Today a weird thing happened.
I ended up with two-and-a-half hours with absolutely nothing to do.
And to be honest, it freaked the hell out of me.
Today is the last day of my spring semester—last two classes, last regularly-scheduled office hours (although I promised to make myself available one more time), last time my alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. for what I hope is a very long time, last sad bagged lunch eaten between student visits, last time flossing in the tiny mirror in my office (until this fall, at least).
In five days, thirty-seven final portfolios are due, and I’ll be sitting in my yoga pants with my seventh cup of coffee googling “screen fatigue” and promising myself that I find a way to make it less painful in the future. But that’s a still-distant horror.
Right now I’m in the calm before the storm. Everything up to and besides those portfolios is graded, and for the moment I’ve escaped campus and 96-degree heat to freeze in a Starbucks with a venti black iced tea and wait for my final class.
The lack of immediate stresses is, frankly… stressful.
Maybe I don’t know how to fill my time anymore when I’m not reading or writing or teaching, when I don’t have a deadline staring me in the face or a stream of student emails.
Maybe I’ve forgotten how to relax.
I physically can’t sit in front of a television any more, without itching to get up and do something else. My husband considers this a sickness, especially during baseball season, but I’m too busy to follow the plot of anything. I’ve begun to watch exclusively HGTV, and preferably the first five minutes of a show (with the old house in disarray) and the last ten (the remodeled/new house in perfect gleaming condition). For the rest of the hour/half hour, I’ve muted the television to grade an essay, or I’ve wandered into another room to sort laundry.
Recently, getting a manicure (which is not a regular thing, but was a matter of dire necessity after heavy-duty yard work), I thought I might burst through my skin, I was that anxious.
“Hold still,” the manicurist said for the dozenth time, operating the tiny brush with patient strokes.
“Sorry,” I said.
She shook her head. “So tense. What do you do—you work in finance?”
This morning, I remembered the tiny spot on the band of my wedding ring where one of the small diamonds is missing. I first noticed this last July (the last time I felt fully relaxed) when I was on vacation in Oregon, and I forgot about it until today.
I added “visit jeweler” to my to-do list.
And then I added “make new to-do list,” because that would solve so many problems.
Today, I spent too much time on Facebook and used too many angry emojis. Maybe I’ve met some kind of quota, at least for the week.
I sent my husband a long rambling message, and he replied with an emoji, and that felt about right.
Then I rediscovered Pinterest, and my long-forgotten “someday, my kitchen” board. Off and on, I wished I had a tweezer in my purse.
The thing to do is ease into it, I know that. You never see marathoners cross the finish line and stop right there. (Well, maybe you do—I haven’t paid that close of attention, as marathoning is not my particular addiction.) But I have a feeling that stress can’t be ditched cold turkey.
Maybe I’ll work on the mother of all to-do lists (MOATDL) first.
And chase it with five new Pinterest boards.
Paula Treick DeBoard