Sunday, April 12, 2015
Chillin' Out Maxing Relaxin' All Cool
Relax? What is this thing you call "relax"? I'm kidding, kind of, but I've always been notoriously bad at relaxing. Part of it is my general Type A personality. Part of it is my cyclothymia. In a hypomanic state, what's "relaxing" for me doesn't fit the traditional definition of the word. In this mood cycle, relaxing often involves some sort of planning or active activity (is that redundant) - something that's not work, but that measures up to the level of energy in my body. It might be a shopping trip with my mom, or doing a day hike, or going for a bike ride. It may be brainstorming for the mental health initiatives I want to role out. But I'm generally doing something. If I don't, I sit around anxious, jittery, pacing, obviously uncomfortable and unable to quell the energy running through my brain and body.
When I'm depressed, relaxation seems equally as impossible. It might look like I'm relaxing, not doing much of anything, sleeping more than normal, expending little energy. But let me set the record straight here - being emotionally paralyzed and therefore unable to drag yourself from the bed/couch, feeling so worthless and numb that you can't possibly care about anything, and therefore unable to bring yourself to do anything is NOT relaxing. It's down right terrifying and painful. Is someone who's blacked out, lying on the ground unconscious relaxing, because they aren't moving? It's kind of like that.
I have realized lately, though, that I must learn how to relax. I physically, mentally, and emotionally will break if I don't. I cannot blame myself for the times I'm depressed and unable to do much. I can't force myself to be active and productive every minute that I'm not in a depressive cycle, to make up for the times that I am. This seems obvious, but it's taken me years to get to this point of understanding with myself. I have found, through trial and error, that the key to teaching myself how to relax is not so much learning to do so physically, but to do so mentally and emotionally. Lately, I spend a lot of time writing and reading. When I'm working on writing my novel, or reading someone else's, I'm able get out of my own brain, figuratively out of my own life and into someone else's. There, I don't have to focus on the mood cycles, the anxiety, the frustration with myself. I don't have to worry about the argument I had with this person, or the disappointment I caused that person for once again not being able to make plans due to depression. I can just be. Just focus on the moment. No tug of war in my head.
Sometimes, choosing to physically remove myself from my usual atmosphere helps. A drive (myself or riding shotgun) or a trip to the beach - particularly a quieter one where I can just sit back and enjoy the warmth and sun. It could be visiting a garden. Nature is a wonderful source of calm for the soul and mind. Or if I'm feeling energetic, I might go to a street fair with food and music. It could be coffee with a good friend in a little neighborhood cafe, or coffee on the back deck watching my dogs run (aka mosey slowly with frequent bathroom stops) around the back yard. The key is that it gets me out of my own head. It doesn't have to be physically un-taxing. It has to be mentally and emotionally renewing. That will, in turn, help me to renew physically. I guess that's as close to relaxing as I get, and for now, it will have to be good enough.