The Healing Powers of Silence and Doing Nothing

After 4 months of living in a camper van, going from state to state and forest to forest in search of the best rock climbing and the best temperatures, I am officially exhausted.

The plan is/was to continue on the road for at least a year, which we may still do. But for now, we’ve settled into a furnished apartment for one month in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and I have literally not left our new home since we arrived here 5 days ago.

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The view from our new home on Suck Creek

After 4 months of driving up and down curvy, narrow roads in a big bumbling van, trying to figure out the best places to get internet so I could work, working until midnight most nights because we’d spent the day climbing, and constantly talking about logistical plans, like…

  • Where are we climbing today? No, no you decide. Ok, I decide? No, you decide.
  • What’s the weather gonna be like, and more specifically, am I going to freeze?
  • What do we need to fix in the van today?
  • We have no food so we need to drive an hour to get some…
  • Which hotel parking lot are we sleeping in tonight?
  • We’re lost. Again. Where the f#ck are we? Damn you, googlemaps!
  • We’re out of water and we have no place to get any more for 2 days…
  • and all the other little things that make van life just a little bit complicated

My husband, whom I obviously love very much, has been by my side for these last 4 months as well, and while it’s been amazing to get to spend so much time with him, being that close to someone all the time can be frazzling.

Don’t get me wrong – there have been countless amazing experiences along the way, but I was ready for some “normalcy”. My ability to cope with yet another little decision or snafu or broken van problem was just depleted. I don’t know – maybe I’m just weak.

Regardless of the judgments I make about myself, I needed space and peace and warmth and stability.

Since we moved into our place 5 days ago, I’ve spent a lot of time lying in bed alone staring out the window, a la Robert De Niro in the movie “Awakenings”.

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Many hours have passed with no music, no talking, no TV, no climbing, no hiking, no working, no company… nothing.

And I’m realizing that one of the most nourishing things for me is just that: being alone doing basically nothing.

I used to get that by taking long baths, going on walks with just my dog, or lying in bed alone (once again, staring at nothing). Just decompressing. It turns out that silence and alone time make me a better person. They make me a motivated, kind, patient person who likes to laugh and be active. Without regular silence and alone time I am a stagnant, not-so-kind, irritable person who thinks laughing is stupid and being active is impossible.

I’m starting to come back to life now.

My husband is being incredibly patient with me and for that I’m so grateful. There are rocks to be climbed here in Chattanooga, and beautiful trails to be hiked. I’m even going to start going to a climbing gym and maybe some yoga classes. That is, once I get the urge to leave the house.

The point of me writing this is not to depress you, by the way ;) I’m sure it has, and if you’ve come this far in the article I commend you. My point is that in times of intensity, I learn the most, whether I like it or not. And what I’ve learned this time is that I can’t deny myself the occasional nothingness that I need, and I’m willing to bet you are at least a little bit the same.

Whether that “nothingness” takes the form of lying catatonically in your bed like me, spending time with your pet, practicing piano, playing video games, reading, meditating, cooking, or whatever it is, it’s essential that we do it. Otherwise, life slowly but surely gnaws away at our nerves and makes us (and the people around us) a little less content.

I, for one, am going to try to never forget this lesson and always take the time I need. I’d love to know how taking time for yourself affects you, too…