Sometimes you just need to get away. I am currently observing the gray and cold Duck Lake roll onto the shore while I chew on my mistakenly thick cup of coffee. I have retreated to my parents’ cottage to read, write, and reset. A year ago my brutal mind would not have let me come here; I would have been overwhelmed in the quiet, threatened by its vacancy for thoughts. But today, I am grateful for this opportunity to get away. I needed it.
My wife and I both manage working from home even though we have a baby and a dog as roommates to keep things exciting. We try to get our work done while keeping the dog from licking the baby’s face, and the baby from getting electrocuted by a curiosity of power cords. It’s a juggling act that keeps us ever vigilant, and anchored in the realities of parenthood. It feels impossible to be productive when we can only work during nap times, and by the time the kid knocks out with milk-mouth, and we army crawl to the exit, all we can do is stare in silence making occasional wide-eyed gestures to any sound threatening to break our fragile peace.
For those with mental illness, feeling overwhelmed is extremely common. Similarly, for those with a child and a dog (or any combination of household parasites), feeling overwhelmed is also extremely common. So how do we wade in the swelling waters of life without drowning? How do we survive emotionally and physically?
TAKING A TIME OUT
Take a time out.
I understand that the practicalities of life might prohibit many parents from retreating the way that I am now. Even for me, these few days on Duck Lake are truly a rare gift. Your kids will be fine if a haloed babysitter descends offering to help. But if you don’t have the option of taking a vacation, you can reset on a smaller scale by simply giving yourself a time out. Ensure the kids are in a safe spot, set a timer for ten minutes, and just sit. Get away. Rest.
This is not groundbreaking to parents who instinctively do this out of pure desperation. But this is something I needed to learn to do, not just as a parent but as one who is incredibly anxious. The thing with anxiety is that it immobilizes a person. When told to take a time out, I think, “I can’t get away…but I can’t not get away.” It’s like being invited to a party and saying, “No, I can’t go…but I can’t not go. If I go, I’ll be an anxious mess and if I stay, I’ll be an anxious mess.” It’s a lose-lose. When we are trapped in this mindset, we end up not being fully engaged in either camp like we are in an anxious purgatory. If we stay, we are dreaming of leaving; if we leave, we are clawing to stay. We end up spinning and spinning in circles. One of the most helpful approaches to take in this situation is to get away, even if only for ten minutes.
AN EXAMPLE FROM MY ANXIOUS LIFE
In the thick of my anxiety, I had a difficult time interacting with people or even going many places. At one point, I was driving with two friends to an event about an hour away. We were extremely late. My anxiety took form in an iron foot on the gas pedal, but even speeding could not have made us more timely. I was internal, disengaged, and irritable in the company of my friends, frantic to somehow transport the car to our destination like it’s an episode of Star Trek. Before completely imploding, out of sheer desperation, I gave up. I pulled over into a gas station claiming I had to go to the bathroom. I went inside and simply sat for ten minutes, practicing breathing exercises and calming down. I returned to the car with such an apparent weight lifted my buddies must have thought it was the dump of my life. Though I didn’t actually go to the bathroom, taking that short time away helped me to reset my mind and to regain control of my situation. Though we were even later, if I had buried my stress and kept driving, I wouldn’t have embraced the opportunity to actually enjoy the rest of the trip with my friends. I would have been with them but not actually with them.
Anxiety is a merry-go-round in the mind without the merry. As we get overwhelmed, the ride starts to spin faster and faster until the prospect of leaping off seems so frightening, and so impossible that we fool ourselves into believing we are comfortable in the chaos. But it’s not comfortable; it’s out of control. It is essential to find a way to jump off momentarily so that our minds can have the time to slow down. And then we can get back on to simply enjoy the ride. Most of the time, things can wait ten minutes, and the price of that time will be well worth it for a healthier you. It’s better to get away and come back fully engaged than to never actually be present. Isn’t that what your kids need? They need you healthy and engaged. Your family and friends need you and sometimes you need to get away to give them your fullest self.
How do you find ways to take time away when life gets overwhelming? Tweet me @DaddingDepressd or comment below!