Nothing To Do, Everything To Be

I felt so much power when I learned there was nothing I had to do.

I was reading an article online that spoke about the difference between “managing” your time and instead “owning” it. The idea was that if you took 20 minutes to outline the day, you could control it. A line stuck out to me:

To own your time, you should take five minutes and write down absolutely everything you need to do.

An immediate thought jumped out: There is absolutely nothing that I have to do.

Flashback to the night before, when I was crying in my bed, clutching my favorite stuffed animal (I’m 23 and proud of this), mumbling a jumble of words to my boyfriend over the phone, miles away, that sounded something like this:

“I (hiccup), am so, (huge gasp), alone (torrent of sobs and tears). Nothing in my life (sharp breath in), feel so empty.”

I had just finished a three-day weekend of nannying, scheduled 7 am - 10 pm (I extended their bedtime a bit) as a stand-in mother of three. While I love this opportunity to get to be a kid and to get to take part in all of the silliness that allows, it exhausted me unknowingly. I came home a wreck of thoughts, a mess of unreleased stress, and I dealt with it in the way that 13 years of an eating disorder has taught me: I binged, and I purged.

A rock in my stomach, my hands shaking from the effort, my teeth tingling from the impact of half-chewed food sliding over their enamel, I slumped on the couch. The day before, I had invited a friend over for dinner, excited to catch up after a few weeks of absence. Now, I knew I couldn’t eat anything more, I couldn’t pretend to socialize while exhaustion and self-loathing ran through every part of my body. I called her to cancel, making up a potentially believable excuse.

But suddenly, lying horizontally across the couch, a profound, inexplicable sense of loneliness crept through me, overwhelming me with its abyss-like sense of eternity. Bulimia comes back to me when I don’t know what to do. In a world where we are constantly connected, constantly stimulated, it’s a challenge to find any time to exist, with the thought of being bored a mystery. When it happens, I’m no longer familiar with its presence, not understanding how to be Isa when the world isn’t asking something of me, when instead, I’m given the freedom to choose what I can ask from it.

I grew up in New England, and despite falling into a liberally-minded family, there was nonetheless this exterior dialogue of needing to always want more, to do more, to be more. This theory set us in a mindset that we always needed to be improving, always wanting something beyond your current state. I didn’t know how to be bored. I didn’t know how to be with myself when there is nothing that had to be accomplished, nothing to do, to strive for, to achieve.

I sat down a few days ago, reflecting on my life. I live in Portland, Oregon, in an apartment I could never dream myself living in at the age of 23 with a man who inspires me, supports me, teaches me, loves me (and who I love more than anything in return). I’m a nanny for a beautiful family of three stunning, intelligent, funny, and creative children, and feel that I’ve developed a relationship with their parents that makes me feel loved and possibly like a surrogate daughter myself.

I have a job that surrounds me with creative people, creative work, and creative product. It’s a constant stream of inspiration. I don’t work hectic hours, having enough time in the morning to make and enjoy breakfast with my boyfriend, sometimes going on walks, sometimes reading, sometimes staring out the window and listening to music together.

I have enough money to buy the occasional matcha, and enough time to sit with it, reading a book. I have enough money to buy books, to buy crafts, to buy the tools I need to be creative. I have the beautiful privilege of having a library book, with the world of words at my fingertips.

In typing this, I see that my life is beautiful. I see how lucky I am and now how grateful I can be that this is how I exist in the world. But when I’m always hoping for more, hoping to become something else, I can’t focus on what I already have, and what I already am.

Early into the conversation with my boyfriend on the phone, I felt hopeless, with any possibility of feeling different being futile. I didn’t know what to do, didn’t feel like I had any tools to use or rely upon. But then, he found me a way out.

“Do what you love to do while I’m away. Watch Hey Arnold, I can never love that show as much as you do. Watch it, enjoy.”

And so there I was, lying in bed, the stuffed animal held closely to my chest, with my laptop over the sheets that covered my legs. Two episodes later, I was asleep.

I woke up then, knowing how to be.

Isabelle EymanComment