Earlier this week I went on a hike with the intention of trying my hand at foraging. It’s one of those things I’ve developed a nerdy obsession for- you know, lots of YouTube watching and Pinteresting. Initially, I put out an ISO on Facebook trying to find a similar nerdy lady looking to hike about through the brush with me. Unfortunately, not many people like wood ticks or getting dirty or simply don’t have the luxury of having freedom to tromp about the wilderness child-free during the day. I was left with two choices: Go by myself OR don’t go at all. I can’t say that I was very excited about either, if we are going to be honest.
Then I started thinking about it and realized how weird it was- I am constantly alone but never really do anything by myself. How could that be? My kids go to school five days a week, my husband is home most Wednesdays, but still that leaves me with four days each week that I have a chunk of hours all to myself. Yet I never do anything alone. Hmmm. As it turns out I spend most of my days holed up by myself, a little hermit of sorts. I do the laundry, clean the apartment, read, embroider, all sorts of ALONE activities. When I do go out it’s a quick trip to the post office or the grocery store. I did join the SPNG and I regularly attend MOMS; I had to go to these initially by myself, but now spend it surrounded by others so I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.
Before we were married, I lived alone. I went to movies alone. Coffee shops alone. Went out to eat alone. Sometimes even the bar alone. If there was something I wanted to do I just did it. I didn’t often have people that were available during the day (because I worked nights) to do things with so I just did them. Alone. And you know what? It was great. No one talked through the movie. I didn’t have to stand in line trying to decide what WE should get. I didn’t have to wait for someone else to decide what they wanted to order. So why is it I am having doubts now about going for a hike? Why does the idea of having a sandwich at a table by myself send me into a mild panic?
It’s great to do things with friends, I mean, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about that. Connecting with others is essential to our emotional well being. Besides choosing to do things with others, as mothers we hardly ever get the chance to even pee or shower without being interrupted. Many times I find myself craving alone time. Purposefully carving it out. Alone time is also essential for our mental well being, whether it’s hiking or embroidering. So why was the thought of doing a leisure activity outside of my house feeling down right scary?
I could make up all sorts of excuses about serial rapists lurking in the woods or worries about bears mauling me since I’m menstruating, but despite my vivid imagination those weren’t the things that were really bothering me. In truth, I think I just fell out of habit. I got comfortable. It wasn’t about the activity, really, or even being alone so much as I was scared to do something outside of my routine. It was about the fact that I had stopped challenging myself. I had stopped stepping outside of my comfort zone. That’s an important thing, you see. You never realize how strong you are until you challenge yourself in these ways. It’s like a living thing- it needs exercise. You need to tend to it for it to grow. Routine is great, but it’s safe. It can wither and stunt you.
Besides being outside of my routine, I think this was the first time I had thought about doing something WITH myself. All of my ALONE hobbies are great, but they are the types of things that are easy to do while distracted from oneself. Whether it’s immersing yourself in another character’s story or watching Doctor Who or listening to a podcast while you work. You’re there but YOU aren’t really there keeping yourself company. Do you know what I mean? What if I did this and discovered I didn’t like myself? Or I was terrible company? Was that even possible? I mean, who AM I? I think I had kind of forgotten. And if I couldn’t have fun hanging out with me, well, then how was everyone else? It couldn’t be that bad, right? I’m pretty funny- I mean, I crack me up all the time (true story- just ask my hubby!).
So I said “Fuck it!” And those who know me know I really did say that *wink*. “Why not?!” I asked myself. “Just try it. If it’s lame you can leave.” So I did. I tromped about for 2.5 hours in those woods. Did I feel like an idiot? Sometimes. Did I miss having anyone there beside me? No. It was really nice. I heard all of the birds I normally miss because I’m so busy talking and scaring them away. I saw all sorts of things I might have missed because my mouth would have overpowered my eyes. I had long talks with myself inside my heart. I sat on a rock in the middle of nowhere just over a drop-off and ate a snack and talked with my Abba, and took time to feel the clean air that filled my lungs and the speckled sun that came through the trees and left behind all of my doubts & insecurities. I didn’t have to think about my body for once but just be IN IT for a change. I walked at MY pace and took time to get down on the ground, to get dirty in order to get that better camera shot. I watched a woodpecker for a ridiculously long time and didn’t care and never had to apologize for being a nerd.
And all I could say at the end of the day was,
“Why didn’t I do that sooner?”
Are you still challenging yourself? I’d love to hear how!