On De-Stressing, Gradually

I’ve been working on the concept of “me time.”

Since it appears that the 60-hour work weeks aren’t going anywhere, at least for a while, and the decisions that have yet to be made hang heavy over my head, just out of my reach for now, I have been focusing on making small changes in the hopes that they will have that marvelous ripple effect over all areas of my life. Stress mitigation is difficult, because when you’re this deep, it’s often hard to identify which stressors are the root cause of ever-expanding panic.

Last weekend, I was wound tightly, anxious and tense. I thought about my schedule for the coming days and realized that I would have no time — literally no free time during my waking hours that wasn’t allocated for work — for the next three days. That’s the kind of realization that settles heavily over your heart, because there is no choice but to keep going, to keep moving forward, to hope that nothing goes wrong to derail the carefully laid plans or you’ll throw everything off-balance.

Then it hit me. The thing I was most nervous about wasn’t the work, but the fact that instead of cleaning my house from top to bottom during my one free night last week, I’d read. I’d curled up on my front porch with a glass of wine and tucked my bare feet under me and I’d read. It had been worth it, when I thought I’d have Friday night free to clean. But then a co-worker burned herself at her other job, and I had to cover her Friday night shift, effectively removing my cleaning plan from my schedule.

Inconvenient? Yes. Necessary? Of course. When someone needs help, you help them. I had to work at Dairy Queen on Saturday and then go babysit after that, and immediately after that, we were scheduled to host a party at my house (thus necessitating at least a cleaning once-over).

Identifying that the most stressful thing for me was the fact that I’d have no time to prep for the party was key. I thought about how to handle it and cancelled babysitting. I had worked three 14-hour workdays in four days, plus the Saturday shift, and I was exhausted. I told the family I babysit for as much, and they were understanding. As soon as I did that, I felt as though a great weight had been lifted. I even took a nap on Saturday, pausing to rest while the world went on around me.

I didn’t clean heavily. I didn’t stress. The handle of our toilet broke and instead of panicking, we pulled out the duct tape and made it work. It ended up being a lovely evening. (The duct tape solution is still in play, and it’s rather charming in a rustic, we-DIY-ed-this-all-by-ourselves sort of way. I’m rather enchanted by the novelty of it, although it must soon be fixed – it’s not the classiest of stopgap measures.)

These are lovely people – as the party began to die down, we took a Friends-esque photo on the couch outside.

I can’t tell you how excited I was when Evan walked in, carrying a six-pack of my favorite beer. It was funny, because I’d bought him a six-pack of the hard cider he likes, so we had a trade. We snuck off at one point, holding hands, and spent the better part of an hour talking and laughing, and I felt so overwhelmingly content. I am beyond thrilled, beyond terrified, and all-over ecstatic.

The next day was a day of no work. I got bagels with a couple of friends and then laid on the giant bean bag in the basement and caught up on Game of Thrones in between brief naps. It was the best burn day ever.

Afternoon arrived, and Gina went to set up in the park for the second leg of our joint birthday party. I grumped around, bemoaning my headache and wishing for long stretches of welcome sleep. Eventually though, the guilt got to me and I got up, washed my face, and put on my Lannister dress (I’ll have to post a picture – it’s insanely amazing).

I’m glad I went to the park. We sported quite happily. (“Sport” is our newest verb. At one point, my friend Katie and I were discussing our contributions to relationships and she said, “I don’t sport.” It was so spot-on and sincere, and I’ve adopted it as an excellent verb to describe any sort of physical recreational activity.) We played frisbee, football, and a rather aggressive game of 10,000. At one point, we were tossing two frisbees, a football, and a bubble stick between the ten or so people in the park. It was wonderful to stretch and move and be.

I laid on the blanket I’d brought with me and stared up at the tree I was under. In that moment, I was calm and content. I had left all of my stress behind. There was no looming Monday, nor were there any obligations left unfulfilled. I was, for that brief period, free.

The sun set and a new week began.

Last night, after working another 14-hour workday, we played night frisbee in the parking lot. (Working with the people you love is also helpful – we work together nearly seamlessly, and the night passes quickly and productively. At one point, I commented to Evan that I adore getting paid to hang out. He agreed.) The light-up frisbee (you must purchase one, they’re the best thing) flew through the air and I was filled with the heady rush of happiness, of appreciation for the current moment and the lack of worry for the past and future.

They had established a plan for the night before I arrived – food and then Game of Thrones. Mike (Evan’s friend) and I had watched one more episode than Evan had seen and we’d agree to lie about it to Evan and pretend we’d waited for him. I failed miserably at keeping up the ruse, and so we re-watched that episode before watching the newest one (70% of which, I slept through, of course). I woke up just in time for the action – and then cried, of course.

I love where I am right now. I love the people I’m surrounded by. I’m so grateful for each and every one of them.

“Me time” may not be long bubble baths and hours spent lounging and reading, but it can be found in the places where I least expect it. Finding the calm I’m sure exists somewhere inside of me may be the biggest challenge, but it’s one I’m finally really ready to take on, even if it means tackling it in small pieces or finding joy in strange places.

Baby steps forward.

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