Reading time: 14 minutes
I’ve always been a rusher. Hurried. Impatient.
I don’t sleep deeply. I find it hard to dawdle (except in supermarkets, when I’m crippled by indecision). I fidget. My short legs seem happiest at a trot. I plan, obsessively, and once I’ve started a plan I work tirelessly until there are results. My life is full of to-do lists, and I love checking off boxes.
I like to go places and get things done, pronto. Sure, I procrastinate. That’s because my imposter syndrome tells me there’s no point in starting, no point in hastening my inevitable failure. But on the whole, I need to live to a short deadline. Case in point, my undergrad dissertation was written in a weekend… No harm done, I still got a 2:1, but I’m often frustrated by my wasted potential. What would I be capable of if I could actually believe in myself and focus?
I can rarely do just one thing at once unless a deadline is looming, my brain just flies away to distant lands. It’s like trying to hold on to a handful of helium balloons wearing slippery silk gloves.
In the last few weeks though, something has come over me.
Everything slows down when you’re in the islands. You’re on island time now.
Island time has always annoyed me. On holidays to Barbados, Colin and I would weave and dodge around slow-moving pedestrians, just as we would in Edinburgh. I could never understand moving slowly, or stopping to chat or gawp at something. I always have someplace to be. Every so often, we’d try to mimic this languid pace. Walking in the heat we would see if we could slow ourselves down and walk at the pace of the behind blocking our path.
Never. It was always too infuriating. The destination was always more appealing than the journey.
Even on holiday, with “nothing” to do, we rarely take beach days or days of fully doing nothing. I’ve learned to relax a little as I’ve aged. We might have one or two days of downtime. Travelling to Montserrat, where there was simply very little to do, helped. Still, the packed itineraries with two or three activities a day may be gone, but the desire to see and do it all isn’t.
When we walked across France with our good friends we had deadlines, and a pace to keep, but it should have been a comfortable pace.
It was still a regimented rush, and we still overran my carefully planned timings. We wanted to stop to take in the scenery, so that comfortable pace got faster and faster. It didn’t help that our friends Mark and Livio are both over 6 feet tall. I tend to feel like a terrier at the heels of taller friends, even as they saunter. Maybe that’s why I move so quickly.
Island time is often referred to as a mañana attitude. The idea that nothing needs to be done in a hurry, or today.
Trying to obtain a service, or get an answer on when something will be done, is a lesson in patience. I have memories of sitting beside an auto shop in Montserrat while at 20-minute weld took 1.5 hours. Of waiting for three hours for a hire car to be delivered in St Vincent. Of flying with Liat, who are so lackadaisical that they’ve caused us to have two emergency stays on the “wrong” island. Of sitting in a restaurant for hours just to obtain a simple lunch.
Living on a boat, it’s even more maddening. Waiting for a part to be delivered, or work to be done, when you’re ready to move on. Speak to any cruiser in the Caribbean and they’ll nod and tell their own stories. We’re learning to not get overexcited, or ever expect that life-changing upgrade to happen by a set date.
I miss fixed deadlines, speedy work, clear timelines…
Some of this, of course, happens anywhere, but there seems to be one common factor – warm weather.
Mentally, I’m not adjusting to island time. It still frustrates me. For someone with a somewhat regimented brain, those deadlines are good. I love to count down to things. To know when things are happening.
We’re both very ready to leave Bequia, but we have a barrel coming. The ship arrives on 30 June – we’re eagerly tracking its progress across the Atlantic. But once it arrives in St Vincent, we’re at the mercy of island time. How long it might take to clear customs and for the broker to send it on to Bequia is anyone’s guess. We know we need to be in Grenada around a week before the end of July. We have to contend with the fact that our “few weeks” enjoying the Grenadines on the way down may well evaporate in the heat of the Caribbean sun.
Knowing our remaining time on Bequia, and our time on the other islands, is limited, I’m antsy. I want to make the most of it. I want to get out and explore. To see everything there is to see, to do everything there is to do.
There’s only one problem…
It’s. Too. Bloody. Hot.
My mind may not be switching over to island time, but my body definitely has.
My energy to move, to do, is so low. I now sleep deeply. I only fidget if I’m being eaten by mosquitoes. And if you give me aircon, I will dawdle.
Thankfully, once I’m moving, I’m moving. When I was enjoying beach yoga with our cruising friends, who have since moved on, it was great. Sure, I was waking up slowly and watching TV in bed, but then I’d fling myself into the dinghy and have a happy hour of movement. It was never a struggle.
But the rest of the time? I’m goo. Human goo. It’s getting more and more humid, and harder and harder to feel any motivation.
Boat jobs remain undone. The saloon remains chaotic. My hair goes unwashed. All because some days I can barely bring myself to move from my cool, comfortable spot on the saloon sofa beneath the wind scoop.
And if we do anything in the daytime? Afterwards, we lay prone in our respective favourite spots for hours until it gets cool enough to exist again.
Suddenly the reason why many expats have a focus on a social life that involves eating and drinking becomes clear – it’s too hot to enjoy daytime activities. All that leaves is meeting for a drink or wiling away the afternoon on the beach with a few beers. It’s no coincidence that most of our socialising is done at night, even with Colin’s 4:45 alarm to contend with.
Mañana, an infection
We’re starting to get a taste of why island time exists. Why, when you have something to do – a hike, some chores, shopping, a boat job… you so easily adopt a mañana attitude. No rush, man.
What frightens and frustrates me is that physical inactivity leads to mental inactivity, for me at least.
There’s a creeping apathy towards “doing” which leaves me mentally understimulated. Then there’s the annoyance that some days I can’t seem to complete even the simplest task. I feel irritated every time I see evidence of a long-overdue chore because it’s on me to do it. Most of the time I just can’t be arsed.
People keep telling me I should just go to the beach and chill out, lean into it.
Frankly, I find that so boring. If I’m cool enough to read a book, that’s okay, but I’m physically easily distracted. As soon as I feel a trickle of sweat, the buzz of a mosquito, or the itch of sand, my focus on reading is gone. My skin and hair have been reacting really badly to the heat and salt water, which isn’t helping. There are no cooling swims for me these days.
Holiday vs real life
Relaxing for a few hours reading, or napping in the shade, is great on holiday. It’s a welcome break from the norm. But when it’s a daily occurrence I can’t help but think about what I could be doing with my time. How I could be more productive. Having the will to “do” sapped from me is making me see this life in a whole new light.
I am so envious of people who can find endless entertainment from a beach, or a boat. Who can properly relax and sink into island time. Who embrace everything a slower pace of life has to offer. I completely understand that for some people it’s a balm, and much healthier for them from the rush of normality. I also see how the boundless energy of my younger friends translates to life onboard – they make it more exciting. Kiteboarding, swimming, kayaking. Endless fun. Those with kids get to see the daily joy of their children growing up in a truly magical environment.
But island time, and simple living, for now, is just not me. I don’t accept, or want to accept, the notion that I should enjoy being able to “do” less.
I’m a complicated person, and I need a more complicated life. I need mental and visual stimulation. I need impetus. I need my brain to be active. It may be the undiagnosed ADHD, but feeling only one temperature, seeing only one landscape, and having so little to excite my mind is wearing.
A life wasted
I reached a point recently of being so apathetic, so melted, that I began to embrace island time. Just briefly. I accepted it as part of the process.
The problem was I felt nothing but contempt and disappointment in myself for doing so.
It happened to my mum. My brilliant, savant, genius mum. My mum who put herself through two degrees whilst working full time and raising two kids. Who made all of her own clothes, for fun. Who had a hunger to create and learn. She lost the physical fitness and will to move much, and her life became her sofa, her TV, and her laptop. In the last 10 years of her life, I saw nothing but a wasted intellect and a lack of motivation to exist. It was heartbreaking.
What could have been, and is no longer
My hopes and dreams of moving onboard meaning a more physical, more active life, are not coming to pass. We’re taking our PADI open water course soon, but beyond that, I don’t see how much will change. I just genuinely don’t enjoy the water as much as I did when it was a novelty. All we can hope is that when we leave Bequia and start sailing more, the enjoyment of sailing and the motivation to explore changes things.
Ironically, I miss downtime as it was. The breaks between working that you look forward to. I miss those weeks or weekends with no plans. We do something social 2-3 evenings a week and it can be a bit overwhelming. But what was a perfectly acceptable evening at home – a walk after work, a bath, and dinner in front of the TV before an early night – somehow seems scandalous now. How dare we waste this precious experience by watching The Walking Dead in our PJs?
But that was acceptable, when we were working 5 days a week.
Work – my saviour
Over 5 weeks of unemployment and stagnation I started to despair. How on earth can I go back to work, or any semblance of a normal life? Is my brain rotting? Doing something, anything, is daunting. All the things I wanted to do and see on Bequia, just left on the shelf. I have a book I’ve wanted to start writing for nearly two years, yet with all that time on my hands I couldn’t start it. How can my brain be functional when I start my day unable to do anything but lie in bed watching Legendary?
Thankfully, relief has come in an unexpected form.
I got a job offer last week and started two days later. I now work 35 hours a week, from 6am to 1pm. It’s a job that revolves around applying some skills and working with short deadlines. Unlike my former career, there’s no heavy lifting on the innovation side. I don’t have to start with a blank page. So it comes easily, and naturally. And with it, I have motivation again.
All of my anxiety has slipped away as I’ve absorbed myself in learning something new. Something that means I feel like I’m contributing to our household income. Something that gives me some degree of financial independence.
It’s already creating changes in the rest of my life.
We managed to get ourselves up and out for an excellent hike up to Ma Peggy’s Rock the other day, and I felt alive. Sure, it hurt. Yes, there was sweat. But we were MOVING. We were doing something new, exercising, and achieving something. We were rewarded with magnificent views and an enormous sense of well-being.
I finished my PADI theory happily, and we’ve scheduled our first dive. I’m reading novels instead of blandly re-reading sailing stories. We finally went to the Bequia Pottery. I’m feeling more myself again.
My world is bigger than this boat, and this island, again.
I never realised how much work gives me mentally. It keeps me sane. Without work, how can we look forward to the times when we’re not working? The weekends, the holidays, Christmas. What is a week where the days have no meaning? No dreaded Monday, no hump-day, no Friday celebration, no peaceful Sunday lie-in.
I’m sure we will take a proper sabbatical once we’re on the move. I can definitely see that a four-day week would be transformational for the work-life balance of most people. But I also feel strongly that I DO want to work.
People think we’re mad to do this and keep up working. Maybe we are. But for now, work is helping me to slip away from the dreaded island time mental sludge.