Slowing it Down
Hello dear ones,
I’m grateful to be back here this week after taking last week off to tend to my COVID sick body. My throat is still not at 100% so I’m holding off on recording my answers for last month’s OPENINGS and will get that episode to you next week.
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I’ve never been a slow person. Physically, I’ve always been a fast walker. Mentally, a fast processor. And emotionally, a fast feeler. #AriesMoon. That is, until I got sick. In 2017, everything slowed down. The brain fog and dissociation made it feel as if I was moving through water. I spent day after day, moving from my bed to the couch and back again. Food was delivered. I cancelled as many obligations as I could. My body had a message for me: you need to slow down.
As I slowly got better — though with a chronic illness, getting better is just a temporary reprieve — I learnt how to listen. I paid attention to the moments when I was walking so much faster than I needed to, and I slowed my pace. I learnt how to recognize when the urgency impulse was large and in charge, and I began to ask myself Does this need to happen right now? Are you sure? I became attuned to the rhythms of my heart, noticing when I started to fall fast for a new human, and learnt to be patient as things developed organically.
Unlearning the rhythm of fastness was and still is a challenge. It doesn’t help that capitalism only values fast food, fast fashion, fast production. With our value tied to our ability to produce, slowness is antithetical to a capitalist work ethic. Slowness is a problem. And yet, there was a life before capitalism, a time in which being slow wasn’t just a luxury for the upper classes. Our bodies were never meant to move this fast for this long.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the ways in which urgency is a tenant of white supremacy culture. Urgency, writes Tema Ukun,
“makes it harder for us to distinguish what is really urgent from what feels urgent; after a while everything takes on the same sense of urgency, leading to mental, physical, intellectual, and spiritual burnout and exhaustion … white supremacy culture likes to engender a culture of urgency in those of us who are working to dismantle it because it knows that living with a constant sense that everything is urgent is a recipe for the abuse of power and burnout.”
I know from experience that when I have acted urgently in response to calls for social justice, I often end up making choices that don’t align with my values and my roles in these movements; and I increase the risk of fucking up — and I do fuck up. It is for these and the aforementioned reasons that slowing down is a form of resistance.
I have, once again, been moving too fast. I have been pushing myself to the limits of what is possible for my chronically ill bodymind. I know this because I’ve spent the last two weeks sick with COVID-19. Prior to this, I’d been getting cold after cold. I haven’t been this sick since 2017, when a string of seemingly disconnected illnesses hit me one after another for six months straight: the stomach flu, UTI, kidney infection, a sinus infection. And then fatigue like I’d never experienced. Then fibromyalgia and complex trauma burst into the scene and I was debilitated for months.
I’ve always been a sick person. Born with eczema that ravaged my arms and legs as an infant and then, again, as an adolescent. I got mono in high school and then, in university, I had two strains of mono at the same time (my doctor told me, with alarm, that he’d never seen such a thing happen. I was bedridden for months). I had regular tonsil infections and cold after cold after cold.
At the start of my PhD in 2012, a friend of mine who I’d known since undergrad remarked that she’d never seen me not sick for very long. Knowing what I now know about the links between complex trauma, which chronically dysregulates our nervous system, and chronic illness, I’m no longer surprised. All of the pain that I repressed psychically — pain that was mine and that was passed down to me by my father — was making itself known in and through my body.
Now, almost five years after my last long stretch of illness, I am sick again. Each day, for the last two weeks, I’ve slept until 10am, 11am, 12pm, woken and moved from my bed to the couch and then back again. I have cancelled as many things as I could, spending days in my pyjamas watching all three seasons of Too Hot to Handle. I am moving slowly once again.
In May 2020, I made an Instagram post where I wrote these words:
slowness is nervous system repair. when i slow down, i activate my vagus nerve, which brings me back to my window of tolerance.
slowness is a resistance to the capitalist and ableist belief that my value depends on my productivity and never on my ability to rest.
slowness enables me to honour the organic development of my healing process, which may be slower than i’d like.
slowness is a mode of reparenting because when i slow down, i can begin to hold myself softly.
I read these words and they feel like a spell, an incantation that I want to build on.
slowness is the rhythm of healing for the traumatized chronically ill bodymind that has been made sick by capitalist time.
slowness helps me move towards others, grounded in the desire for connection. i am no longer ruled by the fear of abandonment or rejection.
slowness enables me to move towards myself, grounded in the self-trust that i am deserving of whatever it is my body is aching for.
slowness is the medicine i need to resist urgency and the too much too fast too soon of trauma.
It is Day 14 of COVID and one of my cats is curled up in my lap as I type. My arms feel like lead. My fingers type with the slowness that comes with a body that lives with chronic pain — a body that intimately knows sickness. I know that my ability to give myself the permission to go slow is a privilege that not everyone has.
At the same time, I’m reminded of Megan O’Rourke’s words in her book The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness that if “every age has its representative signature disease” ours is autoimmune disease and chronic illness. As COVID continues to surge on despite those in power wanting us to believe that this pandemic is somehow over, I can’t help but think that this was our opportunity to slow down. This was Mother Earth telling us that we’ve been moving too fast for too long, ravaging the planet into a state of climate crisis. While I do not wish to turn COVID into a metaphor, there’s a part of me that wonder if perhaps COVID was a call to slow down.
Despite giving myself much rest in the first 11 days of being sick, on day 11 I awoke feeling like I was back on day 3. Okay body, I’m listening. I cancelled all of my work obligations, taking the weekend off of social media. The next morning I awoke feeling like I finally had some energy back. Okay body, I’m listening. Thank you for reminding me to slow it down.
I don’t really know how to end this piece of writing, so I want to offer some questions:
How might we learn to tune into our body’s rhythms and learn to move in synch together?
When we catch ourselves speeding through our days, can we hit pause for a minute or two?
How might I offer my body the slowness that it yearns for?
What might slowness have to teach me? What might I learn if I slowed down?
Gratitude. It’s wild to make a post featuring images of cats in front of sunsets with some affirmations and see it resonate with so many humans (over 36,000 shares and counting!). You can now get the images as postcards to put up around your home or send to humans you love! Get them here.
I’m so grateful that I get to do the work that I do in the world. It is a blessing. From making memes to facilitating my first ever peer support group Intimacy for Trauma BBs (applications due tomorrow, Monday April 4th at 11:59pm), I’m truly #Blessed.
Thank you so much for your support and your kind words and your messages and your love and for reading this little gushy moment of appreciation. I’d love to hear what you’re feeling grateful for! Drop your shares in the comments if you feel called.
Pay attention to the moments where you’re running from one task to the next, speeding through your grocery shopping, or frantically washing your dishes. Pause. Place your hands over your heart and take three deep breaths. Release a sound on the exhale. Repeat as many times as needed.
My dear friend Olivia has been sick for a long time and is in need of care.
From the GFM: If you've come across this page, Olivia has undoubtedly touched your life in a meaningful way. You already know how amazing, kind, and selfless a person they are, and if we go into any more detail on that, it will thoroughly embarrass them.
You might also know that Olivia has been dealing with a range of chronic health conditions for many years now. Due to the nightmare that we call capitalism and an ongoing public health crisis, they have been on a waitlist for six months, to receive extensive tests, in-network.
The testing could truly lead to some useful strategies and allow them to be referred to specialists that can hopefully provide more clarity. This holding pattern appears to be endless, so Olivia recently decided that they will have to see a range of doctors accepting new patients and cover it entirely out of pocket.
This will likely cost a small fortune, and these doctors, for whatever reason, are unwilling to barter for (priceless!) star poetry readings. Can you join us in supplying some mutual aid for our dear friend?