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.

For Now

I’m not all I want to be.

I do my best to listen and to look
As I follow each hook and crook
And read every single book
While I do my best to cook
Up some kind of understanding.

I don’t think that’s too demanding
A task for me to stick the landing,
But here I am, stuck standing
With nothing more commanding
Than a sense of appreciation.

It fills me with frustration
That I can’t form the foundation
Of a simple proclamation
Because I’m stuck with the realization
That I can only speak for me.

I can’t just let that idea be
So I try my best to truly see
But I think we can all agree
There is no guarantee
I will ever get the words out.

Constant fear and niggling doubt
Cause both a flood and a drought
Of words as I try to write about
A path without knowing the route
It takes from beginning to end.

No matter what I intend,
There is no way for me to bend
My experience so I can pretend
That I have anything to append
To what someone else has said.

At night, while I lie awake in bed,
I dream of a time when my head
Is no longer filled with things unsaid
But, right now, I see instead
That I’m not yet all I want to be.

So, for now, I can only speak for me.

I Just Want to Let You Know You’re Not Alone and Someone Understands

One of the most important parts of any mental health awareness campaign is helping people see that they are not alone. When you are wrapped up in your depression, anxiety, or OCD, it can be incredibly easy to forget that you’re not alone, that other people have felt this way and understand how you feel right now. I can only imagine that other mental illnesses are similarly isolating. The simple act of letting people know that they are not suffering alone, of being able to reach past the barriers they have created and show them other people feel that way as well, can often be enough to help someone who is just starting to live with a mental illness.

Even if you’ve been doing it for years and consider yourself an expert and handling your own shit, it still feels good to know that other people know what you’re going through. That other people can understand your pain and you’re not the only person who ever got in an argument with a loved one and felt like you weren’t worth their effort anymore. Or that you aren’t the only one who freaks out at the entirely-unlikely-but-still-possible interpretations of the subtext of a conversation you had with someone import. Or that you aren’t the only one who feels like your thoughts have been taken over by a whirlwind that refuses to let you think about anything but your deepest, darkest, most ridiculous fear that you know is unfounded but can’t seem to ever let go of because what if it isn’t that ridiculous. Feeling understood is the best feeling when you’re in pain you can’t seem to stop that’s coming from inside your own head.

One of my friends messaged me last night, as I sat on the couch and watched Adventure Time in an attempt to reinforce the ideas of growth and slow change I’m trying to focus on. She had read yesterday’s post and wanted me to know I wasn’t alone, to let me know someone understood what I was feeling, and to thank me for being open on my blog. It was a little thing, a few messages and a few moments of shared emotional connection, but it helped me a lot. I may be past the point where I need to know I’m not alone, but it always feels wonderful to be reminded of it. It was just the boost I needed to get through the evening and to set me up for today. A lot of the comments I’ve gotten from friends today have been incredibly helpful, even if they didn’t explicitly remind me I am not the only person to feel this way. The kind understand and supportive comments, combined with a few frank observations, made me feel seen for the first time in a long time. As someone who gets so wrapped up and isolated in my own head that I can completely rewrite reality in order to have a “plausible” doubt to gnaw on, all my friends today reminded me that I’m here and so are they.

I want to do the same thing for other people. I want to be a beacon, a lighthouse on the shore, a little light in the darkness that says “you aren’t alone and there’s someone out there who understands how you feel.” That’s why I write about things in an open and honest way I struggle to do when I talk to people. That’s why I don’t hold back in my writing unless I’m protecting another person’s right to privacy. I want to talk about how I feel because it is good for me to process this stuff and because I hope someone else out there sees what I’ve written and feels it resonate in them. I want to create stories and write poems that make people feel things. I want to meander my way through drawn-out essays about the tribulations of my life so other people see someone else struggling with the same pain they feel. I put this up publicly in the hopes of one day helping one person who needs it.

This is why I tell stories. This is why I tell the stories I do. I want people to see and feel things that I’ve felt in the hopes of reaching someone who hasn’t made that connection yet. I want to promote understanding by creating art that conveys what it feels like to be anxious, depressed, and suffering from OCD. I want to capture it all so people who have no experience can get a glimpse of what other people feel, to promote empathy. I want to display it so people who have these same feelings don’t feel so alone anymore.

If I ever become a millionaire or make a pile of money from lucrative publishing deals, I’m going to secure my relatively simple lifestyle and spend the rest founding a charity to promote people creating art as a means of coping with their mental illness in order to foster understanding in the wider world about what it means to suffer from depression, an anxiety disorder, OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and everything else that people depict their stories and art. Journals, magazines, art galleries, short story collections, related websites, the whole kit and caboodle. Everything I can throw money at to get creators exposure and to get the world to understand through art. Music, performance art, literally everything that helps promote understanding. It’d take winning the lottery to fund an organization like that, but I think I can get it started slowly with a more reasonable amount of money if I get the right people involved.

Ideally, the charity would help prevent people who are suffering from ever feeling like they’re alone again. I’d also like to raise mental health awareness in the US and the world in general, get funding for better treatment options for those suffering from mental illness, and remove the stigma associated with mental illness. There are enough problems facing people with any mental illness without them also feeling shame for being ill. No one needs that.

Until I have the money, though, I’m going to keep writing on my blog, keep reviewing and sharing wonderful art other people do that speaks about mental illness, and do my best to always be a voice saying “You’re not alone. I’m here and I understand.”

My Words

My words are precious to me:
Little puffs of warm air
That I constantly heat
By clutching them tight
To my chest and heart
Even when they grow too hot
And burn my hands
As they attempt to flee.

My words are few and quiet
When they are voiced at all:
Hoarded and groomed until
I am certain they are ready
For whatever task is at hand,
Yet they remain fragile things
That cannot be used again
Once I have let them go.

Many words are worth little
While few words are worth much:
Communication is expensive
But can be bought with either,
While understanding is expensive
And drives a hard bargain–
Often requiring many words
That had once been counted few.

My words are worth more to me
Than any amount of money:
People say that words are cheap
And some, in fact, may be,
But I think words are the currency
People use to buy and sell
Ideas, emotions, and knowledge
In the market of civilization.

Most of the time, when I talk,
I use words that are not mine:
I wrangle words from the air
And let them pass through me
So that they sound like mine
But only on the surface
As my own words are too few
For mass communication.

My words are precious to me:
Little slivers of my soul
All bound up in breath
Like wisps of vapor in winter,
Puffing from my open mouth
As I move through the world
And do the very best I can
To share some of my warmth.