Learning to Rest & Recover

In the past year, amongst all the other hard truths and difficult steps of my growth, I came face-to-face with the fact that I never learned how to recover since I spent almost my entire life coping. Specifically, due to the situation I grew up in and the life I was choosing for myself in my college years, I never learned to recover from things because I never had the time or opportunity to do more than cope.

I’m quite good at coping. Throw me into any difficult situation, any amount of stress, any environment, and I’ll make it work. I’ll get things done, achieve my goals, and manage to keep my sanity. Like a lot of people who grew up with stress and trauma as an everyday part of my life, I got so used to it that I feel uncomfortable without a constant high-level of stress so I tend to thrive when things get difficult. In the years since I graduated college, leaving behind the orderly environments and clear, outlined goals, I’ve discovered that there is an upper limit to how much I can handle. I don’t thrive under highly stressful situations so much as I never learned how to live comfortably in any other kind of situation.

What made it click this past year was talking with my roommate about how to organize his studying and classwork time. He’s a student now and he regularly struggles with staying focus on his work because he’s an extrovert and can be easily distracted by anyone even walking into the room he’s working in. He remarked that he gets frustrated because he wants to go do stuff with me and our other roommate, and I agreed that it is harder for him as a late-20s adult going to college when most of his friends have already graduated. He can’t connect and enjoy studying with his classmates because some of them are a decade younger than him, and he doesn’t have a group of friends to study with since we’re all playing video games or going out (I’ve offered to sit and write with him if he wants company while he works, but he has yet to take me up on it).

While we were talking about strategies to help him focus, I told him some anecdotes from my years in college and the lessons I learned. During my junior and senior years, when I figured out what I wanted to do and buckled down to work, I did homework or worked six nights of the week. Between classes, studying, and working full time, I got one night off a week, so I took Thursday nights off to play video games with my friends. Other than that, I ignored everyone or told them they could join me as I studied in the library or in the English Department lounge. I picked studying and work over everything else and counted on my friends to understand. Some of them did, some of them didn’t, but what mattered most to me was making the right choice for myself.

All that stuff tumbled around my head for a while before it finally connected with the final piece to the puzzle. One of the most important things I ever learned from a professor in college was a saying he liked (and still likes) to repeat to all of his classes. “I know some of you will say that you write your best papers at the last minute, as the deadline approaches. That isn’t true. What is true is that you only write your papers at the last minute.” It was a lesson I took to heart then and something that connected what I learned by choosing myself in college with what I’ve been learning from the books I’m reading about trauma (they’ll show up in a review sometime).

All of this made it clear that nothing had changed from college. I hadn’t become deficient in someway. I hadn’t lost anything. I just got worn out because I assumed that I thrived when under a great deal of stress instead of questioning if I had ever tried to live without that much stress. I’d gradually worn myself down because I could just keep coping until I was physically incapable of continuing. Even after I knew I wasn’t really fine, when I’d seen the cracks in the world I was building for myself and did my best to patch them, I still thought I could keep doing what I was doing and the changes I’d made to my world would eventually fix things. Turns out what I needed to change was me.

I still think I made the right choice back then to change jobs. I think that, overall, my world is much better than it was three years ago even as I’m currently breaking it all apart and building most of it back up again. I also think that what I really needed was to learn how to rest. How to recover. They sound so easy, right? The idea of resting is super easy until you try to explain it to someone, isn’t it? You grab for metaphor and simile, confident that the person you’re talking to understands it and you just have to find the right bridge to connect your understand and theirs. I didn’t really understand it. I thought I did. If you’d asked me even three months ago, I’d have explained that resting is like gasping for air after a sprint, taking the minute you have to get as much air into your lungs before you’re up and sprinting again. Recovery is the break you take during a marathon to stretch a cramped muscle, drink a sports drink/energy slurry, and use the bathroom before you carry on running.

I’m sure you can see the flaw in my understanding. Those are breaks. Reprieves. Moments of peace in a storm. Real rest and recovery are something else entirely. To be entirely fair to myself, it’s difficult to understand that you misunderstood something most people can’t explain and that most people take for granted. For instance, did you know that most old memories are typically viewed in third person, almost like a story you’ve told yourself (or that someone else has told you)? You don’t really see most old memories through your own eyes, you see yourself participating in them.

Until very recently, I thought that it was normal for all memories to be first person. Memories weren’t stories so much as resubmerging myself in a moment long past. In most people, the only first-person memories are the recent ones and the traumatic ones. For me, my trauma changed the way my brain stored information so thoroughly only a handful, if that, of my memories were in third-person. I don’t think those count as real memories though since I know the photographs of those moments and I’m pretty sure I just built a story around those moments that I’ve labeled a memory. They’re all from before I was 2 and I don’t think my memory is that good.

You can see how I might have a bit of a warped understanding of some things, yeah? It’s hard to really grasp how different my understanding of the world is from yours when all we can do is use metaphors to approximate our own experiences and ideas in the hopes of evoking someone else’s.

After a month and a half of rest, three weeks of which got eaten up as coping time since I talked to my parents one week before I had two solid weeks of all-day meetings, I think I’ve kind of gotten it figured out. Enough so, anyway, that I can do it every day. I’ve literally got it built into my daily schedule every day but Monday (I kinda go all day Monday, without stop, from 6am until 10pm). While that might seem a bit absurd, to schedule rest and recovery, it’s kind of who I am? I like order and having a time marked out and a box to check for every day makes it a bit easier to take the time to actually rest and recover.

I’m still pretty burnt out. Nothing is going to fix that in any short amount of time, but the rest I’ve taken has provided me with enough energy and strength to go back to writing every day, to working on my projects, and to figure out how to choose me right now. I’ve never been good at advocating for myself, but nobody else expects as much from me as I do. Any and all of my D&D players are happy to play D&D modules instead of custom campaigns. My friends understand if I don’t go for a hike with them because I need to do laundry and make D&D battle maps for the one remaining custom campaign I’m running. And if they don’t… Well, their loss.

I’m choosing myself again and I’m comfortable with the knowledge that this won’t be easy. I may stop talking to some people I’m close to if they won’t respect my needs and boundaries. I may need to get a new job if nothing changes and the same problems repeat without end. I may have to cut back on all of the D&D I’m doing so I have energy for other projects and the players who lose out might not like it. I may have to skip everything I’d planned for an evening because I really need to rest more and I’ll have to learn how to be more adaptable. There are no hard-and-fast rules here, other than I need to be aware of how I’m doing at any given moment so I can make the calls I need.

This may not seem difficult, but I almost chickened out of telling my at-work D&D group that I needed us to switch to running modules because creating the entire campaign might take the same number of hours as preparing a module, but running a module takes a lot less energy. And that’s the easiest of all the things I might need to do. They only get harder from here.

Wish me luck.

Saturday Morning Musing

No matter where you live, what you do, or who you are, there’s a lot going on in the world these days. The only way you can escape it is if you’re being willfully ignorant that the world is going slightly (I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a bit of a tendency to understate things) crazy and that only works for upper-middle class white dudes and rich people. Even then, it probably still intrudes on your life because global politics and the constant stream of fear and anxiety pumped into the world by modern “journalism” are almost impossible to get away from unless you cut off all human contact, including the internet. Especially the internet.

I don’t really want to go into all of what’s going on, because I honestly can’t escape it and I don’t have anything new to add to it. All my thoughts and feelings have already been said and probably been said better than I could with the energy I’ve got right now. It’s really wearing me down to be spending the vast majority of my time trying to keep track of what’s going on from as many sources as possible so I can hopefully uncover the truth of what’s happening. Even then, I know it’s mostly impossible without being a first-hand witness to most of what is going down because there’s bias not just from individual sources, but from entire groups of people based on what kind of group they are or if they’re reacting to something in particular.

I spend so much time and energy trying to follow what is going on, picking the battles to fight, and doing everything I can to advocate for human decency and respect of all non-shitty life (sorry, shitty lifeforms, I’ve got no time for you) that I barely have the energy left for doing my daily writing. Things were different when I had a significant other. The world would fade away a bit when we were together and I couldn’t help but forget everything else for a bit. Now that I don’t have that, I’m relying on myself to take breaks when I need them and I’m actually really bad at that. If I do not have something that requires me to take a break or to rest for a while, I will not take a break. I will keep working or procrastinate until there’s no point in working and then feel terrible about not having done any work. In the past three weeks, last night was the first time I consciously decided not to do any writing work and just read a book instead of fretting about my blog or the book projects I haven’t touched in months.

I realize this isn’t healthy. I need to be able to rest and I shouldn’t rely on someone else to pull me away from my work long enough to unwind. I need to figure out how I can pull myself away from my work and to find ways to rest. Video games, reading, and TV don’t always work and sitting around by myself is often more likely to be a recipe for anxiety and stress than rest. Even meditation isn’t a sure-fire help these days since I’m still caught up in the feelings of my breakup and struggling with the daunting task of trying to date again. Any time I try to quiet my mind, thoughts of what I used to have or of how much I struggle to meet new people intrude. It’s daunting and frustrating.

Even when I do manage to relax or to avoid thinking about my relationship status, the news inevitably intrudes. I’ll get a phone notification that someone tweeted something about someone doing something dumb or that some government official is now royally screwed because something leaked except they’re totally not because all the people who give a fuck are spineless or powerless. The few times that doesn’t happen, or that I remember to silence my phone, thoughts about the very scary potential futures ahead of the world intrude. There’s no escaping just how shitty the world is when it affects me and all of the people I care about on such an enormous scale that it’s nearly impossible to contextualize just how screwed we all might wind up being.

It doesn’t help that so many people are constantly reminding everyone that being scared or tired or feeling unable to cope is exactly what the shitty people want. Sure, taking a rest is a good idea and we should probably all do that, but so many people lose urgency when they rest and people giving up is actually what the shitty people want. They want us to stop. If we’re intimidated or worn out and stop, that’s what they want. If we’re resting and miss something important, that’s also what they want. I’d love nothing more than to be able to constant rage against the shitty people with the burning passion of a million stars fueled by the wildest dreams of poets and artists across the universe, but that’s a bit more than I can manage. No single person could contain that much power and, so far, even the best coordinated groups have proven themselves unable. Someday, someone might be able to channel that amount of strength into their righteous fury and wipe away the taint caused by shitty people, but that day is not this day.

It’s a nice mental image, but that’s all it is. If things are going to change, it’ll take a lot of people working together toward a common goal. In the mean time, I’m going to try to figure out how to rest up on the few days I can’t fight for my goals and human decency any further. I don’t think the problem is working up to the point of wanting to collapse that’s the problem (and no, that’s not me trying to justify working myself ragged), I just really need to figure out how to actually rest on the days I’m not working on whatever.

Anyway, try to not be a shitty human today and every day. Work towards the common good. Rest when you need it but don’t forget there’s a fight going on. And so on. Keep it up.

Saturday Morning Musing

After a week back at work, I can definitely say that I miss being on vacation. Normally, I am glad to be back to my routines and my habits, but I definitely miss my leisurely days and lack of anything but time and a list of things I’d like to do. Work is fine, of course, but I miss the feeling of being in command of my schedule and feeling like I am the master of my day-to-day fate rather than someone swept up in the rigors of modern life. I do not miss sitting on the couch and watching Psych for 12 hours while also playing Legend of Zelda from when I wake up until I go to sleep. I just miss feeling like the day was entirely mine to spend.

That being said, I still don’t really feel different from how I felt before the vacation. I took the whole week off of work and writing because I felt burned out and used up. I needed to rest and recharge, to let myself unwind. However, whatever I expected didn’t really happen. I thought maybe I needed to go back to work for a bit, to see how my weeks contrasted, to really appreciate the change my break had wrought. Unfortunately, I still feel no different from before. Maybe a little less burned out, but not any less cosmically or existentially tired.

I’m not saying that I didn’t enjoy my vacation. I enjoyed the shit out of it. I read a bunch, went on walks every day, actually got a good amount of sleep each night instead of just making do with 4-6 hours like I do when I’m trying to write and work 10 hour days. I cut way down on my caffeine intake, spent time away from the internet, and took the time to just let everything go for a while. I spent most of Thursday just existing. Sitting in my armchair, watching the cat jump at leaves blowing past the sliding door and staring out at the bare trees and empty blue sky. It was peaceful and an excellent change of pace.

Afterwards, though, I’ve been spending a lot of time wondering what it will take for me to feel more relaxed. To escape the feeling that there’s always something more I could be or should be doing. I’ve even spent some time wondering if I ever will. If I’ll be able to look back and say that this was good or that was what I wanted. If I’ll ever be able to not wish that I’d done or was doing more.

Part of me wonders if that feeling was a result of so many people in my life telling me that I was going to do great things and change the world when I grew up. Maybe I’ve got unreasonable expectations. I’ve spoken about it with my therapist and she recommended that I focus on the times I used words like “should” to describe the items on my to-do list. None of those things are really “shoulds.” They’re “coulds,” at best. If I’m constantly recriminating myself for not getting something done, I’m being too strict with myself. Yes, I enjoy feeling productive and actively pursuing my goals is the only way they’ll get done, but I could probably stand to give myself a little more slack.

 

I’m not very good at that. No one has higher expectations for myself than I do. I’m pretty certain that’s at least part of the problem. I expect so much of myself that any time taken to rest or recover from how hard I work is time wasted. I know exactly what will happen when I start drinking energy drinks every day at 5pm. I know how depressed and worn out I will get if I don’t get enough sleep a few days in a row. I know nothing good comes from a caffeine dependency and worsening depression. I really don’t have enough nights where I felt energized and productive as a result of these things to make it worth it. I have some nights and those nights feel amazing, but I have many more days of lethargy, exhaustion, and depression and those feel horrible.

And yet here I am. One week after the end of my vacation and I’m barely sleeping enough to get by each night, drinking more caffeine than usual to keep myself going, and trying to fill my nights with work on any one of my several writing projects just so I can silence that voice in my head that says I’m not doing enough. I am doing enough. I’m doing too much. I work harder than most people I know. One day it will pay off, but I can’t forget that this is a marathon and I’m never going to win it unless I learn to take care of myself the entire time. I need more breaks, more mindfulness, more time to rest my mind each day. I need to push myself enough to get things done, but not so hard that I don’t have the energy to do some reading every night.

That last thing is probably the most important. I need to read every day. Even with the caffeine and the lack of sleep, I’m feeling stronger than I normally would because I’ve taking the time to read. As long as I can make sure to do that, I think I’ll be able to keep myself on track. Reading is the ultimate self-care for me because I never feel guilty for spending time reading. Exposure to new stories and different writers will make me a better writer over all. So long as I am reading, I am enjoying myself and investing time in improving myself.

I don’t think I can say that I’ll get through a book a day or even a book a week, like I do when I am on vacation, but it will keep me going longer than rest alone.

 

Saturday Morning Musing

Growing up, because my parents were a single-income household and they had four children, most of our vacations were trips to campgrounds, the lake houses of my grandparents, or to visit family friends. There were a few exceptions, of course, like my trip to Boston with my mother so I could check out the Mount Washington Observatory because I was a weather nerd as a child and the entire family’s trip to Montana and Washington. I’ve never been to Disneyland and my memories of the Mall of America are vague and distant because I’m pretty sure they happened before I turned six. Probably much earlier.

I’m not complaining. My vacations were just different, not necessarily better or worse. The parts I remember most fondly aren’t even the vacations themselves, but the things around the vacation. Getting excited for the upcoming trip and the books, audio books, and GameBoy games I’d line up for what seemed like car trips that lasted forever. Getting takeout the night before so there were no dishes to do and no mess to clean up. Getting woken up at 4 in the morning by my dad because I was only kid who wouldn’t try to go back to sleep and could be trusted to get myself into the car. When I was younger, getting wrapped up in blankets against the chilly morning air and bundled into the car amongst our bags and coolers so that I got to spend the entire car trip wrapped in a cozy cocoon. The sense of safety and warmth I felt as my dad drove us through the dark early morning hours of the day and I knew that I could sleep safely because he’d never let anything happen to us. The fascination I learned staring at the horizon as the sun rose and at the sky or horizon as the miles passed. The satisfaction and comfort that came from being my dad’s copilot when I was older, the person trusted to stay awake and sit in the front seat because I would talk and could read the map.

Trips are different now. I still love the sun rises, leaving early in the morning, and watching the horizon as the miles roll by, but now I take my trips mostly on my own. I drive to my grandparents’ cottage or to visit friends in different cities. Occasionally, I drive someplace for a camping trip or to visit family. The feeling of wonder and other-worldliness is gone, replaced by a mental checklist of things to bring, where my gas station stops will be, and where my turns are. I think I’m starting to understand how my dad felt when we prepared and went on trips, perhaps minus the sense of responsibility for all the other occupants of my car as there are none.

These days, my vacations tend to focus more on resting and recovering than going somewhere. I don’t really have the money to take short trip to Portland or Seattle. Leaving the country is incredibly complicated and even more expensive, so that’s out as well. I could go camping, sure, but I usually only take vacations when I am in desperate need of relaxation and rest. Then, I generally want to stay around my apartment and save money because going places, doing things, and trying to figure out how to squeeze money out of my budget is exhausting.

That’s what this week’s vacation was. I did a single day trip to visit some college professors and friends, and then stayed at home the rest of the time, doing little things around the house and trying to focus on sleeping well, eating well, and doing some maintenance work on my life. Clutter clearing has been going well and I’ve completely cleaned my room. I also reorganized my bookshelves, so I’ll hopefully be able to handle new books without having to move pretty much every book I own for at least the rest of the calendar year. After that, all bets are off.

We’ll see whether or not it worked as time goes on. Going back to work after a vacation is always difficult and I’m struggling a little harder than usual because my soul yearns to write constantly. I had a taste of the freedom that sort of life could afford me and I’m going to be fighting myself when it comes to going in to work on Monday…

 

Saturday Morning Musing

I really suck at resting. I took a few days off so that I can rest and recover from the holidays. I wanted to basically start the new year out strong and well-rested so I could start working hard on my goals. While Thursday was fairly restful, Friday was not and Saturday looks like it’ll be fun but not very restful either. One of my roommates and I cleaned our place on Friday and, once we were finished with that, I started on all of the things in my room I’d been neglecting to do since mid-December along with a few new things. Packaging up Amazon returns, getting the presents I had to mail together and boxed up, and figuring out what to do with all of the Christmas presents I’d been given.

Today, I mail the packages, spend the day hanging out with my friends, and then spend the evening introducing my friends to my girlfriend and possibly going to club. Jury’s out on that last bit, though, as not everyone wants to go to the club and I’m not just going to abandon people who don’t want to go out (since my place is the where we’re hanging out, it’d be kind of awkward to just leave them here alone, you know?). If not, then I will stay in and hold down the fort while people come and go. Staying in is certainly more restful than going out would be, but going out to a club with my girlfriend and some of my friends would probably be more fun. I’d enjoy myself either way, really. The only thing I miss out on is writing time, and I’m missing that either way. I’ve resigned myself to that for this weekend.

Hopefully tomorrow will be more restful and full of writing. We’ll see, though.