“That’s how you can tell that you’re filling yourself with the wrong things. You use a lot of energy, and in the end, you feel emptier and less comfortable than ever.” — Glennon Doyle
A year ago, right before the Covid-19 situation became the norm and not a distant crisis, I was in bed, sicker than I’d been in a long time. My lungs rattled and I was delirious with fever. In the waiting room at the health clinic I heard news of the first Covid case being diagnosed in Iceland. Surprised I thought to myself “if anyone in Iceland has Covid it’s obviously me”. This made me nervous, “‘What if I’m not allowed to leave and I’ll be isolated and I won’t get to see my mom again and I’ll be used for endless experiments and…” These thoughts were mostly a side effect of my delirium.
Long story short, I didn’t have Covid. And I haven’t had it, if the two antibody tests I’ve had are to be believed. I suffered more from the annual flu than many people who have contracted the infamous virus. In other words: I suffered in vain. Or did I?
At the beginning of 2020, I was on autopilot, running in place like a hamster on a wheel. Many of us Icelanders are familiar with this feeling, as (according to us) we are “the hardest working people in the world”—and proud of it. I was working two jobs, as a flight attendant and an actress, getting my daily workout at the gym, measuring every single calorie I ingested; I had great friends and a lovely family, I paid my bills on time, and I had a dog that needed my attention. Yet I was never fully present at either of my jobs because of the constant anxiety of missing a day on set due to my flight schedule, or missing a flight because I was supposed to be on set. I was physically exhausted from all the exercising I was doing and started to look for instant energy to survive the day, often in the form of chocolate (and I’m talking ALL the chocolate). I was barely able to see all the wonderful people I had in my life because there were not enough hours in the day. I was constantly worried about money and therefore felt like I had to work even harder to reach financial security. My dog basically moved to my parents place, and later to friends’ up north.
That hard work and diligence had a direct impact on my health. My immune system was in tatters and despite having gotten a flu shot I couldn’t even manage a common cold. I am very grateful that my cold wasn’t Covid-19 because I’m not sure I would have survived!
While I was sick, I slept. I rested. Under normal circumstances I would not have taken a sick day. And when I rose from my deathbed, the economy and our whole society was in shambles. I went on two flights before most flight attendants employed by the airline were laid off. Gyms closed along with most other places where people gathered, and my mom moved in with me for a few weeks while my parents renovated their apartment. It was like I had been placed in someone else’s life—and from that standpoint I could see how demanding and damaging my own life had become.
“We have to get back into our own bodies and figure out what the hell we want to do.”— Glennon Doyle
The hamster wheel is a very effortless way to move through life. The only requirement is that you never stop to ask yourself what the hell you are doing and why. I was not in control of my own life, I was on the run from it. Afraid to stand and fall with my own decisions—to choose one, reject the other. Yet I was choosing and rejecting, subconsciously and without examining my decisions in the light of my own values.
My own values. What were they? Was work important to me? Yes, of course. Was work more important to me than being a good friend or a good daughter? No, probably not. Was it more important for me than taking care of my mental health? Of course not! Okay, great. But what was I doing to implement my own values in my life? Literally nothing. Nada.
As long as I kept running I wouldn’t have to ask myself these questions, and it was easier to run and not think. Until I ran into a wall, that is. That was the cost of my hard work. I was so tired I didn’t realise how tired I was. No— tired is not a strong enough word. Exhausted. Chronic pain throughout my body and soul became my norm.
The unexpected halt to which our society came was for me like an admission to a sanatorium. I got to rest completely. I started cooking for the first time. I read. Jogged. Listened to my body. Showed myself and others empathy, compassion and patience. Was more grateful for the little things and more tolerant towards things not being perfect. And, step by step, I found the strength to make decisions that were difficult but necessary—that allowed me to look in the mirror at the end of the day and be at peace with what I saw. Not just on the outside (that is a never-ending process) but what I saw on the inside.
It is painful to realise the person you think you are is not the person you truly are. I believed that I was following strong values, but realised they were empty and meaningless. This, in turn, made me empty. It was about time for me to reconsider what my values were. To toss some out, and incorporate others. Reshuffle the ones that still remained, and use them as a guide in my future endeavours.
I like to call it an update of, not the hard drive, but the soft drive. It is a privilege to have the time, space and security to take a deep-dive inwards. I know … it all sounds a bit woo-woo hippie-ish. Perhaps it sounds a little less woo-woo when I admit that much of the inspiration comes from YouTubers and I watch their videos like a kid on an iPad “high”.
However you choose to go about it, I urge you, dear reader, to look honestly within and ask yourself: Do I really follow the values I believe in? If not, why not? Such introspection can be uncomfortable, even painful. Yet it can lay the foundation for a better life, a journey to new and exciting places.
Recently I’ve been very much inspired by the author Glennon Doyle. She writes about joy, love and the pursuit of happiness, but also about pain and how difficult life can be (heavy subjects, yes, but she writes of them with a great sense of humour). This, of course, perfectly fits my mood and interests these days. Each day involves some pain. I feel like I’ve never learned so much, yet known so little. But one thing is for sure. Pain brings growth. Without it we get stuck. It demands that we either make a change, or give up. We stop the hamster wheel and step off it. We look around, and within — and we update the soft drive.