I quit listening to podcasts for a week and this is what happened

I turned off the background noise of other people’s thoughts for a week because it was making me nuts, and hoo-boy did it make a difference.

A black and white photo of a pair of broken earbud headphones

CONFESSION: I listen to 4-6 hours of podcasts per day. And given that I’m both a freelance writer and have a toddler at home with me, that’s a significant portion of my day.

Like, too much of it.

So I decided to quit for a week. Just to see if maybe, just maybe, all those other voices and all that extra noise in my head was causing me more stress than the stuff I was trying to distract myself from in the first place.

I’ve actually done this before but always as part of church-wide prayer and fasting. This time I’m doing it solo, which provides way more opportunity for cheating and quitting, so I created accountability for myself with a daily journal, shared below for your voyeuristic enjoyment.

Read along, then slide in the comments to commiserate about all the ways you distract yourself that are probably not helpful!

If you want to skip the daily notes and jump right to the takeaways section, you can click right here and do that thing.


Monday

This was a work day, when I don’t podcast much anyway, and I missed the gym because tired, so I didn’t encounter many obstacles. Spending a good chunk of my time writing about why I’m abstaining and then sharing it helped, too. Don’t underestimate the power of putting your intentions in writing and/or telling someone. Even if you never mention it again, it signals to your brain that you’re serious. So helpful.

That said, there was momentary resistance at two points, both of which were expected: kitchen time and ablutions. Those are my time, the time when Mama gets to tune out and do her thing, and I always have something on. It gives my brain something to do while my hands are busy. Not having that entertainment caused a glitch in my flow, but it only caught me for a moment. Then I put on some actual music instead. I’d forgotten how much I like that.

Day 1, a rousing success!

Tuesday

I decided at 5am when my alarm went off that I’m not going to the gym this week. Between the hella-early start time and the lack of podcasts to disappear into, I don’t think I can face it. I’ll go back next week and hide all the cookies until then.

While I was supposed to work this day, I ended up running a mishmash of errands, which meant lots of time in the car—my second-biggest podcasting time. Fortunately, I’d prepared by putting music on my phone for the first time in approximately a hundred years. Jamming to old favourites like Marvelous 3 and Squeeze really lifted my mood, even when a great-grandmother nearly T-boned me at the grocery store.

Several wins today! But I admit to being a bit disappointed. The stress-related jaw clenching is still there, and my singing parts gave out so quickly that they’re either massively out of shape or I’m even more chronically sick than I thought. It’s only day two, though. Holding it lightly.

Another expected-yet-frustrating hurdle: showering. I always have something on. Music is okay for this experiment (and starting one’s day with worship is never a bad idea), but something deeper needed silence. I left my phone in the kitchen. I didn’t have any grand revelations in the shower, but I did notice I was thinking. That sounds stupid and obvious, but the fact that they were my own thoughts and not someone else’s is meaningful.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully (at least as far as this is concerned—every day is eventful with a three-year old). Driving my husband to the start point for this year’s ruck wasn’t bad since we kept each other occupied, but I think I cheated on the way back. I downloaded SJ Tucker’s story albums specifically for Mack, and we listened to that on the way home. I’m not sure if that breaks the rules, but it didn’t feel like it? So I won’t count it against myself. Besides, I could barely listen anyway because I was so focused on the rain on my windshield.

Another good day! I’m feeling much more at ease in the silence. We will see what more driving days bring, though.

I did notice I was thinking. That sounds stupid and obvious, but the fact that they were my own thoughts and not someone else’s is meaningful.

Thursday

Mack was supposed to have a playdate, but she claimed a bellyache, so they stayed in downstairs. This shouldn’t have changed my day, but gastrointestinal symptoms shoot me into orbit, so instead of writing, I deep-cleaned the house. Ordinarily, this is when I’d podcast it up hard; long stretches of time doing mindless tasks is primo listening time. But instead, I fired up my “Nostalgia” playlist and rocked out to late-90s hits and Ayumi Hamasaki. I used to do this all the time when I’d clean the whole house once a week (what was I even doing with my life back then), and it was refreshing to have a beat to work to.

I am struggling a bit with expectations, though. Because I’m intentionally making mental space, and God is talking all the time, I expected to get a big revelation/word right away, especially given the season we’re in. But the closest thing I’ve had is when I was vacuuming and directly asked what He wanted to say to me, all I heard was, “You’re drinking too much caffeine.” And honestly, I’m 50/50 on whether or not that was actually Satan.

maybe, just maybe, all those other voices and all that extra noise in my head was causing me more stress than the stuff I was trying to distract myself from

Friday

There was a lot going on this day, so I honestly didn’t notice the lack of background podcasts. Visiting all morning with a friend, working during naptime, and trying to clean the office/playroom with Mack made the day full of sound in its own right.

I will say that I did notice a correlation between drinking mostly decaf coffee and my jaw being less tense at the end of the day. Now, I’m not making any wild statements like I actually did hear from the Lord yesterday and not the enemy who comes to steal, kill, and destroy my caffeine intake, but the odds are skewing that way.

Saturday

This day was a trashfire. Mackenzie was in fine form beginning at breakfast and didn’t let up until she passed out (at night, because hahaha joke’s on you if you thought she’d nap). I almost broke down in tears twice.

This matters because the tenor of the day revealed just how severely circumstances impact my craving to put on a podcast and check the eff out. All I wanted was to not be where I was, doing what I was doing; podcasts let me do that when I physically can’t.

BUT. Because my head is clearer, I could see how not doing that made everything better. When I’m in that mode, I obsessively turn the podcast on and off trying to focus on it to get relief, but it competes with other audio signals (Mackenzie, running water, the TV) for attention, and that ramps up my frustration faster than if I addressed what’s upsetting me in the first place. In that situation, podcasts are lighter fluid on a grass fire. Not having access to them during this particularly stressful day highlighted their futility (and actual harm) in moments I think I need them most.

*stroking her beard* Interesting….

the tenor of the day revealed just how severely circumstances impact my craving to put on a podcast and check the eff out

Sunday

I woke up to discover the annoyance I’ve felt every morning is almost totally gone. Each day, I’ve had this nagging tug of ughdontwanna about morning ablutions; for some reason, I want someone talking to me first thing. But today, I was perfectly happy to put on chill instrumental music like I’ve been doing for dishes and bedtime. A win!

Sundays don’t usually get a lot of listening between church and family time, so I didn’t miss much here. Instead of podcasts on the drive to pick up Lino from the long walk, I shared my favorite Urge album with Mackenzie (she liked it). The drive, the chores, the ablutions—all of it passed peacefully, with barely a blip of sound-struggle.

A successful last day!


TAKEAWAYS

It cleared and focused my mind, enabled me to be more present with my kid, released anxiety and tension from my body, and made space for me to hear both my own voice and the voice of God.

I didn’t want to do this fast. Who wants to deprive themselves of a creature comfort, especially one that’s free and doesn’t do lasting damage to your body, even it’s only a measly week?

But re-reading these daily notes, it’s obvious that it needed to be done. You can sense the tension dropping as the days went on and the chaos in my mind stilled.

By the end, what I noticed most wasn’t what was there but what wasn’t: the lack of needing to put something on the second there was a pause. That almost subconscious impulse to fill all available space with voices now fades away as fast as it pops up.

I am a bit sad that I didn’t have any major revelations, but that isn’t actually the point. (Although that thing about drinking too much caffeine turned out to be legit.)

Much like a crash diet won’t change your life forever, a break from podcasting is a short-term confrontation of a larger issue. I needed to get real about the nature of my listening addiction, and I did precisely that.

Going forward

While podcasts will be coming back into my daily life, I’ve unsubscribed from half my list and deleted episodes stored up “just in case.” Heaven forbid I be without something to jam in my earholes!

I’m also declaring the start of my day a no-podcast-zone. Those precious couple of hours before the toddler spools up is when I meet with God, and I can’t really do that in a genuine way when I’m hopped up on someone else’s thoughts.


Final thoughts

Overall, this fast did exactly what I needed it to do. It cleared and focused my mind, enabled me to be more present with my kid, released anxiety and tension from my body, and made space for me to hear both my own voice and the voice of God.

I just hope I can remember all this the next time I find myself teetering on the edge of a breakdown with someone else’s voice shouting in my ears.


YOUR TURN!

I’d love to hear from you! Especially if you read all this.

Do you have fill up every empty moment to distract yourself from the stresses of adulting, too? What’s your vice? Have you been able to address it?

Share your story in the comments and lets support each other in our first-world, digital-age struggles!

Why this introvert is going podcast-free for a week

What used to be my lifeline to sanity is now a coping mechanism that silences not just my inner voice, but the voice of the muse and of God, too. And that’s got to stop.

Skull and Headphones by hiddenmoves via DeviantArt

Black and white digital drawing of a skeleton in a hoodie with headphones on the skull

Quick poll. Raise your hand if you:

  • are an introvert
  • listen to podcasts constantly

*counts hands*

Okay, everyone else, you’re excused. What I’m about to say is super niche and won’t make any sense if you don’t hit one or both of those. (Or stick around and watch me unravel. Also fun.)


I don’t remember exactly when I switched from music to podcasts as the soundtrack to my life, but I suspect it was in that “fourth trimester” window when I was walking roughly five miles a day to soothe a screaming newborn and needed something, anything to keep me entertained (and awake) as I trawled the same neighborhood streets day after day. Before that, I had a car visor full of CDs and one talk radio show I streamed from St. Louis; my husband could tell if I was up or down depending on whether or not I was singing.

But when I first became a parent, I needed more than music. I needed company. There’s a peculiar quality to the silence of the newborn season—of never being alone but also being alone all the time—that produces tension unlike any I’ve ever felt. It’s a yawning chasm of disturbing, isolated quiet that can be shattered in an instant for no reason, one that’s never satisfying or restorative.

Even (especially) as a life-long, verified introvert I couldn’t take that silence. And so I filled it with friendly voices.

Podcasts became more than entertainment for me: they were a lifeline. When I felt like I was drowning in crying and milk and sleep-deprivation and that never-ending silence, I clung to the stories, people, and ideas coming through my headphones as desperately as I would a life preserver on the high seas.

Over time, though, the silence has lessened. It’s filled up with movement and questions, friends and adventures. Eventually, I found that I could touch bottom again, no longer flailing in the deep, dark water of that unbearable quiet. Three years post-newborn, most days are so loud that I can’t hear the podcasts I’m playing while doing dishes, driving around, walking to school, taking a shower, making dinner, or the hundred other things I do in every day.

I didn’t realize how fierce the competition had gotten for my aural attention until last week when I snapped at Mackenzie when all she’d done was ask me a question in the middle of One Stage at a Time. But because my brain is so well-trained to focus on a single input (mostly from an auditory processing problem, but also from spending hours and hours and hours listening while walking her tiny butt around the ‘hood so she’d go to sleep) it’s now treating podcasts as conversations. Like I’m talking to real people and therefore any interruption is cause for irritation.

This is quite possibly the worst thing I could do as an introvert. Because when podcasts become people and you always have a podcast on, it equates to always being around people. I’m never alone. Which means I never truly get a chance to recharge my batteries. Which means I’m constantly running on fumes and at the edge of my temper.

So that’s not great.

What’s also not great is the corollary realization that, because my every waking moment (and some sleeping) is filled with sound designed to grab and keep my attention, I have zero mental white space. There’s no breathing room, no blank canvas, no stillness. By maintaining a constant stream of information and entertainment in my earholes, I’ve made it impossible to hear anything except what comes from out the outside.

No wonder I can’t seem to write new fiction. No wonder I feel so disconnected from God. No wonder I feel so claustrophobic in my own mind—it’s too full of other people’s thoughts to have any of my own.


I am taking a week off. (In fact, I started yesterday.) Seven whole days with nothing to listen to except music and the low hum of electricity in the silence.

From the outside, I’m sure this sounds ridiculously easy. How hard can it be to just no listen to podcasts?

But for me, losing 4-8 hours of sound input is painful to me in the same way as switching to decaf or starting keto. With the comforting distraction from the daily toddler grind removed, I’m forced to face what I’ve missed out on from being too lazy to wean myself off an old coping mechanism that’s clearly reached the point of hurting more than it helps.

I’m not sure how it’ll go. Maybe I’ll be curled up in a ball singing to myself by next week. Maybe I’ll have outlined a whole new novel. We shall see.

All I know for sure is that it needs to happen; I need to hear those still, small voices from within. I need to make room for the Spirit, for the muse, and for my self.

In the meantime

Life is what you do while you’re waiting.

When the Day Comes by vladstudio via DeviantArt

A fairy girl in a red dress holds a giant umbrella over a field of sunflowers standing in the daylight, while all around her is field of sleeping flowers in the night.

In between where you are and where you’re going is the meantime.

That indefinite span in which anything can happen
—or nothing at all.
The time you spend waiting to be on the other side
—and how you spend it.

In between buying the guitar and playing the solo is hours of skin-splitting practice.
In between first kiss and Golden Anniversary is days of tears, silence, and change.

In between the call and the answer is the waiting.

The meantime is waking up early and going to bed late, shopping and cooking and eating and doing the dishes, going to work and going to school, balancing the bank account and wondering where the money will come from, returning library books and buying birthday presents, doubting that you heard the call at all because the meantime is

going

on

so

long.

And you tell yourself to hang on just a little longer. That one day the meantime will be over,

but it won’t.

Because the meantime is always now.

Because once you pass through this meantime you begin another one. Because you’re always in between—a series of overlapping meantimes, always ending, always starting, always hoping, always moving, even when you think you’re standing still.

In between your first breath and your last is your life,
each moment a meantime.

How to be left behind: the power of staying

In the first half of this story, I learned what home means. Now, I have to learn what it means to be left behind.

Two women in silhouette sitting on a guard rail waiting for a train at night

Quick recap: I used to be able to leave anyone, anywhere, anytime. But there came I day when I couldn't leave. I chose to surrender my power of leaving and was rewarded with finally knowing what "home" really means. And just as I was confidently walking in my new, connected, cozy reality, God asked me to leave.

So, I tell you that story so I can tell you this one.

The call to move to Florida and plant a church came in January, bringing with it a cavalcade of questions.

Why us? What could we possibly add to this team of pastors and elders? What do we tell our families? Where will we live? How do you get a visa? How do we get jobs? What’s the exchange rate? When does school start? Do we need to sell all our stuff? When do we go?

But one particular question didn’t join the flashmob. It stood patiently outside the throng, waiting for the excitement to die down and for every other question to settle itself as best it could. For two months, it waited.

And then one day, after all the paperwork was mailed and a launch date was set, it whispered,

Why now?

It was so quiet and so sad, like the voice of a scared child, that when I finally heard it, I stopped washing the dishes, sat down on the kitchen stepstool, and cried.

Why now? Why—after years of painstakingly teaching me what it means to belong, to be from somewhere, to be part of a community, to have roots—why would God ask me to leave my hard-won home for a place I’ve never been and a people that aren’t mine? Why not before I lost the power of leaving? When it wouldn’t have hurt so terribly to think of saying goodbye? When I knew what to do with my belongings and my heart?

I prayed through the tears, begging for God to explain this cruel game of keep-away. But all that came was a concerned toddler asking why Mommy was crying. So I dried my face, hugged my baby, took a deep breath, and went about my day.


That was in March.

And every day that passed after, the question made sure I didn’t forget it. It greeted me when I woke up, slid into my thoughts during the day, and tucked me into bed at night. It was always there—never angry or demanding, but there.

Time didn’t help. Unlike nearly all of my other zillion questions about the move, it had no practical answer. There was no form I could fill out, no research I could do, no expert I could pay. No matter how I tried to resolve it, the question remained.

Why now?

One morning, I was sitting at my desk, watching the hazy Hamilton sunrise, writing in my journal to work through the sticky emotions that cropped up from being delayed in our leaving yet again. The decision to stay until at least November when we thought we’d be gone by August compounded the question.

Why now?
and
Why NOT now?

Why do we have to stay while the rest of the team leaves? Why are we being left behind? Will we get left out? Are they starting without us? Is there still a place for us? Are we actually meant to go?

Line after line, I tried to come to terms with the whiplash I felt, the disappointment and resentment and jealousy. The terror of abandonment. I scribbled my way through reminders that everything has a purpose, that the work is always here and now, and that people naturally pull away from what’s exiting their lives.

That reminded me of all the promises I’ve made to now long-lost friends during farewell parties. Pledges to stay in touch and to visit. I thought of how much I meant it at the time and how they wanted to believe me. I thought of how I knew it was bullshit even as I said it.

And that’s when the answer came.

You need to learn what it means to stay behind.

I caught my breath as understanding crashed over me. The pen quivered in my hand and tears sprang to my eyes.

Of course.

Learning the meaning of home was only the first half of the lesson. Now that I know what it means to have your heart fully in a place, I need to know what it’s like to stay there when someone you love leaves. To have them slice off a piece of that heart and take it with them, most likely to dry out and rot, forgotten in the swirling excitement of their new life—without you.

I’ve spent my entire life being the one who leaves, the one who gets the fresh start, the one with a shining future ahead. I’ve never given a moment’s consideration to the feelings of the people I’ve left behind. And now God wants to complete my understanding of home by teaching me what it’s like to be on both sides of the leaving.

Because our friends here have to do the hard, brave work of filling the gaps we leave behind. People who are forever written into my story and me into theirs and who shouldn’t have to inherit my empty promises.

Because our families will be thousands of miles away, some for the first time ever, and we cannot rely on mere feelings of obligation to maintain our connection.

Because we’re going to Florida, a state with one of the highest immigrant populations in the union. We’re walking into a community filled with people who have left behind family and friends in search of a better life, as well as those who have been left behind themselves. How can I possibly have compassion for their experience—and the experience of those not with them, those that weigh so heavy on their hearts—when I’ve been so callous and blasé about it in the past? How can I hope to show the fullness of God’s love for them if my own heart has only seen one facet of the story?

Our delay has a purpose. But it hurts. It’s hard. I don’t like it. I’m sad and lonely and worried. I’m afraid of being forgotten. I’m afraid of so many things.

But in this pain, I’m healing. In the waiting, I’m learning to be joyful despite uncertainty, to engage instead of withdraw, to be hopeful when it’s easier to despair. This is where wisdom and compassion and wholeness come from. The strength and grace to help others through their own struggle for peace.

And where we’re going, I’m going to need it.

The power of leaving and the meaning of home

The first half of the story of my journey from flight risk to community member after a lifetime of not knowing what it means to be home.

Snail House (Inktober #4) by nik159 via Deviant Art: A black and white ink drawing of a giant snail with a shell with stairs, a door, and windows like a house.

I’ve lived in 24 different places since graduating high school. If I reach all the way back to birth, the total is closer to 35. An address for each year of my life.

It’s something in my blood, I think. My mom has the travel bug, never staying still for long, but even after I left her house, I continued to shuffle from place to place, following the whims of my heart. I seamlessly changed my location between states, cities, and neighborhoods. Regardless of how long I’d lived there—whether years or weeks—or who I’d come to know and love, the desire to go inevitably struck, steadily tightening its grip until I packed my things and drove off to the next place, ready to be at the start of a new adventure and to leave behind the mushy middle of the old one.

Having the power of leaving is both magic and mayhem. Not many people have it, this ability to untangle themselves from the life they’ve built and then slide away to build a new one without grief, chaos, or regret. It gives you a rare variety of freedom that most people envy. It makes them say, “Wow, I could never do that,” in voices that waver between admiration and disgust. It sets you apart in the best and worst ways because having the power of leaving means you aren’t safe to love or be loved. Because at any moment, you could disappear. Any day could be the day you run.

Sometimes it’s running to something.
Sometimes it’s running away from something.
But it’s always running.

When we moved into what I still think of as “our apartment” despite having not lived there for two years now, I’d been living in Ontario about six years, and I was starting to feel the itch. Hamilton had grown too familiar, too known. Although we were in the middle of a dramatic shift in our social circles, I felt like I was done with the people I called my friends (which had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me). My Canadian residency was nearly expired, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to renew it. It was just time.

But it wasn’t just about me anymore.

I had a husband to consider, the one I’d recommitted myself to after the roughest year of our lives. There was also this business of deciding to have a baby even though I didn’t really want one (story to come—someday). Add in my recent salvation, plus knowing that my health needs can’t be easily met in my home country, and the mathematics of leaving didn’t add up the way it used to. I calculated and recalculated as the desire to go tightened its grip, but no matter how many plans I came up with or how I justified myself, there was no solution to the problem that met all the criteria.

Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t leave. I had to stay.

Oh, how my heart ached.

I don’t know how long I sat with the depression that engulfed me after that. Weeks, for sure. I had touched the bars of my golden cage and gotten a shock so powerful it threw me to the ground, knocking the breath out of me. For the first time in my life, leaving was not an option. I had to confront the fact that without the power of leaving, without being able to start over when it got too hard or too messy, I didn’t actually know how to live my life.

Oof.

What I do know is that one day I was sitting at our high dining table, alone in the middle of the day, staring at nothing, when I heard a voice slide through the thick darkness.

I will teach you what home is.

It wasn’t my voice. But I knew who it belonged to.

The statement was simple and quiet, but it shook loose decades of detritus created by my perpetual state of leaving—loneliness from the lack of close friends, anxiety about wasting an unknown but limited amount of time, inability to commit, uncertainty about the future, independence far beyond what’s healthy—and revealed beneath the rubble an unspoken longing for home.

My heart raced at the idea that, after an entire unanchored lifetime, I could have roots and a history. That I could give directions on the street because I know where I am. That I could know the back way, could witness the rise and fall of a city’s fortunes. That I could be part of the fabric of a place. A denizen, a regular, a friend. That I could be from somewhere—not because it’s where I was born, but because it’s where I choose to be. That I could belong.

That one thought completely reshaped me.

By surrendering the power of leaving, I made room for the power of connection. For friends who know me and whom I know beyond the superficial or practical, for seeing a familiar face each time I leave the house. For art to replace steel, for favorite restaurants to go in and out of business, for the local economy to matter to me. For driving to be a joy rather than a means of escape, for the landscape to be more than GPS markers. For knowing the names of homeless people because I see them every time I go to my preferred movie theater with its sticky floors and sketchy sound. For opinions about taxes and healthcare and infrastructure. For planning where my baby will go to school.

By relinquishing the way I’d always operated, I made room to become part of the life I was already living but couldn’t fully participate in because I’d always held something back, something precious that would have been broken in the leaving. I gave myself permission to sink into the intimacy of the city and its people and be received in all their messy glory.


I walked into this year knowing that God had made good on his promise. After living in one place for nearly a decade, I finally felt connected, rooted, engaged, known, and seen in my community.

I’d finally learned what home means.

And that’s when he asked me to leave.

to be continued