The stay-at-home orders which have dictated how we exist the past few months have enabled me to learn about myself. As someone employed in the fields of “knowledge,” I feel the heavy toll such service can take on a person. I grapple with what labor is healthier; [ab]using mind? Or physical body? And all merely to satiate capitalism’s aggressive appetite.
Coronavirus transmission forced me out of my office on March 16. Within a few weeks of working remotely, I noticed I felt better. I had less anxiety. I have previously mentioned that the source of my anxiety was difficult to pinpoint, so this realization felt profound. Suddenly there was more time to read, meal prep, spend time with my animals, be outside, practice yoga, etc., and I felt better for it. One day, I purged myself of unnecessary possessions. I no longer wanted to own a dining room table or Christmas decorations. I felt a newfound sense of clarity and calm in my home without these material objects weighing me down.
The pandemic has afforded me perspective. Perspective that, in fact, even psychotherapy hadn’t yet provided. My anxiety is multi-factorial, but it is painfully clear that my job is hard on me. It is near impossible to “leave work” at work. I am perpetually freaked out about the amount there is to do. And this is magnified when I am required to wake when it is still dark outside, dress in tight clothes and high heels, and commute to an office where I’m freezing cold all day.
Do we work to live, or live to work?
As time progressed, the physical manifestations of my call to “minimalism” subsided. I didn’t have much to begin with. And while I’ve enjoyed the additional space and light feeling associated with de-cluttering, I knew I needed more. For me, the minimalist sentiment extends beyond a pursuit of the aesthetic; I crave slower living. I took my first digital detox a few months ago which offered me additional clarity. I thought, make a small change.
Working remotely has freed up more of my mental energy. And it’s funny, because I actually thought that the concept of mental energy was more theoretical than real. But in this study, researchers explored different methods which can assess and quantify mental energy. “Mental energy is a mood, but can also be defined as ability or willingness to engage in cognitive work.” Because my mental energy had been wrapped up in managing anxiety, I didn’t feel all that empowered or motivated to cultivate the kind of life I want. But now I know I can.
Unfortunately, it is a paralyzing time to consider making any major life changes. But I know that I need more out of life. I took a solo trip to Colorado Springs with Nitro. As we were hiking, ignorant of the time of day, I thought, this is freedom. Being with my animal, seeing his joy, this is my joy.
I realize that, for me, mindfulness, physical exertion and time with animals is vital to my well-being. In lieu of measuring success monetarily, I am trying to measure it by happiness. Because I do not believe the remedies to our psychological yearnings are store-bought and cellophane-wrapped. Instead of feeling bogged down and trapped in my current profession, I am going to use it to get me where I want to be. I will return to school for the spring semester, where I will learn canine psychology and positive reinforcement training methods. When my lease ends next summer, I will leave my home state, for the first time in my life, and move somewhere warm to begin my new career with dogs.
Leaving my salaried position at the law firm is, without a doubt, the scariest part of this process. I plan to finish out the year, then work freelance through school. Sure, this may require making some financial sacrifices. But I feel ready for that. Because embracing a life where I consume and plan mindfully, where my life is centered around animals, that sounds like freedom. And I believe true happiness will follow.
This pandemic has been, and remains, devastating. But none of this perspective would have come to me without it.
I encourage everyone to use some of this time to look inwards. If you’re unhappy with where you’re at, don’t feel stuck. Make a change. Even a small change can have a huge impact. No one said it is easy. And you may find answers that have been there all along.
Also by R.Coker: These 5 Afrofuturist Books Show Us A Path Forward Out Of 2020
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Photo: Artem Kovalev via Unsplash, R. Coker