To Be or To Do, That is the Question: The Reality of Relaxing

Relax verb : ‘Make or become less tense or anxious.’

The concept of relaxation seems simple really. Everyone’s idea of it might vary slightly but generally we could all agree on what it looks like. ‘Chilling out’, ‘getting some down time’, ‘recharging my batteries’; all those familiar idioms we use interchangeably to paint a picture of relaxation.  And yet, it appears to be one of the most difficult things to do. I have recently found myself in a situation where I have been forced to relax. The very idea seems contradictory. ‘Force’, that is to apply pressure and ‘relax’, to relieve pressure, two opposing terms, put together to form one illogical notion.

Now, that’s not to say I’ve been handcuffed to a chair in a lavender-scented, candle-lit room with meditation muzak on loop. The handcuffs are, of course, metaphorical. I have allowed myself to become so crippled by anxiety that I’ve had to completely ground to a halt.

As I relay this to you, I am sitting on a chair outside. The sun is shining – a rare occurrence. I feel the heat of it against my skin. I observe the gentle breeze and the scent of freshly cut grass. I hear the occasional buzz of a bee doing its part for civilization. I note the cars further afield and imagine all those people coming and going. This scenario sounds like the ideal backdrop for relaxation but, sitting here, a casual observer, I do not feel relaxed; instead, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Why is that bee working harder than me? You don’t catch bees sitting around observing the noises we make. Surely, I should be in my car heading somewhere important to do something important. How dare I sit by idly and watch the world go by? The handcuffs now feel real. “Let me go and do something.”

I spot weeds, I tear them out (this is my new favourite thing). That breeze is perfect for laundry. There’s the ladder we borrowed from my father-in-law: I wonder could I wash the windows without killing myself? And with these thoughts come the not-so-sudden realisation but rather the stern reminder – I am completely incapable of doing nothing. The closest I can get to this is by putting these frustrations onto paper or, more accurately, my phone because I seem to have lost the ability to function without my phone. No doubt another contributing factor. 

I am, of course, not alone in this plight and daren’t suggest I’m in some way hard done by.  Given the fact that I have two young children, I am offered more “free time” than your average parent thanks to the support of my extended family. And yet, I find myself sometimes under the most pressure when given this opportunity. What can or should I be doing to make the most of this time? I might adopt an unconvincing guise of relaxation and wear a face mask while simultaneously hoovering or take a really long shower but only on the condition that I also clean it. It seems then that time is only well spent when in pursuit of some superficial goal and that it cannot simply be “free”. We are not afforded do not afford ourselves this luxury.

Whether this mind set is human nature or a product of modern day society I do not know – I’d imagine it is a combination of the two. All I know is that given my recent opportunity to relax I have found it almost impossible. When given a choice ‘to be’ or ‘to do’, the latter appears to be the option we’re more comfortable with which, seems to me, a very sad state of affairs.

Unlike that bee and his comrades, who we are so largely indebted to, we were not designed to buzz at a rate of 11,400 times per minute. We’re only human. And with that comes a need to buzz but also a need to just ‘bee’.





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From One Nervous Wreck to Another

nervous

So. You’re having your first panic attack. At the outset there are a few things we should probably clear up:

  1. Your limbs have not been reduced to giant lumbering sausages and you will start to feel more human than hotdog again soon.
  2. Your throat is not narrowing like the walls in one of those really difficult levels of Super Mario.
  3. That surge of heat rushing through your entire body is not your blood reaching boiling point and you will not explode.
  4. Your heart has not chosen to interpret Queen’s “I Want to Break Free” FAR too literally.
  5. Your mind has not up and left you and decided to emigrate to Shutter Island.

The logical part of you knows all this but, unfortunately for you, “logic” has bid you a farewell for the next few minutes and left you with your unbearably irrational self.  What led you to this point is of little significance.  It might have been what some would consider a “minor hiccup” or just some completely nonsensical notion that you managed to get into your head and couldn’t shift. Nonetheless you are here and, for this brief time, it feels like the world has abandoned you.

There’s little I – or anyone for that matter – can do by way of consoling you. All I can do is tell you “You’re not nuts and it happens.”  Whatever it was that triggered this episode is not your fault; life just seems to have a gotten a little bit too much for you. The aftermath of this will be strange.  You’ll wonder how it happened, why it happened and whether or not it will happen again – questions that will remain unanswerable to you for some time.

On one hand, you may have been lucky enough to have had company during this little mishap.  On the other, you’re now likely to feel tarred with the “crazy” brush.  And while life was seemingly stressful enough for you before this fit of panic, you now have the added bonus of worrying that at, any moment, you might be induced into another one of these frenzies.

I have no interest in patronising you by making ill-founded claims and promises that I can’t keep. You have no doubt hit a stumbling block in your life and you’ve some work to do before you’ll regain that sense of normalcy you once took for granted. Inevitably, you’re going to get a lot of advice over the next while, none of which is strictly wrong or right.  A doctor might attribute it to a chemical imbalance and recommend medication to remedy this; your mother might see it as a continuation of your nervous little ways stemming from childhood; or a friend might simply tell you “You need to just chill out.”  In truth, it’s likely to be a combination of these factors.  Take it all on board with an open heart and an open mind but do not let anyone infer that you are in some way weaker because you have a greater tendency to worry. You could not have foreseen or prevented this.

Equally, do not become resigned to this panic-stricken way of life. Acceptance, of course, has its place in this whole thing – but only to the extent that you allow it. You can remind yourself that it’s ok not to be ok and from this derive a sense of comfort but the fighter in you (yes, it’s somewhere in there) must take action. Anxiety is something you might have to live with but there are ways and means of coping with it and while much of your progress comes down to you, it is important that you do not shut out those who wish to – and can – help you.

I relay this to you because there was a time I wish I had known some of this. By using this opportunity to take a step back and relive the motions of an anxiety attack and all it’s ensuing bullshit, I am reminded of how far I have come. I may have opened with an apparent flippancy but I assure you there is nothing flippant about anxiety. It’s simply my way of relating how the whole thing feels, which admittedly has been rather challenging. It’s odd that these events – so singular and, at the time, traumatising – are so hard to recollect. I imagine it’s because we do not wish to remember these darker days.

It is no secret that Anxiety, its close friend Depression and its other annoying relatives you may be familiar with, are gradually beginning to make a mark on many of us. And while I have little wisdom to offer in relation to this, I can say from my own meandering experience that there is another side.

I look forward to seeing you there.