Brooke McAlary’s young adulthood and first years of parenthood were anything but slow. She had an active career and then became a working mother.
Then, about seven years ago, she was diagnosed with postpartum depression after the birth of her second child.
“I just thought that what was what parenthood was,” she says. “I thought it was exhaustion, numbness, anger and darkness.”
She remembers a time when her son was six weeks old. “I found myself looking at my reflection in the mirror and saying over and over again, ‘I hate you. I hate you,’” she says.
Thankfully, a voice in the back of her head recognized that she didn’t really hate herself and that she needed help. She called her husband and began getting professional treatment.
Her psychiatrist mentioned that maybe she needed to slow down.
At first, she wanted to laugh. After all, she was that person who needed to seem as if she was coping and doing well. Then she Googled “slow down,” and the germ of an idea began to take hold.
“I never got to enjoy anything because I was so busy,” she says.
What would slowing down look like? Could she really do it? How would she start?
She turned her search for answers into the blog “Slow Your Home,” and the podcast “The Slow Home: Podcast.”
On Tuesday, she’ll be at BookPeople talking about her new book, “Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World” ($25.99, SourceBooks).
In the book, McAlary, 36, chronicles her journey from a fast-paced life to figuring out how to slow it down. This idea of being too busy is not just an American thing. McAlary is Australian.
Her first step was to rid her house of all the stuff that her family didn’t need. For McAlary, that seemed easier and more achievable than simply doing less.
“My head space at the time was terrible,” she says. “I was in a fragile emotional state.”
People would tell her to meditate or “do less,” but she says, “I could not meditate if I had tried to do it. My head would have exploded.”
She knew she wasn’t prepared to ask herself difficult questions, but she could focus on whether or not she needed something in her house.
She did it one small area at a time. She tried the Marie Kondo method of putting everything in a pile and then asking herself if that thing made her happy. But when she tried to declutter her entire garage at once, she left a pile of junk in the middle of the garage for a year. Instead she shifted to doing small things consistently, such as tackling clutter one drawer at a time.
Then she picked up the book, “642 Tiny Things to Write About,” hoping to spend a vacation restarting her creative writing. An assignment that appealed to her was “Write your eulogy in three sentences.”
It was a tough assignment. She thought about it and considered what she wanted her family to say about her when she was gone. None of the stuff that made her so busy seemed important.
“It was so instrumental in all the decisions I’ve made since,” she says. “It was pretty powerful.”
It’s an exercise she recommends more people do. “It gives us that idea of our central core values,” she says.
For McAlary, slowing down meant being present in her children’s lives.
“The biggest shift was that I was present for the first time, paying true attention to what I was doing, the way I was parenting them, the way I was spending time with them,” she says.
On the surface, it might not have looked much different, but it was. Her kids didn’t notice the change at first, but then one day they asked her to play hide-and-seek, and she gave her traditional response that she was busy. Then she came to them and asked them to play hide-and-seek. “I remember the look on their faces, that I was choosing to play with them,” she says.
Living “slow” doesn’t have to always be about parenting. It can be different for everyone. “We have this idea of what slow should look like,” she says. “That’s just something we’ve made up. It doesn’t have to look like other things. It’s about how it feels rather than how it looks.”
When she first started living slow, it felt like she would never be able to live as slow as others were, but then she realized that everyone starts somewhere, not where they are currently.
“Doing small things every day has such a big impact,” she says. “It always starts with one small step.”
Parents, especially, don’t need to be told what they’re doing wrong. Instead, she offers reassurance to parents: “Hey, you’re doing a good job. … You’re in the thick of it, and you’re doing a great.”
McAlary says she knows, for her, there are keys to living her life in a slow way.
She has to meditate every day, even if it’s just for five minutes before the children wake up.
She has to set boundaries when it comes to technology. If she wants to sit down and write, the phone cannot be on. She also does no screens at dinner and no screens in the bedroom.
She’s not always perfect. Some days are more slow than others. It’s about long-term balance, she says. “Over six months, do I pay attention to the things I need to pay attention to?”
At times, she’ll catch herself slipping and life suddenly feels too complicated again. “One of the most unexpected shifts was increased self-awareness,” she says. “I am able to acknowledge when I’m slipping back into fast. I’m able to put a stop to it before it becomes full-blown fast.”
It’s too much pressure. Instead, she offers her story and invites people to experiment with how they can get to the core of what’s important.
Brooke McAlary reads and signs “Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World”
7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7.
BookPeople 603 N. Lamar Blvd.