I woke up this morning unable to breathe. I’d been dreaming that I was suffocating and when I woke up, I found I still couldn’t breathe. I sat straight up in bed and opened my mouth and gulped in some air. Hay fever. Just bloody hay fever making me think I’m dying again. I got up in a silent house and went downstairs to read my book and inhale coffee while I worked my way through a box of tissues. A character in the book I’m reading (without giving anything away) feels suffocated by life, and although the character is not likeable, and not meant to be likeable, there are times when I can relate. That overwhelming feeling, that drowning feeling. The hay fever and the cabin fever.
I find I can get cabin fever after surprisingly short amounts of time at home, and it’s not always to do with being at home – it’s more of a state of mind. Feeling busy and fuzzy and pulled in all directions, but trapped. (Hay fever can actually make your head fuzzy, a cloudy tangle of mismatched threads.)
And right now, I’m in a bank holiday bubble, but I know my book launch is coming up on Thursday and I feel I should be doing something about it, like writing my unwritten speech and learning it off. (“Sure don’t worry about a speech!” says anyone who’ll be there on Thursday, in a hopeful voice. Don’t worry, the unwritten speech will be nothing if not short!)
The kids are off school all week and that’s compounding things – the fear that I won’t be able to drop everything and do last-minute emergency things that I don’t yet know I have to do. So the cabin fever isn’t really about being in the house, but it’s about feeling overwhelmed and a little bit suffocated. Not the kind of thing you’re supposed to feel on a beautiful sunny May bank holiday morning.
I think it’s something all of us feel from time to time once we become parents – whether we’re working full-time or part-time or at home with kids. Always on, always busy, even during down-time. And when proper down-time happens, we feel we have to fill it quickly with something useful. I hear it every September when I chat to mothers whose youngest is starting school – the “I should probably go back to work…” statement, even from people who don’t need to financially and love being at home. That sense that we must be doing useful things, that we’re not allowed time to ourselves. Even on a bank holiday Monday morning.
Then I decided maybe some time to myself was exactly what I needed – time out and deep breaths and air. A run. Four years ago before I discovered running, if someone had suggested I take it up, I’d have politely declined, eye-rolling inside. I wasn’t a runner. And then one morning, cross with the world, I told my husband I was going for a walk. But it turned into a run, and I realised I am a runner after all – not a fast one, not a long-distance one, not even a very regular one. But when I need time out and to feel better about everything, it’s what I do. It’s what I did today – running from the cabin fever and the hay fever. And I came home better.
I won’t ever tell anyone to take up running – it’s not for everyone, and you might silently eye-roll me. But if you have a seed of a thought that you might like it, it’s worth a shot. Or do something else – writing or reading or pilates or volunteering – something that’s just for you. Because when we’re busy with everyone else, it’s far too easy to forget about ourselves, to get lost in the tangled threads, and suffocated by the fevers.