relax

Today has been a day of reflection for me—you know, whenever I wasn’t napping from sheer exhaustion or struggling to get comfortable in the recliner. There was a lot of those things too.

But today reminded me how much I need to relax. I am not skilled at being sick. Those people who know how to take full advantage of their sick days, catch up on their reading and revisit their dusty DVD collections? I am not one of them. I bury my fingernails in the armrests and worry about what I’m not doing, what I’m missing, how I’m failing or letting someone down. Forget doctor’s orders—I need to be at the office, darn it!

Then someone comes along and gives me a solid swat upside the head, and I realize that’s just not how it’s supposed to go. I need to take these next two days off. I need to read a book and take several naps and recover, so I can avoid having something this hellacious happen again.

It’s more than just being a good patient though. I am running on high at all times, even when I’m staying in one place. That anxiety creeps in about everything (am I being a good friend? a good girlfriend? calling my mom enough? writing enough e-mails? being social enough?) and it leaves me pretty exhausted at the end of the day… or, more to the point, every morning when I should be bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and in front of my computer at work. It needs to stop before I find myself in a downward spiral similar to those of 2004 and 2007, when I was so overwhelmed by a variety of factors that I crashed, shut down, boarded up my windows (so to speak) and felt like giving up.

I watched an episode of “Gilmore girls” on ABC Family this afternoon. It feels like an eternity since I’ve done that. The last time was in my condo in Ann Arbor in early ’08, so not that long really. But in watching this show that I own and have seen multiple times, one of the characters stood in a whole new light for me: one Paris Gellar. She is a total basket case in high school, with impossibly high expectations for herself (perhaps brought on by her parents; it’s never really made clear) and no hope of reaching them. She and Rory Gilmore end up in the same dorm suite at Yale, which was the episode I watched today. Paris finally had taken some control over her neuroses and hired a life coach to help keep her calm. Her “craft corner” became a permanent fixture in the girls’ living room, a therapeutic way for Paris to deal with her incessant need for productivity and industriousness. But every few minutes, the life coach had to rein her in and have her breathe to get through moments of difficulty and stress.

Even though I was curled up under a fleece blanket, completely incapacitated, while watching her struggle with her neuroses, I felt a little bit like Paris, unable to stop wringing my hands mentally about my shortcomings, other people’s failures, etc. And that all sort of came to a head this evening when I talked with Dennis and we discussed our usual two-hour chat-a-thons that stretch late into the night and consume what used to be his hang-with-the-roomies time. I finally saw some things about myself, and about our relationship, that I knew I didn’t like. Apparently I needed even those brief moments of relaxation today to realize what was wrong, with me, with him, with us. But I did. And we set about to figuring out a solution, which will take time, effort, patience and care. I think we can do it.

For those of you who know me well, you realize I’m the unlikeliest candidate for a long-distance relationship. I know that too. But I have a lot of hope for myself, mostly because I was starting to come apart at the seams, but also because I really like Dennis and want to do my part to make things work if I can. Through therapy and self-definition, I’m going to figure out what needs to change, who I am, what I want. In the end, maybe it won’t be Dennis. Maybe it won’t be Catholicism or working in Web design or living in the south. None of those things define me anyway, but they are major parts of my life today. So maybe I’ll step back and see that some or all of them don’t work for me anymore. I just want to be able to do that without anxiety. I know I’ll be OK without every single one, but it’s hard to want to be single again, to want to be unemployed or homeless or without faith. Those don’t sound like particularly enjoyable things. But maybe my future will just take those things in a slightly different direction. Maybe I’ll become renewed in Protestantism, take up residence in the Pacific Northwest, become a book editor and date a veterinarian named Dan. It could happen, right? And maybe I’d be just as happy.

Either way, I want to learn to make the most of what I have, smile about it every day, stop looking at what’s lacking and focus on how blessed I am with what I got. Walking around for the past several days with such pain, I am overcome with compassion for those in constant pain, physically, emotionally or otherwise. To be unable to breathe without discomfort is indescribable. It’s awful. To think that there are people in this world who deal with such conditions daily is… well, it’s beyond my comprehension. So for me to be incapable of embracing the relatively amazing life I do have and make the most of it? It’s ludicrous. What reason do I have to frown all the time? Why should I curse myself or others for shortcomings? Why should I do anything but smile when I think about Dennis and the next time we’ll talk or see each other? Why should I avoid phone calls or shut out the world more often than I let it in? I shouldn’t. I can’t. It’s not working for me anymore. It never did.

I’m done. I’m breathing. I’m learning to relax. If you have any tips for my journey, let me know.

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Filed under happiness, health, lessons, therapy, thoughts

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