Recovery

Since Thursday I’ve been slowly making my way back up from the bottom.  It started when I finally realized that sometimes it’s okay to leave your guilt behind and just take care of yourself.  In the same way that your cold won’t go away if you keep going in to work and don’t get the rest you need, you can’t come up out of an emotional funk by continuing to hammer away at the issues that caused it in the first place.  So I got up, grabbed my camera, and left the house.

First stop, comfort food.  I picked up some mozzarella sticks and a passion fruit bubble tea and ate them in my car.  I rolled the windows down for some fresh air and listened to the radio.  It wasn’t solving anything but it felt good.

Next stop, Safeway.  For months I’ve wanted to make a series of tiny Color-Aid collages depicting packed supermarket shelves, and I thought taking some photos would be a good first step.  Low stakes, and no possibility for failure.  The photos themselves weren’t meant for display, just as studies for possible subjects.  I managed to take about 120 pictures before a manager finally kicked me out.  Without having even looked at the photos, I felt like I’d accomplished something.

When I got home and downloaded my pictures, I found two or three that I really loved.  Then I felt even better.  Good enough to write some thank you cards to relatives — a high priority task I didn’t think I’d be able to tackle.

I had started my day trying to write down what I ultimately wanted out of life.  Then I figured I’d brainstorm a plan from there.  It was a total and immediate failure.  In hindsight it was a terrible idea to start with something so huge and existential when I’d just had a nervous breakdown, but it seemed at the time like the only way to “redeem” myself.  In the end, I learned yet another valuable lesson.  When something becomes so stressful that it makes you sick in the head (or in the body), you need to remove yourself from it completely in order to recover.  Only then can you regain the strength you need to actually deal with the situation.

Keeping Stress out of the Bedroom

I realize it’s been an inexcusably long time since I last posted anything. I have probably lost all of you to disappointment and summer, but as busy as I am lately, I will try my best to keep this resource growing, albeit slower than I would like.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m getting married (in exactly six weeks). When my fiancé and I first got engaged a year ago, he swore he wanted to handle half of the planning. He said it was because we should have equal ownership in our wedding, the way we will have equal ownership in our marriage. I thought that made sense and was happy he felt that way. But, as a freelancer, my husb-what can’t predict when his heavier workloads will hit. The latest one hit about six weeks ago and I’ve been on my own in wedding planning ever since.

I had no idea how much work it takes to plan a one-evening event. It takes up all of my time each and every day. I haven’t spent more than an hour or two a WEEK on my business and I’m starting to feel trapped inside post-war gender roles.

Two nights ago I had a nervous breakdown in bed. I suddenly realized that I had wasted over a full month of my life on a wedding that is turning out nothing like the casual family barbecue/picnic we had originally envisioned. In fact, it is looking suspiciously like my mother’s dream wedding — the one she never got to have, and which, I am convinced, she is subtly forcing me to plan via ESP and Jewish guilt. I freaked out so badly I couldn’t sleep until dawn, at which point I dreamed we missed our flight and couldn’t go on our honeymoon.

That night spent hyperventilating in the dark was the third night in a row I didn’t sleep because I was stressed out over the wedding. So I began to try some strategies to help me calm down:

  1. Talking it out: this only works if the person you’re talking to understands what you need when you’re stressed out, and is not too stressed out him- or herself to really focus on you. It helped, but it wasn’t a cure.
  2. Decompression: I tried doing no work after 9pm, then no work after 8pm. No dice. The only night I slept peacefully was when I stopped working in the afternoon, then filled the night with “Ocean’s 13” on DVD and a roll in the hay. Lesson? Stop early and occupy both body and mind until bedtime.
  3. Making lists: Part of what I stress out about is inadvertently overlooking something, so I am a compulsive list-maker. Things would probably be worse if I didn’t have my lists, but they don’t relieve enough anxiety to let me sleep.
  4. Crowding out brain space: During an episode of Radio Lab I heard about a study in which subjects were given various tasks before they went to sleep, to see which ones penetrated their dreams most often. The big winners? Tetris and video game skiing. I thought doing a couple of hours of jigsaw puzzles at night would do the trick but it didn’t, so today we bought a Nintendo Wii.
  5. Drinking warm milk: Yup, I tried this one, too. It’s soothing while you drink it, but milk doesn’t stand a chance against full-blown anxiety.

I have not been testing these strategies scientifically. I have also only had one restful night of sleep this week, so I’m still looking for new ones. If you have any suggestions for leaving stress out of your bedroom, please share them in the comments.