Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, February 2014

Unless you are a character in a Hollywood movie, most things in life take time to materialize or to become routine. If falling in love can happen in a matter of seconds, building a relationship is always a work-in-progress. If finding the dream job offer takes only a few clicks online, excelling in your role won’t happen overnight. If buying the gear needed for a new hobby is as easy as signing a credit card receipt, acquiring the relevant skills will take practice.

I didn’t wake up one morning thinking “eh, I’m fine now!”

But I think I am doing better. Much better.

For the past few months, I have been hoping for something or something to “fix” me. The trip to France in December didn’t do the trick—I came back exhausted (and Feng half-blind). I enjoyed backpacking Mexico and felt better over there but the negative thoughts came back as soon as we landed in Ottawa.

I wasn’t expecting much from my solo backpacking trip to Central America. I just needed to physically step away from the picture and take some time alone because I felt I had no choice—I simply couldn’t cope with life anymore.

It took me a few days to start slowing down after I landed in San José.

One morning, in Samara, I spent over an hour absentmindedly collecting seashells on the beach. Once I reach the end of the beach, I looked at the sandy fistful and paused. What had I just wasted my time on? The shells would get crushed in my backpack! And even if they made it home okay, what was I going to do with them? Display them in a jar? Where would I put it? It had to be high enough so that Mark wouldn’t grab it… on the bookshelves, maybe?

Suddenly, I stopped. It didn’t matter where I would put the damn seashells and whether they would be intact upon my return.

Not everything had to make sense. Not everything in life had to be useful, efficient or done with a purpose.

I looked at the seashells again and smiled. They had served a purpose. They made me happy.

(Incidentally, I did bring them home and, amazingly, they weren’t crushed! I still don’t know what to do with them, though.)

Little by little, I learned to take my time again, to relax and to do nothing. It sounds easy like that but for the past couple of years, I had made every minute count to maximize my time. I had jumped off the bed as soon as I was awake, I had eaten only because I was truly starving, I had learned to undress-shower-dress in 7 minutes, to walk as fast as I could and to never have idle hours. Trust me, my coffee never had a chance to cool off—I drank beverages burning hot. I rushed everything, rushed everywhere. I had actually driven to the store and given up on shopping because the lineup seemed too long.

The only two things that had my full attention were Mark (for safety reasons) and work (because I couldn’t afford to lose clients).

While travelling, I went back to basics—sleeping, eating, staying safe and clean. I learned to stop feeling guilty about relaxing. I learned to indulge again.

My anxiety and stress levels spiked on the plane home to Ottawa. As much as I was looking forward to seeing my two guys, I wasn’t ready to start the vida loca again.

I am not going to lie, things hadn’t magically changed. Mark was still my clingy and demanding little boy and Feng still had a much higher tolerance level than me in terms of housecleaning and Mark’s education.

But a few days into our routine I realized I felt less rushed and stressed. Instead of carefully planning Mark’s day minute after minute, I just let him run around the house as Feng did. Guess what? He could perfectly play in the living room while I was cooking in the kitchen. I didn’t have to strap him in his high chair and endure 30 minutes of screaming and throwing stuff to catch my attention. I didn’t have to leave it to Feng while I was queuing at the cash register—he could either wait with me (kids have to learn patience, right?) or walk up and down the lineup while I kept an eye on him. And I didn’t have to spend my entire day alone with him trying to keep him busy. Feng would help and so would my in-laws.

I feel like seeing friends again. I had always wanted to but the thought of contacting people, making arrangements and actually showing up had been overwhelming. I reconnected with a few people and it felt great. I caught myself putting on makeup. I took a bath. I changed my phone and worked out a better plan deal. I changed my blog theme and fixed the bugs. I printed out a series of pictures of Mark, since his birth, and make a nice frame to hang in his room. I took the time to just lay in bed with Mark and hug him. I went to see a movie with Feng.

I think I am enjoying life again.

It will take time. But I have time.

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  1. Silvia March 26, 2014 at 9:15 am

    Great to read this, Zhu 🙂

    I’m not on the edge as you were when you left for your solo trip, but I’m still in the “I had always wanted to but the thought of con­tact­ing peo­ple, mak­ing arrange­ments and actu­ally show­ing up had been over­whelm­ing.” phase 🙁 And have been for 11 years now. I’m not so stressed, but I don’t think I’m enjoying life either. But many other aspects add to parenthood, to make this a little difficult… I hope things will change, I’m really working on it, at last. 🙂

    1. Zhu March 27, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      I hear you, I find myself stuck in this phase over and over again. And it’s not that I don’t want to see people, I value social interaction, I love my friends and I want to see them. It’s just… not that easy I guess.

  2. Colleen Brynn March 27, 2014 at 9:30 am

    I’m so happy you are allowing yourself to take time and to not feel guilty about relaxing and repairing. I know I struggle in the same way. When I am at school, there is always SOMETHING I could be doing, and it is hard to just let myself do nothing or do something that isn’t considered “productive” like watch a movie, read a book, go for a walk. I have realised this lately. India has also forced me to live a simpler life and get back to basics. I hope when I go home, I can change my attitude. India also has a way of reinforcing what is really, truly important in life and what I have to be grateful for. For me, I know that is family, my boyfriend, a hot shower, a good bed, my pets and good food. Right now, I don’t need anything else to be happy.

    1. Zhu March 27, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      Amen to that! This is how I felt too in Central America. The need to do more and have more creeps back once home, though.

  3. I Say Oui March 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Glad to hear this! Yeah, as you said outside of the movies things like this don’t happen overnight. There are certain aspects of my life where things seem to move slowly, and only when I look back to a week or a month or a year prior do I realize how much progress I’ve made. We’re all in progress, eh? I admire you for making some!

    1. Zhu March 28, 2014 at 5:11 pm

      Exactly, we are all walking toward… happiness? At least, trying to!

  4. Jeruen March 31, 2014 at 6:12 am

    I am so glad to read this! Change happens more gradual than abrupt, but it does. I am glad that things are better now for you. More details in an email to follow!

    1. Zhu March 31, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      The key and the hard part is to embrace change!

  5. noemagosa April 8, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Big changes are all like that : having kids is the easy (for most people), becoming a parent is harder. It takes time, wisdom, kindness, strictness, organisation, patience, lots of patience and love to embrace it all. 🙂 Glad you are feeling better.

    1. Zhu April 8, 2014 at 10:58 pm

      Thank you 🙂

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