The Difference Between Dead Time and Down Time

Growing up, I feel like I always had a lot of ideas; always had a bunch of projects I was working on, and a list of things I wanted to learn about. I wanted to illustrate books and I wanted to be bilingual, I wanted to travel and to write and to help people plan Walt Disney World vacations (I mean, I know that last one reads sort of specific, but it’s the truth so…). In short, I never saw myself as a lounging around watching VHS/DVD/Netflix (delete as appropriate for specific life era) sort of a person. But unfortunately, that’s what I’ve become.


Living with anxiety and depression has meant that there have been a lot of times when I’m not at my strongest; when my energy reserves have been low, my mood has been all over the place and my creativity has been entirely absent. The real problem with this is that I am REALLY bad at identifying and correctly managing these issues. Historically, I’ve pretended they’re not happening and forced myself onwards regardless; bullying myself for being weak or for failing at things, I believed that willpower alone should be enough to override the depression. I believed that getting blog posts or videos up was my priority and if I was missing my upload deadlines the solution was to skip other things; things like eating, bathing and relaxation time, in order to not lose face or to feel like my dreams were slipping through my fingers. Needless to say, this did not work out so well for me, and over the years I experienced some very big crashes which pretty much resulted in Kenny making me fish fingers and waffles twice a day for a week, while I sat in the same pair of pyjamas and watch Deadly Women on repeat on Netflix and cried into my teddy bear, wondering what Candice DeLong would have to say about me. I know it sounds like I’m joking, but honestly, I’ve experienced some really bad times.

I stopped believing anyone would ever read the blog, so why write it?

Over the last year or so though, things swung too far the other way. I think I gave up. I stopped believing anyone would ever read the blog, so why write it? I couldn’t consistently upload to YouTube so why keep disappointing people? The language I was learning wouldn’t stick in my head, the diet plans were abandoned when I had a ‘dark day’, I pushed and pushed at the few friends I had to try and get them to leave before I ruined things… what was the point in anything. I would only fail and exhaust and embarrass myself in the process.

The more I felt I was struggling the more I tried to slow down, so the more time I blocked out for myself. I needed an hour in the morning and three at night just to veg out and watch things online, to feel placated enough to somehow function throughout the rest of the day. Then when this didn’t work, I blocked out more time. Cancelled date night, stopped cooking, stopped reading, stopped painting my toenails – there wasn’t enough time for any of that. I didn’t have enough time. No matter how many hours I sat and did nothing, I could never relax.

Meanwhile, my Bookmarks folder and my YouTube watch later playlist were overflowing. I had a notebook bulging with thumbnail sketches and planned blog posts. I would jot down jokes, or prompts or things I thought might help people – if only I would one day be strong enough to do something about it. Then, one day, as I rolled over onto the third season of Suits, and realised I’d hated at least the previous 1.5 seasons of this show I began to wonder what I was doing with my life.

I had so many ideas and so many things that I wanted to do and to give back, I really believed that I could help other people with mental health issues, but I just felt so powerless to do, well, anything about it. Nevertheless daring to hope a solution was out there, I started looking into time management and productivity methods. I downloaded approximately 73,000 apps to help me, I tried bullet journalling, we bought a white board, but nothing really helped because I was so stuck in this feeling of needing safe time, quiet time.

I tried bullet journalling, we bought a white board, but nothing really helped because I was so stuck in this feeling of needing safe time, quiet time.

Then in my reading I came across the Tony Robbins concept of N.E.T – which stands for No Extra Time – and I’m not going to lie, on the surface this sounded like a scary thing for me. I felt like I could barely function, limping through mandatory tasks like food shopping, and now, I was supposed to do multiple things at once? Seriously? But yes, indeed this is what N.E.T is about. Basically, it’s the idea that we have all this time we have to sink into things such as cleaning the bathroom, jogging or commuting, but, while these tasks engage our bodies and in some ways leave us “stuck”, they don’t actually control our thoughts. Now I, like a lot of the population, used to use situations like this to zone out, or watch something trashy, to “relax”, I thought, my anxiety meant I needed to relax – but what else could I do with this time?

What if the half hour I spend washing dishes can also be the time I learn Spanish? What if I use my bath time in the morning to check-in with myself and visualise the day ahead? What if instead of watching Suits while I eat my breakfast I read or I learn something new through a site like Skillshare – I mean, sure, I’ll miss being #LittUp in the mornings, but you know, sacrifices need to be made I guess.

I’m here today not just to say that N.E.T really works well – because I think, probably, that’s been established already – but to talk about exactly what it’s taught me, and the amazing gift it’s given me. I started by making a list of what I wanted to do with my life, in specifics (as in not just “get fit”, but “run a half marathon in 2018”), and then made a list of things that I know to be true about myself and my needs, (as in, that I am a morning person who starts the day fired up and slowly drains throughout the day) and I set about working out ways that I could match up taking care of my needs with getting what I wanted.

I don’t want to too much into the specifics of the routine I made here as this post is already crazy long, but I do want to talk about the results. I worried that I would feel overwhelmed by giving myself more to do in a day; that I would feel rushed or pressured but actually it’s been the opposite. For example, if I am out a jog and I’m really low energy and I’m walking more than I’m jogging, I don’t find myself focusing on the negativity there because I’m also learning about life in Glasgow in the 1800’s, so even if I don’t run much, I’ve still come back into the house a ‘richer’ person. I could give a dozen examples like this, all of which would be true and, for me, a huge deal, but as I said, I think the benefits of using the N.E.T. method are well established, so let me just finish by talking about the biggest lesson I’ve learned of all.

I had previously thought that all the time I had spent lounging about in front of Netflix was relaxation time, time that I needed to recharge my batteries, but I can see now that I was wrong, it was dead time. I wasn’t learning, or growing or achieving anything, but I also couldn’t relax properly because I was so wracked with guilt about wasting my life away. It’s hard to relax when you have a list of goals you’re getting no closer to, and a pile of dishes in the sink you’ve not washed in days. I kidded myself that the time was good for me, I was listening to my body and showing that I was in control of looking after myself instead of pushing on to silly levels, but I can see now that it was the anxiety talking. After all, anxiety doesn’t want us to become successful, or to take risks or try new things, anxiety wants to keep us where we’re safe and in control – i.e on the couch with a cup of tea in hand. And I let my anxiety convince me that this was for the best.

After all, anxiety doesn’t want us to become successful, or to take risks or try new things, anxiety wants to keep us where we’re safe and in control…

Now, although yes, I am tackling much more in a day, I find that by structuring things well and pursuing things I’m genuinely very passionate about, I feel fulfilled rather than overwhelmed and by achieving so much earlier in the day, by the time evening comes around I’m ready for some ACTUAL downtime. Time where there is no guilt or pressure, where the dishes are done and I can take a little time to be proud of myself for the day before getting cosy under a blanket with a good book, or actually watching a whole film from start to finish.

Learning about the N.E.T method, as well as becoming aware of how I work and what I want as an individual, has meant that I am able to structure my days and make the most of my “good times”, so that when the times come that I’m sad, or I’m tired I have the ability to switch off and give myself some proper down time, rather than staring into space like some sort of zombie, shutting out the real world and my own thoughts. There is a huge difference between down time and dead time, and I am so glad that I’m finally able to tell the difference between the two and give myself the actual relaxation that I deserve.

Minimalism and Materialism

When I first started learning about minimalism, or, about minimalists, to be more exact, I was very much under the impression that minimalists were very disinterested in their possessions. I thought that they treated their belongings as entirely utilitarian and that they lived an essentially separate existence from them, only owning and using the bare minimum. Writing this down now, it seems a little mad, but honestly, for the longest time, I thought one of my goals with minimalism was to get to the point where I spent almost zero seconds a day thinking about the objects I own – imagine my shock and disappointment in myself when I very much seemed to be doing the opposite.

Before I discovered minimalism, I would have (if I was being very honest) described myself as materialistic. I had more clothes than I could possibly be aware of, piles of creams and lotions and nail polishes spilling from every surface and enough pens, paint and craft paper to collage the surface of the moon. Shopping was an addiction. I felt a high when I clicked “proceed to checkout” or walked out the store with something new and shiny (or fluffy, or colourful, or sparkly or, well, you get the gist) – I would crave buying things almost all hours of the day. It wasn’t a good day when I hadn’t bought something. So, when I started to pursue a minimalist lifestyle I figured that I would be able to stop compulsively shopping – and yup, mission accomplished – I thought I would be able to reduce the number of unloved items in my home – uh-huh, have done – and I thought I would stop thinking about objects as important, stop wanting to spend hours browsing online and stop being emotionally involved with my possessions – um, no.
What I have now come to realise is that I was never a materialist before. I was a compulsive consumer. I had a strong need to obtain and hoard items, to collect, to stash and to accumulate things at an alarming rate – but I had little to no awareness of the specific items themselves. I bought things only to buy things: discounted things, limited edition things, pointless things and wasteful things. Even necessary items weren’t treated rationally as I stockpiled soap, body lotions and mascara. It didn’t matter what it was: I wanted to accumulate anything and everything as fast as my wallet allowed. I always told myself I was looking for perfection, and what better way to find the perfect t-shirt than to buy ALL the t-shirts. I told myself when I found the right one I would stop, because then I would be happy. But of course, the ad industry worked very hard with my already well-established shopping problems to ensure that I was never to feel satisfied, never to feel complete.

 

At first, after I had calmed down the compulsive shopping (which is a subject for another blog post), the minimalism thing seemed easy, I mean, just don’t buy things, right? Well, obviously, no. Things break, things wear out and our lives and interests change ensuring that from time to time we must replace or introduce new items into our lives. When this first started happening to me, I fell back into old habits – I just didn’t know any different. White shirt gone all grey and pilled? Nip into H&M and replace it. Hand-bag falling to pieces? Primark probably has some in the sale. But then, you see, something interesting started happening. Because I was so conscious of my shopping now, because I had slowed it down so much, I became almost suspicious of the things I was buying. Wait, I need a new hand-bag because the old Primark one has fallen apart after just six months? Should I buy another white shirt if I know I’m not going to take the time to care for it as a white fabric? If I’m only going to own one pair of jeans, is this the pair?
If you own more than 100 tops (which I did), then it’s basically impossible to be fully aware of what washes well, what’s flattering, what dries fast, what is low maintenance – but if you only own three sweaters, well, they can’t take several days to fully dry and they had better not all need ironing every time because seriously… no. Although when I owned lots of clothes, I, like most people, had distinct “favourites” that I wore most of the time – they weren’t true favourites, they were just clothes that were convenient and I sort of got used to, and so I wore them, day in day out, whether I really liked myself in them or not. Owning such a small amount of clothes now, I am much more in tune with what really works well for my tastes and my lifestyle and have essentially eliminated and learned not to repurchase everything that doesn’t work for me.

 

Nowadays, I don’t often shop, but if I do decide I need to make a purchase, then its’s a full-on project. Hours online reading reviews and learning about different companies, Excel Spreadsheets to track my research, budgeting and maintaining an inventory of various categories. Maybe to some, this sounds like exactly the opposite of what minimalism should be – and for me, a year ago, this would have seemed ridiculous – but honestly, this way of living works so well for me, for now at least. I am becoming a conscious consumer; far from perfect, but getting better everyday at making sensible, durable purchases from more ethical sources.
Basically, I’m just so much more involved with my possessions now. Each purchase I make has to be carefully considered, because the item will be with me… basically until it falls apart. Each item I own needs cared for and maintained, because if lose a glove, I don’t just have a stack of spare pairs sitting there. Massively slowing down the rate at which I acquire items has meant I have been able to ensure the purchases I do make are so much more “me” rather than whatever was being pushed that week in the mailing list/magazine/commercial that caught my attention – this has come about by slowing down and being conscious of items as I wear or use them, and learning about them as well as learning about my own needs and preferences.
The flip side to all of this of course, is taking time to remember that these are still all just “things”. It’s all about balance. I found the most perfect ceramic drinking tumblers the other day (drinking out of glasses triggers my anxiety), and while I cherish and enjoy these tumblers every time I use them and I feel they were a worthy addition to my home; if they both dropped and smashed tomorrow, then it would be okay. They are just things.

 

So, if you ask me, it’s great to be materialistic. To have some understanding of the environmental toll that the production of consumer-goods inflicts on the planet’s resources and many of its communities, and to seek to minimise this. To feel grateful for and to fully enjoy your cosiest sweater, your prettiest necklace. Consumption is a necessary part of the human existence, and with that in mind all we can do is make the best choices we can in that moment of our lives and then, be free to make the most of our possessions and the value they add to our lives. I think materialism is a misunderstood word, that gets a really bad rep – we associate it with shallowness or with greed, when really in essence, it’s really anything but. Learning to care about the objects I own has removed so much of the guilt and confusion I used to live with, and opened up so much space in my heart for gratitude and peace.
So here I am: I’m a minimalist and a materialist, and proud.