Column #11 Motherland magazine

I keep feeling that life is relentless. It’s relentless, but good. That’s what I say, when people ask. It is good. In my thought life, though, the word “relentless” has become a banner over me. And I’m starting to think I don’t like that. Yes, my life is full on. Like everyone reading this, I have a lot to do. It can feel relentless. But what do you think of when you imagine that word? Everything I see is driven forward without ceasing. Galloping horses at war. Rain so heavy it’s diagonal. Mao’s Long March.

Those are extreme images, but having articulated them to myself, they put my feelings about the day-to-day in a context. Which in turn lets me stand back and look at that context. It looks like there’s something comforting about thinking “it’s relentless!” because it absolves me of my own position in my own life. It’s as if a whip from some unseen hand is driving me ever-forward. When, really, it’s actually up to me to decide which context I put my life in.

I think that the unseen hand wielding the whip is anxiety. Turns out that relentlessness and anxiety are lovers, and I didn’t even know.

I genuinely try not to be anxious. Often that’s an aim rather than an achievement, and I see that very clearly when I gaze on the context of relentlessness. Anxiety makes things relentless because anxiety pushes. Even when things are going well, anxiety pushes. We know this. The feeling that things look good on the surface, but soon the truth will out… could do better… grip tightly or you’ll fall off… etc. If anxiety were a substance, it would be hailed as some kind of miracle product. As well as being able to destabilise foundations and push things along at an abnormal pace, it is also a psychological sponge that soaks up joy. Anxiety sucks up joy faster than the time it takes to discern it was there in the first place. And if I’m living my life in a context of relentlessness, there is very little time to discern anything anyway, aside from what’s the next thing.

Using a different word to describe my life doesn’t mean I have to stop doing all the things I have to do. Of course it doesn’t. But what happens if I stop thinking it is relentless, and instead just see my life as a globe, and everything I do is what fills it? That changes how I see my days. They aren’t a whipped-on half-run stumble through the rain, driven by a feeling that things could be done better. I’m doing the same things, but in a different mental framework.

I have explained before that I’m trying to live a life that is about digging in rather than trying to get to the next step. I’m supposed to be thinking about where I am and how best to do it, rather than blindly achieve. Relentless doesn’t fit with this philosophy at all. Neither does being anxious. Yet anxiety would have me believe that without it, I won’t be able to achieve. This is black ice, a slippery slope on which to exist. You can achieve with or without anxiety. You can also fail with or without it. It doesn’t really matter. Just that anxiety will bring you more misery. It will drive you forward in a way that doesn’t give you a chance to look around and really evaluate. Ditch anxiety and there will be space inbetween and around what you’re doing. Your mind will have more opportunity to percolate, mull, insulate, and time will relent more. It’s strange, but I think it’s true.

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