4 Things I Learned From 8 Months of Slow Living

In early February I announced that I would blog regularly about my slow living sabbatical. Two weeks later, my health fell apart and blogging was impossible. I’m doing a lot better now. As of September there are only 12 foods that I can eat without having a horrible reaction, but I feel mostly healthy again. 

So far, Covid-19 is one health issue I’ve avoided. After I announced my slow living sabbatical, Covid-19 forced the world into a modified slow living situation itself (though many still have to work, including enormous hours of extra childcare for some, and everyone still has bills to pay). My idea to stay home and live slowly fit right in with the rest of the world. 

Even with 8 months of health battles my slow living experience has been entirely satisfying.

Here’s what I learned:

1 – Taking time to feel my pain is the key to healing

March was a bleak time for me. My head felt like it was going to split open because of an extreme sinus infection, which made me finally notice my autoimmune food intolerance issues that had been getting steadily worse. 

(The food intolerances were related to me adding a few processed foods into my diet last year. Apparently my gut will never be able to handle processed foods.)

I spent hours curled up in a fetal position on my rug crying — the pain too much to bear. In slightly better moments, I paced my apartment, repeating over and over “I’m okay, I’m okay” until the pressure in my head eased. 

Pain has value. It forces you to pay attention to your body. Being so sick made me realize how much I have ignored chronic illness my entire life. 

I saw my childhood and adolescence in a new light. I wasn’t the “hyperactive” preschooler or the “overly-emotional” teen girl well-intentioned people told me I was. I was a human, constantly dealing with pain that the medical community didn’t understand in the 70s and 80s, just a human.

Slow living allowed me to embrace my pain. It allowed me to admit how bad it was and accept it. I no longer saw myself as an adult who can’t seem to finish anything she starts. I now see myself as a chronically ill person who has accomplished a hell of a lot despite being sick.

Slow living meant I didn’t have to worry about trying to go back to work or letting anyone down. It was a relief to be sick and not need to cope with anything but listening to my body, so I could truly figure out how to get better.

I wish every chronically ill person could have the chance to live slowly and listen to their pain.

2 – There’s so much good Art available and it saved me at my darkest

 I can’t take medication because I react to almost everything. Instead I used high quality TV as my pain management. In March, I binge watched Schitt’s Creek (Netflix) seasons one through five — at least four times — while I watched the new season six episodes weekly. 

That show made me laugh and nourished me all that at the same time. I can still watch it over and over focusing on new aspects: Moira Rose’s inventive way of speaking, her ever more incredible costumes, the satisfying character arcs of David, Alexis, and Stevie…

I asked friends on Facebook for their best feel good TV shows and watched dozens of their suggestions. My favorites were Please Like Me (Hulu), Modern Love (Prime), and The End of the Fu***ing World (Netflix). The last one doesn’t sound like a feel good show but it was surprisingly healing and hopeful, despite one or two disturbing scenes. 

In April, my health improved enough to read. I lay in bed for hours reading YA rom-coms with a theme of movies or filmmaking. There are a surprising number of charming YA rom-com novels that take place on a movie set or involve filmmaking.  (Post on this coming next week).

In May, I added listening to Hopepunk sci-fi fantasy audiobooks like Becky Chambers’ A Closed And Common Orbit or Amy Rose Capetta & Cory McCarthy’s delightful space-aged, gender-bending King Arthur duology, Once and Future.

I am thankful for all the writers, editors, actors, and crew that let themselves create. Living the lives all these characters gave me space from my pain. Living in these worlds made me want to create my own worlds. Each and every episode or chapter helped me grow stronger. 

Slow living made me realize the true value of Art and why it’s worth my time to create my own. I wish for everyone to have the time to make their own Art, too. You never know who will need your Art. 

 3 – Intentionally curating my life is the key to a good one 

The vast amount of good Art to choose from was a blessing when I was sick. Like any good medicine, dosing matters. A small dose of something is a cure — too much, a poison. That’s true for the entire Internet. Dosing matters.

When I started my slow living year I wanted to do EVERYTHING. Then I realized Art doesn’t cover everything, it’s super specific. Good Art makes choices. A good life means making choices, too.

I learned I need to pay attention to what I like and what I don’t. Curating is important. 

My past eight months of slow living have allowed me to get really clear about what works for me.

Which people emotionally feed me?

What activities do I get the most out of?  

What’s the right mix between being online and offline?

I began curating every aspect of my life. I need 8 hours of sleep so I have 16 precious hours a day. That’s it. 

 I realized time alone isn’t just something I like, it’s something I need. Time to research, write, read, and time for sensory activities like drawing or playing piano while my subconscious percolates. I’m happiest when I spend most of my day alone.

I’ve discovered I love online learning but need one-on-one or independent instruction. I can handle a small group of 1-3 people but groups of 12-15 others are not a “small” group for me. I can handle a larger group if we’re all together to listen to a lecture, without a discussion afterwards, though.

I’ve also learned how to be intentional about social media. I like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram because I can interact with relatives and friends across the world in short one-on-one interactions. 

But I don’t need to be on each social media platform every day. Nor do I need to spend hours on them. 20 minutes a day works well. 

I’ve realized how much I value having my own blog. Half the value in writing is figuring out what I think. Whenever I get out of my head and put my thoughts into words I clarify my understanding of that topic.

I’ve learned I like following a schedule. When I was sick I did whatever I wanted in the moment, always going for the quick high. I started to miss the slow satisfaction of going for a long-term goal. Scheduling helps me prioritize my 16 hours.

I wish for everyone to have a year of slow living to discover what works for them. I think the world would be a better place if everyone had the time to learn what activities truly feed them.

4 – Embracing the here and now is more important than I thought

I love ideas, theories, and systems. I love figuring out how society can live better. What would a post-patriarchy, post-capitalist society look like? That’s the question that gets me excited. I love thinking about the future. Abstract thought is my favorite place.

My slow living experiment has taught me the value of the here and now. I’ve learned that it’s good for me to take small chunks of time to get out of my head and notice where I am in this moment. 

What does it look like?

Smell like?

Sound like?

Feel like?

Taste like?

Staying in my head and not noticing my body was a coping mechanism for chronic illness, but it also kept me from noticing my when my body needed attention. 

Good Art puts the reader in the moment. How can I create Art if I never pay attention to the details of my own life?

 I’ve started making sure I take time each day to live in the moment — to get out of my head and notice what’s around me.

I notice:

the pink and orange lollipop zinnias on my balcony garden,

the sound of cicadas in the humid DC air,

the feel of the carpet on my bare feet when I do yoga,

how a cool breeze from my fan feels like the ocean air at Assateague Island.

Being in the moment made me realize my apartment walls were bare. I’d been happily living down the street from my spouse in my writing studio for almost two years. (An upcoming post will detail how and why that works for us.)

Paying attention to my surroundings made me want to fix up my apartment. I finally hung art on the walls and organized my things so I could actually see what I owned. 

I’ve been gardening on my balcony and love having a small green oasis steps from my desk.

Before Covid, I’d loved traveling to new cities, walking around the neighborhoods as I imagined what life would be like if I was someone else. Now I visit neighborhoods around me— neighborhoods I’d never really explored in my almost 30 years of living in my Maryland DC suburb — and notice exactly what each neighborhood is actually like in this moment. 

Living in the moment hasn’t cured my insatiable need to understand people or to imagine a better future society. But my new awareness helps me care for my health, so I’m able to do the research and writing I want. It’s given me the headspace to let those facts and ideas germinate in my brain, allowing my worlds and characters to ripen.

Slow living has been the life I’ve always dreamed of— even with months of health issues. Now I wish for everyone to have this kind of life. What have you learned from the forced slow living style of the pandemic about yourself?

Back After Two Years

It’s almost two years since I posted on my blog. 2013 and 2014 were full of health problems! I finally have a whole team of good doctors to help me figure out my complicated thyroid/parathyroid illness. I’m not totally better yet—and probably am going to need parathyroid surgery sometime this spring—but I’m healthy enough that I want to blog regularly again.

Over the next two weeks I’ll post several catch up posts with reviews of my favorite books, shows, and whatnot from 2013-2014. Today I’ve summed up my health saga and what goals I was still able to accomplish while sick.

 2013 Health Saga:

-Went on special allergy limitation diet (GAPS diet) to improve food allergy problems.

– Consulted a nutritionist and a certified diet nurse because I wasn’t making progress on the GAPs diet, but they weren’t very helpful.

– Discovered on my own that I have histamine sensitivities and can’t eat fermented foods (a huge part of the GAPS diet).

– Felt worse and worse into the December of 2013.

2014 Health Saga:

– Discovered I was severely hypothyroid at the end of January and went on thyroid meds.

-Discovered I’m super sensitive to the thyroid meds and spent 6 months figuring out the best stable dosage for me—to avoid a list of horrible side effects. I finally figured it out in August.

– Went to 1 horrible family practice doctor, 2 horrible endocrinologists, 1 decent endocrinologist—not on my health insurance, —and finally found 1 good endocrinologist that does take my health insurance.

-Went to a good family practice doctor, who referred me to her Naturopath colleague who specializes in diet and nutrition counseling.

-Had numerous blood tests and scans to figure out my health issues.

-Added rice and then Quinoa into my diet, so I can now eat 8 foods. Whoo-hoo!

-Switched over to another family practice doctor in the same practice, who is just as nice as my first doctor but also specializes in diet issues.

-Was diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism and referred to a parathyroid surgeon.

-Have an appointment with parathyroid surgeon for the late January 2015.

2014 Life Accomplishments: 

Despite being super sick from January-April, somewhat sick from June-August, and a little bit sick from August – December, I accomplished a lot more in 2014 than 2013—though I read fewer books because I actually had a life.

-Subbed 33 times

-Read 40 books (33 fiction, 7 non-fiction)

-Read 84 short stories

-Took 5 writing classes and 1 writing workshop

-Took a performance dance class and an Improv Theater class

-Went to dance class an average of 1 time a week from April -June

-Went to dance class an average of 2.5 times a week from June – December

-Took my youngest child to college in Portland, Oregon

-Wrote 5 short stories

-Read several books as research for new YA novel idea

-Began outlining my new YA novel idea to prepare for drafting

-Visited Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) and spent some time in Burlington, VT

-Applied and was accepted to VCFA’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Teens

-Set up a writing office in Maryland

-Still haven’t touched my middle grade novel at all this year—hmmm…

2013 Life Accomplishments  (I posted this on Facebook last year so I’m putting it last)

-I subbed 11 times

-Read 79 books (55 fiction, 24 nonfiction)

-Took 5 writing classes and 2 writing workshops

-Went to 2 writing conferences

-Wrote 7 short stories

-Wrote 1 YA novel draft

-Planned out the revised plot for my middle grade novel

-Bought furniture for the condo in Vermont