The world has two types of people: the spring/summer types (that’s me!) and the ones who prefer the cold and darker months. I find the winter people strange. I like wearing cashmere polo necks as much as the next person, but I can’t handle those months of the year when I feel exhausted and it’s a drag to pull myself off the sofa. I come alive in summer: I bounce out of the house and soak up the sun as much as possible. So, despite the hard times I’m in, the changing of seasons has put a spring in my step. I’ve been waiting for the season to change in my life, too.
I think about my life through seasons of prioritisation. When I hear people say that they don’t have time for something, I translate that to mean that the thing that they say they don’t have time for isn’t a priority. We don’t necessarily have a choice on what our priorities are at a given moment, which is hard. However, if we’re battling multiple priorities: trying to work hard, keep up an exercise routine, be present in family life, party with friends and eat healthily, we’ll end up not achieving in any of those spaces of our lives and feeling exhausted. Oliver Burkeman, in Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, talks about how instead of trying to make ourselves more efficient and productive, we’d benefit from accepting our limitations. We may be able to do anything, but not everything, he says.
During the last couple of months, I’ve had no choice but to surrender to my limitations. I’m going through a breakup and it’s taken its toll on my mental well-being. A breakup is like a death and what I’m experiencing is grief. This article on the physical symptoms of grief says:
“Many people report difficulty with memory and concentration, sometimes referred to as ‘grief brain,’” Stuempfig said. “Grief brain occurs because the brain is on overload, focused on processing sadness, loss, loneliness and many other feelings. People often feel that they are in a mental fog and may forget to do things, and even small tasks may suddenly feel daunting.”
Today, I arrived at my yoga class and realised that I’d left my bag at home. I have countless anecdotes like this. My brain feels scattered and I haven’t been able to focus or concentrate very well. I’m self-employed so this is a problem: if I don’t work, then I don’t get paid. I wish that things were different and that this wasn’t happening to me. A friend pointed out to me that we often try to rush grief. Of course, we do, grieving isn’t fun. The sleepless nights are lonely and I feel stuck in my brain fog. However, I’ve just had to accept that this season of my life has had to be about survival and staying afloat, rather than progress and momentum.
I’m under a lot of financial stress. I had to cough up for all these unexpected expenses once my partner and I broke up and now I’m joining the single people who made the headlines for their living costs being on average £1,000 a month more than their coupled counterparts. I need to switch into money-making mode pronto, but without my mind or body being in a good place, then I can’t achieve anything. Naming our priority for each season gives us permission to relax and settle into it, without the friction that comes from the guilt of refusing to meet ourselves where we are.
Being a human in the modern world has become a rather guilty experience. If we’re not operating like productive machines, then we berate ourselves for not doing or being enough. The more we try to do at once, the more we fail to achieve in any given area of our lives and it’s a cycle that explains why burnout is so widespread. We’ve forgotten how to just be.
I’m flexible with the length of my priority seasons. I tend to move in rhythms of a few months at a time. Some people and priorities need longer or shorter timeframes: rebuilding after an illness or caring duties may mean we must surrender to our priority season for years. However, perhaps we can regain control by knowing that the day will come when we’ll be able to shift our focus to something else that’s important to us and of our choosing.
Soon, I’ll be in a phase of momentum and money-making will become a priority. My daily routine for the new priority season will reflect that. At the moment, I do yoga first thing to get myself out of the house in the morning daylight, which is good for my mental health. When I’m less fragile and in a new priority season, I’ll do yoga at a time when my brain is most slumpy and least productive for work.
A good life is led with intention rather than guilt. The days are getting warmer and longer, my brain fog is lifting and soon I’ll be ready for a new priority season and I’m excited for it.
I am winter