I realized I don’t know how to relax only a few years ago. I say “don’t”, because relaxation is an evolving practice for me. Even now, I am still learning how to unwind. I am going to use this space to stumble through why I *think* have a difficult time relaxing, of which I expect to be very unorganized.
This realization came when I was alone in my NYC apartment for the first weekend since I had moved in, roughly 7 months to the day. All of my friends were either gone for the weekend or had other plans, leaving me alone in my apartment with absolutely nothing to do. Though my future self is envious of my younger self now, at the time I had no idea what to do with my day. I think I slept in until 11 AM, and realized I had nothing to do. I promptly posted an Instagram story asking my followers what they did when they found themselves with no plans and then cried (I am sometimes very dramatic). What seemed obvious for my friends and family was not so obvious to me. I was 23 years old and had to ask my Instagram followers from college how to relax? That’s fucked up. Anyways, I am still learning how to relax and this blog post is my protest.
When I first moved to the city I took a 80% travel job, meaning that I was living in Manhattan Thursday through Monday morning and traveling to tier 3 cities Monday through Thursday. My week was stacked with work and my weekends were spent making up for lost time. I have FOMO, the fear of missing out, and I just said yes to everything. I don’t think my internal battery was ever fully charged, but it was a wonderful period in my life where I met many new people and discovered my drink of choice to be Old Fashioneds. I would come home and engage in the same practices I learned in graduate school, which was watching a TV show at 11 PM and falling asleep a few minutes after the show started. The sweet spot of laying in bed and falling asleep watching a TV show was my only nod to relaxation. I think I was going against the grain. I desperately wanted to see everyone and say yes to new experiences, but I was burnt out, or quickly approaching burning out and was not leaving any kind of space for self exploration, or learning how to be alone and enjoy it. I think moving to such an exciting place, coupled with finishing 5 very intense years in academia, was absolutely a contributing factor to my inability to unwind.
During this period of my life, I had very spontaneously moved to New York City. Taylor Tomlinson has created an excellent podcast, “Sad in the City,” in which she details her own struggles of moving to NYC, making friends, and having her own apartment. Listening to this podcast now and reflecting on my time spent in NYC, I have discovered that saying yes to everything means saying no to myself. It meant saying no to slow mornings with coffee and a new book to go to brunch with my friends. It meant having to say no to Tuesday night concerts with my sorority sisters, who had also moved to Manhattan, because I was in the state of Ohio for work. But I wanted to do these things. I wanted both alone time and time with my friends. I didn’t feel I should have to choose, and felt robbed that I couldn’t fit in all of these activities within a 24 hour period. It also meant bravely putting myself out there to make new friends in an alive yet sometimes unfriendly place, when my friends made moves out of Manhattan. My priorities and concept of time were not in alignment. Though they are closer now in 2022 than they were in 2019, moving to a new city and into a taxing job (directly after spending 5 years in academia) isn’t always a recipe for feeling grounded when you’re a bit out of control.
All of this to say, my job and old habits (the 5 minutes a day I put on Netflix to fall asleep) did not make it easy to nest comfortably. It took a really terrible breakup and being benched for work travel (not staffed on a project) for me to realize that relaxing meant making my bed and lighting a candle, saying no to trying a new bar that won’t be new in 6 weeks when I’ll eventually visit, and a newfound appreciation for just taking a book with me and reading in random parts of the city. At this point in my life I found I enjoyed going to get afternoon tea by myself and journaling. A tea party for one. It was the beginning of a long period of trying to understand how to just “be.” I explored quite literally every place you can have tea below 72nd street. I bought a sketchbook, went to comedy shows with my friends, and vowed to walk everywhere as winter blended into spring. Much of these activities were things I liked to do when I was 5 years old. So much of my adult life has been spent re-discovering what I enjoyed when I was a child in my pursuit of learning how to relax, unwind, and nest. The previous sentence could be a thought process to expand on alone, but I knew this entry would be messy when I started writing.
Upon reflection, reading my old journal entries and canceling plans now to binge watch YouTube videos and Killing Eve, I’ve learned that I really enjoy run-on sentences and that I have come a long way. COVID19 really took my journey of relaxation theme and ran with it. This, paired with the “world is ending” anxieties I had been experiencing. Though, I think I’ll save this thought for another day. In my pursuit of self reflection on “relaxation,” I know the following to be true:
There are many additional thoughts to be shared in this messy and unorganized entry. I hope to share more as the thoughts come to me. I am writing this as I have just finished having a wonderful morning to myself. I slept in, made some coffee, bought a few new mugs from one of my favorite artists and spent some time with people that I love. Tomorrow I have no plans, and I couldn’t be more excited to sit on my couch, go for a walk, or take a new book to the beach and watch the Olympic mountain range change colors as the sun shifts. Maybe I will develop a new routine of Saturday brunch myself with a book. My version of relaxation might change on Monday, but I reserve the right to change my mind. Until I figure out what that is…