many things at the same time when they're not essential. I saw a guy on that same train arguing with an ex-partner on his phone whilst plugging in the charger to his laptop and sorting out his earphones.

Did it all need to be done then?

I could cop out with an easy answer, and blame it on the buzzword of the century: social media. Because of course, it's social media and the bandwagon of ailments that have made us this way, why we crave the instantaneous. Because we're the Millennials who want everything and we want it now. But I think it's deeper than that. No, it is deeper than that.

I feel guilty when I'm not doing something. I work as a freelance writer, and I know that work is always there if I want it. Even when I don't want it, it's there. Even if there's no work, I can always find more - it's like a hunter-gatherer mentality gone wrong.

I never want to be relaxing, to be having down-time or me-time or chill-time. I work. It's what I know how to do. It's what I'm comfortable with even when the thought of multiple deadlines keep me awake at night and press me to obsessively make lists upon lists in my head that I never remember. Futile lists. Not the kind drawn into pretty Pinterest notebooks. Messy thoughts. Unaligned. Senseless.

Is that it? Is my mind just muddled?

If it's OCD it's 'easy' to cure; mind over matter, just stop thinking about it, busy yourself with something else. Well, I am, and it's not working. Tidying doesn't work. Reading doesn't work. Scrolling through social media doesn't work. It doesn't work because they all have an end. But thoughts, they're perpetual. I'm writing this at 8:14pm on the evening of my MA assessment hand-in. My friends have told me to celebrate, to relax, to chill out. I can't. I'm struggling.

There, I said it: I'm struggling.

I'm admitting I'm lost and I don't know what to do or how to get out of it or how to calm down and breathe slowly and sip drinks and enjoy the process of life - not want to run to the finish line of absolutely everything just because efficiency is something I'm good at.

An ex-boyfriend watched me make coffee once. He said I moved so fast. Too fast. That I needed to slow down. No-one was in a hurry for a drink that much. I guess he was right. But hearing something and telling yourself something are two different things.

This is my message to you: slow down. This is my message to myself: slow down.

Life is just supply and demand. Remember that no-one is demanding you to supply at 100% capacity every single second of every single day. Life is already too fast, time too sparing, moments too fleeting.

We need to stop wasting days trying to keep busy. Stop wasting them when we should be taking time out to relax and just live. I know I need to change, I need to slow down, I need to stop expecting so much from myself.

Everyone needs a break from time to time. This is your reminder that you deserve and need to take whatever time you want, and not feel guilty about it. So get up. Go out. Take a walk or read a book or make a cup of coffee - just slow your pace, and enjoy the process of life.

It's not a race to finish.


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