In a lot of ways I find this phrase pretty condescending. Yes, I do frequently need reminders to take a step back, or a deep breath, or to re-focus which are all part of what people see as steps to relaxing.
I’d like to make something clear though; just because my oxygen intake is now reaching my asshole doesn’t mean I’ve achieved any sort of zen. My heart rate may be slowing, and maybe my anxiety is dissipating a bit too – all great things. But the instances where I am relaxed for real are few and far between. I’ve gotten to the point where relaxing isn’t the end goal, just being able to make it through the day without panicking about something is a fairly low-key day for me.
I was talking to a friend the other day, and she said something along the lines of “I need a beach for a week, in the sun, with someone feeding me to feel normal again.” My thought was that does not fucking sound relaxing in the least. I’m sure to most people it does, and I can see why for her and many others the sound of escaping and being pampered would be ideal. I realized though, that my idea of “relaxing” is probably very different from most people.
See, I don’t have a job I can just vacation from. Yes, I can take time off from my barista position (which is the least stressful of all the work I do) but I can’t turn off the thoughts in my brain that need to be turned into a book, or an article, or a poem. Laying on the beach for me would be a distraction-free time to let my mind roam and develop word plays; to soak up the scenery and indulge in how I would write it down; to home in on why I act a certain way or analyze why I think other people act certain ways. What I’m getting at, is while time on a beach sounds fulfilling, it doesn’t sound relaxing.
“I think, to feel relaxed, I need to yell. But they need to be virtual versions of the people I want to yell at, because I don’t want the guilt that would follow that either. I just need a release.”
That was my counter to her beach dream. Yelling. Probably one of the least relaxing things in the world, but for someone who holds a lot in and feels incredible guilt when I feel I’ve taken things too far or hurt someones feelings (even when it was for the sake of my own well-being and unintentional) it would be cathartic to get that release without repercussion. I don’t need an escape from my physical world, I need an escape from my internal one.
A few hours later as I thought more about this, I realized that as much as shouting at an unreal version of someone would feel fucking awesome, it’s only something that would end up feeling good if I had some kind of anger inside of me at the time. Because truthfully I don’t like fighting despite popular belief. I just like being right – or more accurately, I like to feel like I’m valid which sometimes I have to fight for.
The ultimate relaxation would be an apology. I would love to sit down and write out an hour long lecture to the people I’m frustrated with or who I feel don’t see my point of view and just really give it to them. Intellectually. Up the ass. Followed by them realizing that I am a human and my point of view is just as valid as theirs is and a heartfelt apology about how they didn’t realize what they were doing or how they were acting would affect me. Regardless if that’s true, or even something that was lacking in their process to begin with.
Alas, we live in the real world and truthfully it’s not my place to say anything to a lot of these people, just how in a lot of ways it’s probably not my place to be so affected by them either. But to get back to my original point – I find it pretty condescending when people tell me to “just relax” because everyone relaxes so differently.
Yes, I would love to take a bath filled with lavender and epsom salts after a long full body massage and change into a gaseous state of floral relaxation. I would love to be able to get up in the morning and stretch and enjoy my coffee and a book and get all my work done for the day and feel good about sitting down to watch a movie without fidgeting over wanting to multi-task; even to simply focus without the whizzing in my brain that accompanies the never-ending string of thoughts that occupies most of my grey matter space would be a glorious experience. That’s just not always my reality, and furthermore it’s not worth stressing over for not being able to achieve this level of zen that everyone else in the world seems to be in on.
So I’ve settled for something that works better for me. Peace. Maybe not entirely peace of mind, per say, but peace in my decisions. Peace that it’s okay to feel turmoil, anxiety, fear, and pressure (even if most of it is from myself) because that is a part of who I am. I can try to eradicate these things and further my frustration at the deepness of their roots, or I can learn to live with them.
I may not be a “relaxed” person. But I’m a motivated person. I work hard, tirelessly, and passionately. And as much as I have trouble with who I am, I am also at peace with it. Despite what anyone else says or experiences with me, I love myself. I’m grateful for the things that I can do, even if it is motivated by dark things like writing instead of shouting.
Written by Forest Greenwell
P.S. I am not glorifying anxieties or mental disorders in this piece. I am not trying to say that people shouldn’t try to relax. I am just clarifying that personally, actively trying to do so can be more harmful to my well-being than just working with what I have.