I’ve spent the last few weeks enjoying my holiday PTO and shuffling between the custody of my dad (in Mexico) and aunts (both in Florida this season). Much like the child of divorced or dead parents who spends Wednesday’s and every other weekend with the other parent or grandparents, I’ve moved my suitcase and backpack through various airports in Mexico and Florida to spend time with my family this holiday season with one goal only: to relax. The last time I formally wrote about relaxation was in April of 2022. Since then, I’ve dabbled in adult coloring books and free sketching, daily journaling, exercise that stimulates me, edibles and yoga coupled with weekly therapy appointments. I’ve still had panic attacks every time I settle into an increased period of time alone with no structure. Progress? Some may say so, though I remain unsure. I’m still learning to relax.
In the previous iteration of this blog post (#1, linked above) I realized that much of my adult life up until last year was spent re-discovering activities in adulthood that I enjoyed when I was a child. That includes a lot of arts and crafts, fidgeting with things (my film cameras, mainly) and everything I listed in the first paragraph of this sad blog post. What’s new is the awareness of the panicky feeling I get everytime I have a few days of calm. In my previous post, I wrote about how when I had a second to breathe, I did not know what to do with that time. I had a similar feeling last week, at the beginning of a very slow 3 weeks off (Mexico, Florida, shuffling!) which I can identify as a manic episode or a feeling of panic that I feel when I am about to enter a period of great rest with no structure. These panicky feelings cause me to reflect on myself without distractions. Self reflection without distractions is key, because then I am forced to think about things I have been putting off for a while. Among these thoughts are how I want to live my life. Specifically, who is in my life, what investments I need to redirect to myself and how much of myself I feel I lose to other relationships. Of course I feel my feelings and engage in self reflection when I cut out distractions and give myself the time and space to relax, and of course my feelings will pile up until I can find the space to relax and feel them. This panicky feeling makes sense to me, but I still find ways to resist it, knowing I will have to face it eventually. Fuck.
Earlier this year I reconnected with an important character from my past who recommended I try edibles. What is a relaxing experience for them was the opposite for me. When I took edibles (took?? I am a novice and am likely going to cut out drugs and alcohol entirely due to how little I consume them anyways) I couldn’t stop crying. I felt happy and settled on the inside but my emotions and behavior on the outside were a hot mess. When I encountered a work change, relationships and friendships entering new cycles, and even EMDR and intense therapy to feel my feelings, stored in my body from childhood, edibles (drugs) helped me just… feel. I couldn’t stop crying, it was almost like years of stored trauma just exited my body. Drugs are not my preferred excuse for relaxation, though I’ve identified that they were helpful in my journey to ~feel my feelings~. I don’t need them to manage my feelings, but in the short 8 week stint where I took drugs to feel things, they allowed me the ability to learn how to self soothe. Feeling my feelings allowed me to sit deeper into my own meditation practice. I can fully sit in Ten Percent Happier meditation sessions and shut down just enough. I can enjoy a yoga class without looking at my phone. I find I am less anxious when engaging in things that shouldn’t make someone anxious. I’m not perfect, but in my journey to finding a way to relax easier and identifying what it means to me, understanding my feelings and allowing myself entitlement to all of my emotions seems to be the key to unlock whatever the fuck “relaxation” means to me.
Relaxation to me can be any of the following: calling my mom to catch up when I have the energy, rock climbing, leaving my watercolors out on my coffee table to come back to whenever I want. Adult coloring books from Target (the mandala mindful meditations book with Crayola markers, it’s easier to stay in the lines), framing my art, thrift shopping, taking a book to a coffee shop and people watching. Taking baths or walks on the beach, TV shows or movies where I don’t pick up my phone to Wikipedia the ending. Collages and vision boards, window shopping online for things I don’t need and won’t buy because window shopping! Live music, comedy shows and standup on Netflix or HBO, taking myself out to dinner, booking myself a massage or a facial. Taking trips to see friends and doing the same things we would do at home, beach vacations, bookstores and discovering new places. Sitting and feeling my feelings, whenever they come up. Learning new things, making playlists on Spotify. I write letters to my friends and family every morning after I journal and on my way into work I drop them off at the mailbox. This list will either evolve or become old news as time progresses, I’m at peace with either.
The last three weeks have been a hurricane of emotions on relaxation. I started out some days ready to read books and relax and ending them anxious and upset, thinking of moments from my childhood or recent past and cringing. Some days were easier to get through than others, but I shouldn’t need to look at a vacation as “getting through something.” What am I going back to? A routine I know doesn’t enable me to rest and feel? I am internalizing all of the emotions, situations and rituals I have engaged in over the last 27 years and just reflecting. In this season of life, I feel I need to reflect in order to relax. It’s almost like telling a toddler they can have dessert after they finish their dinner. “Sara, you can relax just RIGHT after you feel that horrible breakup from 2019, the guilt you feel for not calling your parents every week and your fathers incarceration!” I’m thankful I have the ability to feel but I’m bitter I didn’t do it earlier in life. It’s almost as if the pursuit of productivity and getting to where I want to be has robbed me of the ability to rest, relax and feel along the way.
It’s sunset on Saint George Island, Florida and my family and I just came back from a walk on the beach. We played pickle ball and laughed so hard we cried. I’m trying to cherish this gift of time spent with my loved ones. We are healthy and able. I feel both proud and upset with myself that I was able to shift into this new state of “relaxed.” I am proud of myself for getting here but upset with myself for recognizing there is a pattern and feeling there is little I can do to create new routines. I’m happy to be in the same place as them, even if it means settling into relaxation will always come with needing to feel my feelings, concurrently.