4 hours a day
8 hours a week.
The 4/8 rule.
I’m not sure exactly when I came up with the 4/8 rule but it had to be sometime after the watch incident. After that I decided it was probably best if I didn’t stay outside my apartment for more than 4 hours in one day or 8 hours per week. It was and is a way to protect myself but it’s also meant not living a full life.
A few years ago, I’d gone to the mall. I have this watch I love that was broken. I went to every kiosk and store and they said it would have to be sent in. They couldn’t just fix it there because a piece was missing. I’d been out for a while that day and at the last store, something broke in me. All of the sudden I really wanted to kill myself. I kept thinking what a waste I was because I couldn’t get even a watch fixed. It was crazy.
When I say I’m crazy (I know many are offended by this word but I still apply it to myself), many say “well we’re all a little crazy.” And I reply, “but have you ever wanted to kill yourself because you couldn’t get your watch fixed?” To which they concede that my reactions are indeed more than “a little crazy.”
To stop reactions like I had to the watch incident, I realized the best thing I could do was insulate myself from triggers, from all those things that would dysregulate me. I realized that being tired or hungry would likely lead to something akin to a tantrum a little kid without a nap or a snack. I realized in those states that interacting with others was really difficult and could easily trigger me. Something small someone said or waiting in an extra long line at a store would leave me suicidal or panicky. Tasks that normal people can do and must do every day. Tasks I used to be able to do. But emotionally I couldn’t handle them anymore.
I developed a bit of agoraphobia – afraid to go out in case something triggered me. Nothing was safe.
And besides, I didn’t need to go out. I had enough food and water. I had Netflix and books. Not to mention the many reasons against going out. My physical health has me feeling like hell most of the time. And if I did go out most places would require me to spend money I don’t have and use gas I couldn’t spare.
Now, in the last few years, if I had a job to do, I could break the 4/8 rule. I made it to a few conferences and small outings here and there. But I paid for them. I’d be so emotionally and physically drained after it would take days to recover. Thus reinforcing the need to keep the 4/8 rule in place.
I still pretty much live by the 4/8 rule. I go out for more doctors appointments now which have to some extent expanded it to a 4/16 rule. But other than that, doing laundry at the laundromat and getting groceries I stay inside. It’s safer.
Just last Friday I tried to pack multiple appointments in one day. I made it to the early appointment with a new primary care doctor (which in itself isn’t easy) and stopped at the occupational therapist (luckily in the same building) to get my brace fixed. But I was supposed to also go to the dental clinic. It was well beyond 4 hours by the time I made it downtown and not realizing it, it happened to be the opening day for the Rockies. I couldn’t get a space to park and all the sudden I was having a full on panic attack. When I was able to breath again and missing my appointment, I was reminded that this is what happens when I break the 4/8 rule.
To add to these past years of the 4/8 rule, I now live in a city where I’m afraid to run into my abusive family members. And where I’m staying I won’t even open the curtains because I’m afraid someone will see me all alone in there. I have even less money to spare on gas and no one with which to spend time with even if I could set my fears aside and save up $5 to splurge on something frivolous. So i stay inside for days at a time – basically paralyzed.
But looking at it from the outside, this existence is pathetic and sad.
It’s even sadder in comparison to what I once was. I used to go out all the time. I used to do things. In college I did karaoke on Wednesday nights and line dancing on Thursday nights. I had movie/game nights and worked on top of a full course load. I used to home in the Flatirons and coach figure skating. In law school I did the obligatory networking events and ran clubs and started dating. I studied international law in the Netherlands and went to an orphanage in Bosnia in my own. My first job had me in the office from 6am to 11pm – not much of a personal life, but I was doing what I loved. As I got more active in advocacy I put together Austin’s health technology group organizing happy hours and hack-a-thons.
Somewhere along the way though, that started to fade. I pushed away friends to protect them from me. I hid inside to protect myself. And I gave up living so that I could simply survive.
I don’t know how or even if I’ll find my way out of this self-prescribed coping mechanism. I just know that for now the 4/8 rule works and keeps me safe, which is the best I can do right now.