TW: Talk of mental illness.
I have anxiety and depression.
That’s me, folks. Those are the big things. Those are the things that hang over me on the daily, keeping me alert and startling me into action the second that I feel some semblance of happiness or relaxedness.
I have a lot of privilege in my life, I do. And I constantly try to be aware of that and how I can use my privilege to speak up beside those who may not have such. Sometimes these are on issues which do not personally relate to me, and sometimes they are. Mental illness is one of the latter.
This isn’t going to be a post about my mental illness[es], however it is directly related.
My anxiety, in particular, is something that has been swallowing me recently. I might talk another time specifically about living with mental illness, but now is not that time. One thing I will tell you about my anxiety however, is that it never lets me rest, mentally.
Some days I spend hours on my sofa, but I never feel relaxed because I can’t get my brain to shut. down.
But I know that I am not alone in this.
Whether or not you have GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder), I am very aware of the fact that we all now live in a world of pressure. Pressure to work, pressure to conform, pressure to excel. Some people can come in from work, have their dinner, sit in front of the telly and shut off. I can’t do this.
I work very hard on chilling out.
That may be a foreign concept to so many people, but it’s true. If you are a parent or work a lot you may know that feeling physically, of not being able to have time to do it. This isn’t the same. This is having the time, but not being able to clear your brain. This is the pursuit of white noise, static, thoughts that take you away from the million other things you think about during the day. If you have mental illness, it’s chasing away the demons. Clearing your cache, if you will, of all the negativity that floats over you constantly.
Recently I have been chasing this.
I want to be able to just relax, even for a brief moment during the day, and either not think at all, or only think about the one specific thing I’m focusing on in that moment. And what I do not want is to read another article on “How To Relax” with bullshit cliché suggestions such as “read a book”, “listen to some music”, “have a bath”. Look, I’m not hating if those things work for you – I love all of those activities, but they don’t take me out of my head, and I’m just bored of those being the same suggestions over and over. The things I’m about to suggest may sound bullshit to you, too. But if you’re like me and just looking for a release, just for a little bit, then I’m just sharing with you some of the things that are helping me.
Hold up, hold up, hold up. I know that this is stereotypical, but I’m really trying not to be.
I just discussed how articles about relaxing often talk about the same things over and over, and yes one of those things is “get out for a walk and enjoy nature!” but I’m not necessarily advocating that. For 1] I fucking hate walking unless I’ve got somewhere to be, and 2] it’s pretty ableist to suggest that someone has to “go for a walk” to be happy. That’s definitely not what I’m trying to say.
What I am trying to say is that nature is beautiful. Cliché, I know, but it is. And you don’t have to be out and about to experience it.
When you’re in your house, as I am almost constantly, you get into your funk of being indoors. Of doing whatever tasks you’ve got to do, of watching tv, of sitting on your phone, your computer, working, or whatever it may me. Just continuing on with your indoor life doing your indoor things. This is fine for me, usually. But it’s not relaxing.
Something I do do, which usually warrants my husband taking the piss out of me for, is staring out the window into our garden a lot. And I’m usually looking at birds. I have a bird feeder and put bird seed out everyday, and just sitting watching them peck away at the seeds, or even pulling worms up [usually the Starlings] is just really chill to me.
I don’t do it for hours on end, but even just taking the time to focus on that one thing for a couple of minutes, clears my mind, even a little bit, and then I continue with my day.
Doesn’t have to be birds, though. You could just sit with a cuppa and watch the rain for a bit. Or you could just spend a few minutes marvelling at how beautiful the sky is during a sunset [even if you’re spending that time tryna get the perfect photo on your phone].
If you’re fascinated by astronomy and are lucky enough to live somewhere you can see stars, then you could download the Night Sky app & learn what you’re actually looking at up there, when certain planets are visible, and track the ISS.
Just take a minute to look out your window, look up, look around. Or just buy/plant some windowsill plants and watch them grow.
Like I said above, I never usually walk for pleasure. Walking to me is stressful. I’m almost always with my daughter, we’re almost always trying to get somewhere quickly, and I almost always wish I was at home. Even when we’re on our way home I’m thinking about what needs to be done when I get there, and that’s why just looking around is important to me.
That may seem silly. I’m sure it is. But when your brain runs at 100mph most always, sometimes just turning your head and going “wow that flower is beautiful”, or looking at the sky and seeing a cool flight pattern can be relaxing.
It doesn’t have to be rural, either. If you live in a City, you can often find cool artwork on walls and stuff, and some really unusual quirky architecture dotted about.
[props to anyone who can guess this location]
Look, I’m not being one of those people who’s all “get your head out your phone and look at the world”. I just mean, if you see something cool and you have a sec, just stop and take a wee look. It’s pretty cool how relaxing it can be just to stop and smell the flowers – GEEEEEEEZ, okay I’ll stop with the clichés now.
This will probably be a weird, divisive one, but one of the things I really find relaxing is to have a task in front of me, with something or someone laying out what needs to be done, and doing it to completion. I’m intentionally being vague because this comes in many, many forms: my favourite of which is baking.
Baking used to be something I did every few days, but these days it has lessened. This is for a variety of reasons: more time spent chasing my child around, more time spent on housework now we live in a house instead of a flat, more time spent on things like blogging. BUT it is still something I enjoy doing, and will do when I have the opportunity to, funds to, and more likely, reason to.
I’m a pretty good baker, but I started challenging myself last year to start using only vegan recipes, which has been difficult because I have not found any as good as my non-vegan ones. However, what this has given me the opportunity to do is follow instruction again. I will find a recipe that looks good, look through it and make any adaptations I think would be good as I bake. And I find this really relaxing. It means that my focus is only on doing that particular task [“okay what do I do next? Where did I put the vanilla essence? Can I substitute this?] as opposed to doing something mindless where everything else still has the chance to make itself ever-present in my brain.
In a similar vain, I also enjoy cooking. Cooking isn’t something I’m great at, hence I have to follow recipes pretty meticulously for that. In a similar way this allows me to focus only on that and what’s happening in the pan or pot in front of me.
[and yes, I photograph my cooking and baking a lot. For more food snaps check my insta]
Maybe the weirdest tasks I like doing to relax are construction based ones, but of different scales: I love building Lego sets and also building flat pack furniture.
In a way, these tasks are similar to cooking and baking in that you follow instruction and complete a task. That’s pretty much it. I like focusing energy onto things like that, and obviously it’s pretty nice to see the end result of completing tasks in that way.
I don’t do the things in this section on a daily basis and that’s for two reasons, specifically: energy and money. I don’t always have the energy to stand over a cooker for ages, or to build something, and I certainly don’t have the money. But when I can do these things, I like to.
If you don’t have an interest in these tasks, or aren’t physically able, then the next may be a bit more appropriate.
In the past I probably would have said this would be a divisive subject, but nowadays I really don’t think it is. Like it or not, gaming is now so pervasive in society that we are all gamers to some extent. Sometimes this is pretty “passive”, like doing a puzzle game on the tube to work, or playing Candy Crush when you’re bored. Sometimes it’s a bit more intensive, like MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. Either way, it can be relaxing as fuck.
Gaming is something that actually changed my life. Don’t judge me.
I was pretty into gaming when I was younger. My first forays were floppy discs on my Dad’s computer of Tomb Raider demos and the original Grand Theft Auto.
[oh, how things change]
I also had a Sega Megadrive, which I loved playing Alex Kidd and Sonic on, and then got a Playstation which saw a lot of Spyro and Crash Bandicoot action. In terms of handheld systems I had an original grey Gameboy, on which I only had Tetris, and then a Pokémon Yellow edition, which I –obviously- played Pokémon, on.
As I got older I didn’t pay much attention to gaming anymore, except for the Sims, and occasional small RPGs, usually via Facebook. But that changed when I met my husband. He was, is, and always has been a big gamer. He didn’t try to make me play [which I know so many people do to their partners], but rather I watched him playing and tried them out for myself. Soon I was experimenting in finding games that I liked, and discovered that my tastes were the opposite of what I would have expected. I learned that I hated non-threatening, non-intensive story games such as Kingdom Hearts, but actually loved intensive, immersive RPGs such as Skyrim. I came to love RPGs with puzzle-like elements, and do to this day.
These days I have learned I enjoy certain games: Assassin’s Creed, Fallout, Skyrim, LA Noire, but really my biggest vice is Final Fantasy XIV. As many people state with these typed of games, it transports me to another world where I get to be another version of myself [her name is Luna]. But it’s not all fighting. There are also lots of other elements to the game which are based on gathering and making things, and I like to do these to relax. You can even fish in the game, and the scenery is stunning, so you really feel in that moment like you’re in another place.
[actual gameplay screenshots captured by myself. If you, by any slim chance, are interested in more you can check out my husband’s FF twitter here]
Obviously I’m not suggesting that everyone go out and start gaming more. Some people just don’t have time for it in their lives. Some people just aren’t interested. But let us take, for example, a recent gaming phenomenon:
Pokémon Go is something that everyone and their mothers are getting in to, and for good reason. Whether or not you have played Pokémon in the past, it’s an immersive gaming experience which suits both the casual and intensive gamer. You might just happen to pass a Grimer on your way to work, or you might go out looking for an elusive Pikachu. Either way, it seems to be benefitting people.
If you’re not into all that, or just want to switch off and not think about a plot-riddled lore-type game, then you could download Two Dots, or 1010 [my personal mobile faves for just taking some time out].
Something has come to my attention recently that I didn’t think was all that important: I feel infinitely more relaxed when I am in clutter-free, relaxing spaces.
Well, I knew that obviously it feels nice to be in a clear space. It always feels nice to be in spaces where everything’s clean and in its place and clutter free. But what I didn’t realise is how visual I am as a person, and how even the places where things are supposed to be will affect me if they are very visually “busy”.
I feel like I am not expressing myself very well. I’ll use some photographic examples to help.
We live in a small house with very little storage space. This is our living room, clean and tidy, as it looked last week. It’s where Emmie and I spend the majority of our time, and where my husband spends the majority of his time when not at work.
And this is our living room as it looks today [complete with snoozing dog]. I decided on a whim the other day to move several pieces of furniture about in our house, moving two bookshelves upstairs, a chest of drawers for one room to another, and a Kallax unit and a desk downstairs. What I did not anticipate was how much more relaxed I would feel in my living room once all this was done.
I didn’t quite realise how “visually noisy” our living space was before, and how all it would take was to move a few key pieces around to make the space feel bigger and so much lighter. Now, instead of looking at hundreds of books when I watch TV or game, I’m looking at a pretty picture, an aloe plant, and some mood lighting :]
It took a little bit of time and effort, but it is so much worth it. The visual space and the lighting makes me feel relaxed, so I am.
The same goes with out bedroom. The one thing we try to do every single day is make the bed and remove clutter. Now, clutter is unavoidable in our house. I have a three year old daughter who causes mayhem, and I almost always have washing piled up or hanging in a corner. That I can deal with. But your bedroom, like your sitting area, is a place to relax, to crawl into bed and settle down. And that’s why we try to keep it as clutter free as we can.
If you live somewhere where you don’t get much autonomy over decorative choices, for example if you live with your parents, or with a roommate, or if you’re renting somewhere fully furnished with questionable decor, there are still things you can do to give yourself a bit of chill. Just make sure you have an area that you look at frequently that you can make clear and pretty. Maybe just clear a windowsill. Buy yourself some flowers. An indoor plant. Some candles. There are little things that can make an area soothing.
I’m not an interior decorator. My home isn’t perfect because I don’t have the money to invest into making it how I want it to. However, my point is that you can make it feel a bit more relaxing using things you already have, or just moving things around or having a clear out.
It’s all about you.
No, really. It really is.
You’re important. You deserve to relax.
The things I’ve spoken about here are things that help me clear my head a bit, but obviously the choices out there are infinite and will be completely dependent on what you like. Maybe gaming doesn’t take you out of your head at all. Maybe you like being surrounded by clutter. Maybe you hate cooking. If you find something that helps you relax, make time for it.
Please don’t scream at me that you don’t have time for things you like. Try and make time. Because I’m gonna reiterate this:
You are important. Your needs are important. Your mental health is important.
Go read a book. Go take a bath. Go do some crossfit. Go do some Yoga. Go eat a ginormous cheeseburger. Go eat at a fancy restaurant. Go for a picnic. Go to a nature park. Go swimming. Go to a concert. Go make your face as beat as it can be.
Whatever your thing is, make time for it.
I have a lot of thoughts, but I don’t keep a diary. I have issues there.
But I do keep this little thing going. It helps me get out some of the stuff in my head. It gives me the opportunity to explore makeup and clothes and put some time into me, which can be quite hard to do for a SAHM.
And if you’re reading this, thank you for sharing in this little time I help to relax and focus on me.
I hope some of this will help you. Maybe it won’t at all. I’m still trying to work on finding things that help me chill. I’m thinking of starting yoga. But I hope that all of you can go forth and find your chill.