My mother used to say the only thing I did quickly was run. Unless I was on the track —  which I was for much of my childhood — I took my time. At home, I was always the last person seated at the dinner table, savoring each bite and enjoying dessert while my family members stood up to wash dishes or move onto the next activity completely. It was somewhat of a running joke, deciding who was going to stay at the table with me until I finished eating, and I tried not to let others rush me.

As I transitioned from elementary school to junior high, the situations that highlighted group expectations versus personal preferences expanded to encompass all social interactions — and I was no longer okay with being left at the table. One day, I’m writing book reports on bottle-nosed dolphins and my childhood hero Michael Jordan, and seemingly overnight, I’m in a department store buying padded bras so I can blend in with the more developed girls in my class. My body wasn’t ready for the next phase yet, but I wouldn’t dare fall behind due to something as arbitrary as my biological timing.

In high school and college, the race continued. I relied on booze and drugs to numb awkward hormone-driven situations and keep pace with my peers. The night of my first kiss was the same night as my fourth and fifth kisses — with all different boys — at a basement house party where, as far as I could tell, the collective agenda appeared to be: Get drunk and make out with everyone in the room. My heart questioned the motives but my need to belong outweighed my body’s hesitations, so I drank more — and did so for the next decade.

My heart questioned the motives but my need to belong outweighed my body’s hesitations, so I drank more — and did so for the next decade.

I had learned that enough alcohol or Red Bull or Adderall could override my internal pleas to slow down — anything that made my heart beat faster and brain fire quicker to match the world around me. I thought fast was the youthful way to be: Fast to get in bed with a new guy, to be promoted at work, to lose weight, to chug a beer bong.

Fast was rewarded. Fast was honored. Fast was “normal.”

I was living fast and slowly drowning. I spent days counting down the hours in the office until the clock struck the “happy” hour, which usually morphed into last calls at the bar. But a deep sadness lived in me, behind closed doors. Tears soaked my pillow on nights when I’d cry silently under the covers, incapable of understanding my emptiness and anxiety. My body’s signals became sirens and my health deteriorated. I developed digestive issues, heavy fatigue, dizzy spells, and brain fog, all of which I powered through with the same numbing routine. Still, my worry grew: “I’m only 25,” I thought, “I’m too young to feel like this.”

In an effort to “find myself,” I quit my corporate job and began traveling. I backpacked around Southeast Asia for several months, visiting bustling cities and remote islands, meeting people from small fishing villages whose schedules were determined by the weather and the ocean tides. I spent 17 days in a tiny beach town in Vietnam, lying by the ocean and eating Bánh mì sandwiches.

Among many realizations I was awarded through this adventure, two lessons arrived with fervor: First, I learned that time isn’t treated the same throughout the world and the pace that I had been struggling to match was far from natural. And second, I realized that all the emotional and personal baggage I thought I had left back in the United States was — shockingly! — following me wherever I went.

I wasn’t practiced in the art of being.

And although I craved a more manageable pace of life, I didn’t trust it when it landed at my feet. I’d become so accustomed to running from myself, I had no idea how to face the thoughts of unworthiness every time I slowed down.

Luckily (I can use this word in hindsight), my body gave me no choice. 

In the fall of 2015, the health problems that had been brewing for years finally surfaced, and I bought a return flight to the home to the US. My body was rejecting any and all stimulants with ferocity — a pounding headache after two sips of wine, muscle and joint pain after a bowl of chocolate ice cream. I was rundown, and my nervous system was wrecked.

After a long, brutal battle, I was forced to give up my usual coping mechanisms — and without the booze and the busy schedules and social expectations, I learned to be still. 

As I slowly healed what turned out to be Lyme Disease, my body began to recalibrate and recognize its natural rhythm. I spent countless days wandering around in the forest, my heart beating in unison with my footsteps through the soft mud. I observed how the sun cascaded through leaves at different hours of the day, and I found my favorite spots by the river. I listened to owls call to each other and watched songbirds search for berries beneath the barren branches. My body recognized these movements, these seasons. 

I didn’t have to change anything about myself to exist here in the outdoors.  

After a year and a half at home, I packed up my car and headed out west in search of more places and people that moved slowly and lived in harmony with the earth’s natural cycles. Through a string of serendipitous events, I landed at the Feathered Pipe Ranch, a conscious living center in Helena, Montana, where I slept in a tent for three months, attended yoga and mindfulness retreats and wrote about my experiences. I bonded with people more deeply than I had in years — perhaps ever.

My whole life I’d been seeking an existence where I didn’t feel like I was standing on the edges of a speeding treadmill, terrified to step down. I longed for friends who enjoyed sitting on porches and listening to the ocean, reading books and watching animals. It’s not like I hadn’t found any of these souls before now (I did — and they’re still by my side today), but there seemed to be a concentrated number of them that summer in Montana. It was the greatest medicine I’d ever received: The permission to be just as I am.

My relationship to time and its function in my life has undergone too many phases to name. 

Now, I try to navigate the world like a well-balanced yoga practice: The action exists within the inhales and the exhales. I prefer small towns and landscapes where I can breathe fully and move comfortably within my natural rhythms. Preserving this tempo doesn’t come easily, and smooth transitions between seasons, travels, time zones, and relationships are challenging, seductive, and feel a bit like a whirlpool; however, I’ve learned to identify the signs of my particular escape tactics and practice improving my reaction time when the mental patterns take hold.

I’ve stopped living for happy hours, half-price wine Tuesdays, and weekend warrior status. 

Now, at 30 years old, I imagine I sleep more and work less than the average American my age. My to-do list doesn’t span multiple pages, and the word “busy” makes me cringe. I’ve stopped living for happy hours, half-price wine Tuesdays, and weekend warrior status. Instead, I’ve devoted the last several years to self-discovery, alternative healing modalities, meaningful relationships, and exploration of some of the world’s most incredible landscapes. 

I cherish moments with people who hold eye contact and aren’t afraid of real talk. I’m endlessly fascinated with the phenomenon of time and where, when, and how I feel most at peace. 

Do I still have an inner dialogue filled with probing self-worth questions: “Am I successful? Am I enough? Am I lovable?” Of course, I do. But the voice answering the questions is steadier, calmer, and more optimistic than she’s ever been.