How many pickles can one person eat?
A lot. That is the answer.
Everyone has their own unique ways of dealing with the free-falling sensation of losing control.
My sister quilts.
My mother cooks.
I eat pickles.
As mentioned in my last post, I’ve taken some time off from being a Normal Person to recover from burnout; to wear a robe all day without apologising, to eat dill pickles from the jar. I won’t go into all the detailed specifics of why this had to happen—not here, not now—but I will tell you that I simply pushed for too hard for too long, and my mind decided to force my body into supine position for a while.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an over-achiever. One of the first books I bought was a bulky nonfiction hardcover, ordered through the mail for $80 when I was eleven years old. At that age, $80 would’ve been about a year’s worth of allowance money plus a metric ton of American pennies salvaged from the couch folds, in amongst stale McDonald’s fries, dead skin, and dried dog vomit.
Of course, I couldn’t do anything with the American pennies we carried back to Australia with us from our trips to see family, so I traded them for the gold dollars in the tooth fairy jar by my sister’s bed, which she left unattended while she slept (like a fool). I cleaned up during her molar years.
Don’t worry—it was a perfectly fair sisterly exchange, since she kicked me hard in the guts whenever she wanted to let off some steam.
So with all my saved money, which was about $10,000 in kid-currency, I bought a book on how to write and speak better. Kind of creepy behaviour for an eleven year old, don’t ya think? I mean, why did a prepubescent kid hand over all her savings for a weighty tome on writing and speaking better?
Looking back, I believe the word ‘better’ is what drew me in. That magical, fabulous, alluring promise: Better. I want to have me some of that.
Be better, Torre.
I’ve pandered to a perceived defecit for my entire adult life, travelling from country to country, job to job, book to book, cream to cream. You should see my squandered supply of hair and beauty products. You should see my cupboard full of art supplies and craft projects. You should see my tower of unread books (including a weighty tome on how to write a speak better).
Of course, there are also great prizes to show for my wild goose chase in pursuit of betterment. I’ve had an artwork exhibited in the National Gallery of Victoria, I’ve aced my studies, won awards. I’ve earned a degree, studied piano, worked in a range of professional jobs, moved country several times, sailed an ocean, hiked Nepal, studied painting, started a business, travelled, written a book, signed with a literary agent, published…
I’m just your standard over-achiever, really. The awards and accolades that come with these achievements create the impression that I’m on the right path, especially on paper. But am I?
Keeping within the well established pattern of things, my next move needs to better my best. But after achieving unexpected success with my last accomplishment, I’ve fallen into lethargy over the self-imposed pressure to compete with myself. What happens if I can’t better my best? Just the thought of beginning again from the bottom of the very, very tall mountain I’ve created for myself is exhausting.
So here we are at burnout and pickles:
As I’ve munched on one vinegary pickle after the next, I’ve stopped for the first time in my adult life in order to just be. Instead of spending all my mental energy on doing, doing, doing, I’ve been asking myself some important questions, like: What is ‘better,’ exactly? Better than who? Why am I chasing it? When will I arrive? And what, exactly, is in these pickles?
I’ve spent most of my life working non-stop towards one lofty goal or another, hoping that I will one day look in the mirror and see a person who is enough. In pursuit of this magical, fabulous version of future self, I’ve been so busy with my goals that I’ve hardly stopped to celebrate the successes, to smell the roses, or to eat the pickles, if you will. Until now…
While hunkered down inside of this compulsory period of inactivity, something unexpected is emerging from the stillness. While once there was only the booming voice of a dictator filling my headspace—Get up! Work harder! Be better!—,there is now a gentler voice that can be heard in the stillness:
Slow down. Sleep in. Stretch! Take your time. Observe the little things. There is nothing and no-one that you need to be better for. You have already arrived. There is nowhere else to get to. This is it. This is enough. You are enough.
I have stopped to sit still, and there is suddenly space to think clearly, to play, to create from the heart, to truly relax, to be present, to read fun books, to make weird art, to be anxiety-free, to identify what is it that I really want. To find wisdom inside of pickles.
Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.