"Do something for yourself, honey," my husband implored over the phone. "Take a 'me' day."
I sniffled. It was just 10 in the morning, but I was already burned out on work. And one benefit of being my own boss is having the freedom to set my own schedule. "Okay," I told him. "I will."
Somewhere in a past life I remember doing things alone. Unusual, artsy, spontaneous things. Most of this delicious alone time took place when I attended college at a gorgeous lakefront campus in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I used to wake up at five in the morning to go running. I wore way too many turtlenecks and spent way too much time thinking about Emerson and Whitman and what it must really have felt like to be Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf. I'd while away hours at a little cafe called Java Vino, drinking fancy beer and listening to live music and playing chess with friends (yes, I had chess friends). For a little while, I even played piano in a local band.
I would not go back to that life, because despite all its whimsy, there was a vast loneliness to it. But at the same time, in retrospect, it was all so visceral and daring. I lived in a run down, Tudor Revival-style apartment on the really, really, really scary side of town, something that would give me a heart attack now. I chose it because it had "character." Me, I chose it, because it spoke to me.
So when my husband suggested I spend a day doing whatever I wanted, I felt a flurry of excitement -- I had permission to do whatever I wanted, to be careless. Shaun suggested I go to the zoo, or the Springfield Nature Center. I had an even more adventurous idea: I should drive through Einstein's for lunch, and then go see a movie. In a theater. All by myself.
God, writing it out like that sounds so ridiculous. But I felt like Tina Fey's character in Date Night, when she admits to her husband that if she could have a day to herself, she wouldn't do anything crazy: All she really wants is to rent a hotel room and sit in silence drinking a Diet Sprite. Lunch and a movie was my Diet Sprite, my bliss. So what if it was lame? It was for me. I was doing something alone, for me, for the first time in a year and a half!
But that's okay, I thought, once I get seated in the comfy darkness and crack open my pack of Twizzlers I'll feel right at home.
Wrong. What seemed like an intimate audience, just me and a few scattered viewers, suddenly became a red carpet event. A gaggle of teenagers, presumably on an English class field trip (I was there to see The Great Gatsby) stampeded into the theater. I can't even describe to you the intensity of the unexpected near-panic attack this brought on. My heart pounded in my throat. The jungle drums started in my head as I realized these kids were funneling in around me, and soon I'd be surrounded on all sides by teenagers. Now or never. I stood up to re-seat myself.
It took a few minutes, but my heartbeat returned to normal in my new seat at the back of the theater. The movie started, I enjoyed it, I ate too many Twizzlers, the movie ended.
Then back into the brightness. When I got home I tried to lie down for a nap, but I was restless. So I went for a run. When I was done, the strangest thing happened. Like I'd been socked in the stomach with a basketball, I collapsed to my living room floor and cried. I couldn't stop. I didn't know what I was crying about. Expectations, maybe? That my very special "me" day was barely fun, let alone the restorative experience I'd been searching for?
Awhile ago, I wrote that I desperately needed more time away from my daughter to be happy. Well, now the pendulum had swung the other way. After showering, I decided the only thing that could possibly snap me out of this funk was being needed by her. So I picked her up early, brought her home and we ate dinner together. We played. I felt better.
I've learned that "me" time is unhealthy for me. Dangerous, even. I must be working, surrounding myself with friends and family, doing for others, or sleeping. That's it.
If there's one thing I know for certain, it's that when I hit my lowest of lows, I need to stay as busy as possible. Will I burn out? Probably, and I'll spend another miserable day crying it all out of my system. Is it easier to just keep plugging away at work and motherhood and push all those nagging personal desires and lofty ideas of "me time" down where I can't see them on a daily basis? Well, yes.
I think it's just a new fact of life that I don't know how to be alone anymore (when I'm not working, that is). I don't remember how to be spontaneous and I definitely don't remember how to have fun. Or maybe my definition of fun has changed. All I know is that I certainly won't be attempting another "me day" anytime soon.
(photo: FotoYakov / Shutterstock)