It’s my word for when I retreat into myself.
It’s when I know that I am struggling and need to shut out the ‘noise’ of life.
I go silent. I get quiet. I don’t return email or calls or texts. I don’t go out. I sleep in. I cancel things – or I don’t show up.
Turtling comes from a place of being overwhelmed, which can be an easy thing to happen when you have an extremely unpredictable life.
It’s my code word, and those close to me know what it means. I’ve even thrown it out there on FB before “Turtle” will be my post, and my code word is understood and respected. Some friends will respond with “hugs” or words of encouragement, others with a “question mark”. It depends on how well you know me, and how well you understand the life I am leading.
My turtling metaphor indicates retreating. Pulling into my shell and self-isolating in a hope for self-preservation. It is instinctive and unplanned. It just – happens, and it is absolutely necessary. No one can keep this pace indefinitely. It is unplanned, but it happens when it is needed and when there is space and time for it. (It’s hard to turtle when you have to “on” and have to be a medical/school/therapy/treatment/acute illness hardcore warrior mama). It’s like getting a bad cold or flu when you are on holidays…like your body finally realizes you are on a break and “have time” to get sick.
And Turtling isn’t depression. It’s blue and can be sad, but it’s different every time. It’s sort of an unplanned shut down. You haven’t plugged your power cord in for awhile and you’ve been ignoring those pop-up warning messages, so you go into forced shut down. It doesn’t feel good to go into unplanned shut down, and you aren’t sure how long it will take to power up again.
The shell. I pull into it. It’s sound proof and there are no windows or doors to peak in to see what I am doing. It’s dark and muffled and the space is small enough that I don’t have to invite anyone else in. But…if I need to poke my head out for something, I can.
And it’s hard – the shell – it protects me. I like that.
Am I Turtling now? You are probably wondering as I write this. I’d have to answer yes. Having a hard time with wanting to be out and about. Overwhelmed with decision making and intense responsibility that are beyond what you can imagine – or anyone should have to go through. (Seriously beyond. Like 1 in 7 billion beyond). Taxed.
How long will the Turtle last? It’s hard to tell. This one is a doozy. I feel like it will be awhile.
Do I still smile while I turtle? Yes. I do. And people ask how I am and I say ‘fine’. What do you say? Just smile and nod. Smile an nod. (And I find cute images of turtles to share).
Those mom friends of mine out there who are reading this, and have special kids like Kate understand what I am writing here. I’m sure you call it something different. I know you have experienced it – and will again. My words of wisdom/advice, embrace it. Let it wash over you and don’t fight it. Let the Turtling happen. Every now and then poke your head out to see what is going on, to remember there is a life you have outside the shell that is important, be sure to get the basics done, and make at least one plan for the day (today I will make a meal, today I will run one errand, today I will make one phone call), and slowly ramp up those ambitions to draw yourself out of the shell – but don’t rush it. Decide what ‘noise’ is the most important and pay attention to that first.
Be social? Well, you can. But it will exhaust you and people won’t understand. Phone calls can be good, if you have the energy. You may want to warn the person on the other line that you will be random, you may cry, you may rant, may be angry, or just sullen and moody. Try not to be too angry at every other living person. I walk around in a fog of feeling like I am on parallel universe to others who can’t relate at all to my life. (Warning: hanging around really happy people may make you want to slap them.)
You may also want to avoid driving. (Those red things at intersections are stop signs).
Exercise? Again, you can. But sleep and pyjamas feel more like the right thing to do. Then again, going for a good walk is probably well advised. (And I am a RUNNER).
Eat Well? It is advised. Throw in some chocolate for good measure. Be wary of too much sugar and caffeine though. You may not realize it, but Turtling likely means you are running on fumes and adrenaline. Adding a load of caffeine and sugar to that mix can be harsh. Wine is also a part of this. I’ve been told that more than 9 (6 ounce) glasses a week can be problematic. (Really??!!)
Sleep? Yup. At first you won’t. The lead up for me is my mind racing, staying up too late, not able to settle into sleep (and Kate doesn’t help that). Then the crash that precedes the Turtling happens and post crash all you will want to do is sleep. Hopefully you can set yourself up to get some. Respite from your child will also help.
(The above are the four most basic prescriptions of the ‘experts’ the doctors, counsellors, and advisors that we speak to. They do work, but when you are in the middle of Turtling you sort of want to thumb your nose at them. It’s hard to get the momentum to do any of these well. Self-care isn’t the first step when you are Turtling.)
Just remember you can’t stay in the cozy shell forever. Life is still happening and moving along. For the life we lead, Turtling too long can be disastrous. And you can probably count on your unpredictable kiddo to yank you out of Turtling PDQ (pretty darn quick), if they decide to get acutely unwell while you are holed up in your shell. “No more of that mom, I need attention now! Off to CHEO we go!”
And so the cycle goes. Recognize it for what it is.We can’t live this life of constant stress, worry, fear, anxiety, sadness, grief, joy, happiness, relief, frustration, anger, vigilance without turtling every now and then. I have realized it is physically impossible. I/we need moments where we shut down. It is a basic survivability necessity.
Turtle Turtle, welcome to your shell.
(Written as I sit here in my pyjamas and contemplate my ambition for the day. A shower perhaps?)
[…] dates, which are supposed to be celebrated, aren’t fun for me. I simply want to turtle (see my Turtle Turtle post for context) and hide away from them. Let them pass with as little […]
Shalom! Today I was reintroduced to the concept of turtling. Somewhere in the past I heard the word, and its association to life when “spit happens.” Today my combat veteran neighbor told me that he lost his service dog in a tragic accident yesterday, and admitted that he had been turtling, and then added, “self-isolating” — no doubt sensing my lack of understanding of the word. Immediately my own experiences with turtling flooded my mind. “Legal separation” from my wife and young children ripped my heart out. Learning of my wife’s being abandoned and later abused as a child brought limited understanding, but did not entirely prevent the turtling. Reconciliation was a blessing, but not without its challenges. Knowledge with compassion promotes empathy, and empathy reduces turtling. After my wife’s passing a couple of years ago the turtling resurfaced, but I didn’t recognize it initially. The ministry of Grief Share helped me identify many spiritual and emotional challenges. Prayers for my neighbor, and other veterans, are appreciated.