The Downside of “Doing”: Why I can’t relax, and why that needs to change

Of my many, many weaknesses, this has been the worst lately: I. Can’t. Relax.

I don’t know when it started, or if it has always been this way.  Deep breaths and a clear mind sound like something I could’ve pulled off as a kid.  But it’s hard now. Relaxation hasn’t been available to me for a long, long time.

To be fair, I haven’t exactly been trying.  My priority, contrary to relaxation, has been getting things DONE–and in that, I have succeeded. Yes, I know there’s more to “figuring shit out” than just doing stuff or finding distractions.  But keeping busy seems to work for me.

Sort of.

It has become habit, at least.  I actively avoid being lonely (being alone is okay, but God forbid I feel lonely).  I avoid silence.  Work.  Live.  Work some more.  Do. Do. Do.  But the question is, why live that way?

Because if you stop, you might not like what you see.

Or worse, what you feel.

That’s my best guess, anyways.  I don’t really know what I’m so afraid of.  What I do know is that haven’t learned how to relax or even stop moving because I’m terrified of what that entails.  This isn’t something that I particularly want to admit.  But I really want to level with you, because I know know know I can’t be alone in the self-inflicted chaos.

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Being too busy isn’t all bad.  The to do list, the full plate, the sense of duty  to everyone and everything around me–it was my saving grace for a long time. Not just in a “Wellllll, shit went down, and I starting doing things to get my mind off it.” It’s more complicated than that.  Yes, shit has gone down. And, yes, I have gotten super-busy with stuff  in order to take my mind off of it.  I don’t suppose there’s anything too unhealthy about emerging from a challenge with a sense of purpose. The problem is now, I’m worried I won’t  find that sense of purpose at all because it is buried under stuff.

It’s so easy in this world to make your own superficial stress to distract you from real, harsh, felt stresses. For some reason, that is seen as “moving on.”  Isn’t that ridiculous?  I’ve had some of the best bounce-backs of anyone, on the surface.  Internally, I’ve had some of the worst.  Shit goes down (loss, sickness, the usual growing pains), and I greet it by getting a new job, upping my grades, making more friends, and obtaining WAY more obscure pop culture knowledge.  Awesome. That looks pretty badass when I write my CV, when I call mom and dad, when I run into an ex, when I talk to a gravestone.  But when I really think about it (if I give myself a moment to think about it) staying busy has done little to change the fact that I still can’t face rejection, broken-heartedness, or guilt. I still don’t know how to deal with a sick family. I know even less how to deal with a healthy one (weird, right?).  I am happy, I do believe that, but I don’t think I’m happy because I’m busy. And I KNOW I’m not busy because I’m happy.  The things that keep me busy may contribute to my happiness, but I could learn how to better spend my spare time–how to properly be alone, how to unwind, how to zone out, how to be with myself, by myself.

I would love to be able to relax.

I don’t relax because the go-go-go-go is a socially acceptable way to stay in control.  Because I live in a world where we value shutting up and moving on.  We value restlessness. We value people who make the most of their lives–and that means activity, even in the face of of adversity.  We value people who get things done.

Yes, that’s admirable. And I will never not be an active person.  But my self-worth, my sense of purpose, and my dreams for the future have all become way too tied to my accomplishments. I have become my inability to relax.  And I need, need, need to learn how to turn it off.  I need to give myself the time and space to be lonely, be silent, be empty…and to be okay with that.  I need to learn what really matters.

When was the last time you looked someone in the eye and said “Hey, what was the last record you listened to all the way through?” or “What was the last long walk you took?” or “Do you take the time to ride the bus to nowhere?” or “Who can you share comfortable silence with?”.  Better yet, when was the last time you looked yourself in the eye and asked those things?

(Bat Out of Hell.  I can’t remember. Sometimes. I don’t know.)

We don’t seem to value who or how someone is when they’re doing “nothing,” and I’m worried that I’ve turned that onto myself.  I seem to be actively avoiding the person I am right before I fall asleep, or when I first wake up…when I’m waiting in line, when I’m praying, when I’m staring out the window, when I’m relaxing (which I never do).

It’s easy to avoid her when she never stops moving.

I have worried more about my CV in the last two years than I have worried about my soul–and, either way, I have spent more time worrying than I have relaxing. Relaxation, as I mentioned, is not in my vocabulary.  Yes, there have been times where I have needed that defense mechanism of being busy or distracted all the time. But now?

Now, I just need me. I just need to relax. And I know that will not come easily.

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Resolution 2013? I think so.

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Dear “Away in a Manger”: You’re wrong. That baby totally cries.

I believe in crying.

I have lived through months where I needed to cry almost every day and night, and I have lived through months of only really needing to cry at movies (or songs…or commercials…). I cry when I’m overwhelmed, when I don’t understand, when things are just too much. My tears wash things away. I have been blessed with the ability make it rain a little bit every time I need it. And sometimes, I really need it.

I cry. And the things that make me cry, so often, are the things that make me pray.

I’m not trying to isolate all my readers who don’t pray. I know a lot of you don’t. But to me, prayer and tears go hand in hand. The things that make my eyes leak are usually the same things that bring me to my knees.

Jesus wept, too. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, it makes perfect situational sense, and it’s super powerful. Of course Jesus wept.

The Jesus I met at Christmas when I was a kid, however, apparently did not weep. You know, Baby Jesus. The one who had just been born. He didn’t cry. He was a special baby. He was a perfect baby. God’s son can’t cry.

I’m calling bullshit. Right now.

(…sorry, that scene still makes me giggle like a middle schooler. I digress.)

We try to paint Jesus’ birth as divine, thus peaceful, thus quiet. By that logic, He didn’t cry. But why? Birth is messy and loud and painful. Babies cry. Ironically, that crying baby is how we know that all is well. That is how we know that they’re alive.

Crying is a part of the gift of life–and it stays that way. Every now and then, I cry out to the world, to my mother, to God. I cry because I’m scared, happy, empathetic, in pain. I cry because I’m feeling so much I’m leaking. Through crying my feelings are legitimized, communicated, and dealt with. Through crying, I know that I’m alive.

So, why not let baby Jesus cry? Would that make his birth TOO real, TOO human, TOO chaotic? Calling bullshit once again. Come on. First of all, when have blessings or plans or love ever been anything less than chaotic? Love is chaotic. Life is chaotic. Jesus definitely shook things up. And birth?

God doesn’t make things easy. He makes them profound. And, as far as I can tell, nothing embodies that combination of chaos and love we call Life quite like the messy, painful, beautiful process of childbirth. That cry from the baby means he or she is alive. It means he or she is feeling. Why would we want to take that away from Jesus, of all people?

Maybe it’s because, for some reason, we have categorized crying as a weakness instead of a gift; Something we do because we just can’t handle life, rather than something we do to HELP us handle it. Tears equal temper tantrums. This is sometimes true (see also: my reaction to yet another computer glitch last week. erlack.), but not always. Sometimes, we genuinely need to react. We need to turn to faith, friends, family, ourselves–and sometimes, we need to cry. Certainly, we need to cry when our lungs capture that painful first gasp of air.

Isn’t that amazing? From our first breath, we can communicate through our cries. Tears are part of a complex universal language. It’s what we use to greet the world. It’s what many of us use to feel and to question it. And it is a huge part of the messy, messy reality of childbirth.

So, no, I don’t understand why we try to paint Jesus’ birth as less profound than a regular birth. I say “less than” because I think that to remove any element from the true birth process would just take away from it. It’s pretty friggin’ amazing the way it is. It really makes no sense to remove the noise and the tears, to remove that first moment that the baby cries out “I’M HERE. I FEEL THIS. I’M ALIVE.”

What Would Baby Jesus do bracelets from Community. Anyone? Anyone?
WWBJD bracelets from Community. Anyone? Anyone?

What would Baby Jesus do? He would cry. Just like adult Jesus cried. And don’t for a minute tell me that would make His birth any less divine–after all, what could be more divine than the first sound of a new life?