I learned a valuable lesson today: merely sitting down for a while or physically stopping what you are currently doing, is not relaxation.
True relaxation is restorative.
I think I finally realize what I have been missing all these years. My husband and I have always planned summer vacations with a 10-day rule. Any holiday worth having needed to be at least ten days to be able to reap the benefits of the escape. They have never been more than 12 with travel, but it would take us a full seven days to finally unwind enough to fully relax. The remaining three days were for soaking up the peace. A teacher I taught with said her vacations were always three to four days max and I wondered at the point…until today.
Struggling with an unknown setback for the past few weeks, I’ve been frustrated to find that I am waking up dizzy, utterly exhausted, and foggy brained again. I had been progressing and then all of a sudden I started to reverse course. I wracked my brain trying to discover the cause but to no avail. That is until I realized that while I could now do more, that didn’t mean I needed to do more all the time. In fact, I had started to do more without realizing it and wasn’t taking the necessary time to rest. I had gotten to the point where I could take 15-minute drives to and from therapy a few days a week without a problem. Suddenly it was summertime, and I began taking longer trips and more frequent to ride with my husband as he took my daughter to and from camp each day. That was too much. It might not have been had I tagged along once each day – but often I went with them twice. That was enough to put me over the edge.
So, now I’m back to therapy trips alone for a while, AND a new found relaxation technique. While my therapists and I tried to figure out the cause of the setback, my OT realized that my idea of relaxation and hers were quite different. Mine was sitting down for a while when I got tired and checking out news on my phone or email, perhaps writing a “To Do” or shopping list, perhaps pay a few bills while seated. That was not resting. So she had a different therapist walk me through some guided meditation and relaxation techniques. I felt relaxed after 7 minutes similar to how I feel after I’ve just had had a massage despite not having been touched at all.
Lying in a darkened room, eyes closed, breathing deeply – in one – out two, forehead relaxing, then jaw, then shoulders, arms, fingers, back hips, legs, feet, imagining traveling out of the room, the hospital, the grounds, the town, rising up higher and higher, hearing the birds, feeling the warm sun on my face, then slowly coming back down – place by place – to the bed on which I lay, I realized I had been doing this relaxation thing all wrong.
“You mustn’t think of relaxing as self-indulgent,” she said, “it’s necessary. You won’t be able to do the things to want if you don’t take the rests in between to recharge your batteries. Remember the three batteries? ” Chuckling, I admitted that I had given my family the “Three battery” talk the night before. She had told me early on that you run on three batteries, A, B, and C. The A battery is what you use up in a regular day and can be recharged with a good night’s rest. The B battery was your first backup, and if you dipped into it, it might take a full day or two to recharge it. The C battery was the backup for the backup. If you dipped into your C battery reserves, it could take three days, a week, or more to recharge that one. I was running on C despite trying to rest.
It got me thinking about our fast-paced world. “Maybe multi-tasking isn’t such a good thing” one therapist had told me. I took her to mean that since I needed to focus only on the thing, I was doing to find the correct words or complete the task that I might be more present at the moment. The “new normal” she spoke about was me adjusting to my life is forever changed. Perhaps I might get back to being able to do most of the things I could do before my brain injury, they would just take a bit longer, perhaps only one at a time. At first, I was horrified, I felt like a failure, an idiot, a sloth. Then, like a ton of bricks crumbling around me to reveal a beautiful green and gold vista in the distance, it occurred to me that my habit of doing three or four things while interacting with my children and family prevented me from really enjoying every moment. Being able to do everything and get things done wasn’t going to make them happy, well adjusted human beings. Spending focused time with them was.
So maybe my new normal isn’t so terrible, maybe finding the time to relax will allow me to be in the moment with them for the time I still have with them. Perhaps sharing the load is just as my mother said, “A burden shared, is a burden halved.”
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”