chill the fuck out

Chair day

If I have to start somewhere, and I do, it’s going to be the chair.

I’m starting with the chair because before the chair, there wasn’t nothing, but there was nothing great. There were places to sit, and they worked in the way that a handful of nuts works in the midafternoon, just to keep dinner at bay. There were places that held up my bones and muscles and ligaments, this structure that supports me, but they didn’t give much in return.

I sat because sitting was necessary and I wrote and edited because that was necessary too, with deadlines and publication schedules and everything that just has to get done. Now the time to be bound by time is gone, but something needs to take its place. I turn back to the words because I know them and I want them to be home.

But I’m not just mind and words spewing out through fingers, I’m this bag of bones and ligaments that need to assume a posture, they need to settle – I need to settle – and focus, dig into the visceral feeling, burp it out over this keyboard, stretch, and then go back with the technicians edge and polish it up.

Enter the chair.

The chair is a place to sit, but more than that. It’s a throne, a glorious place to be, a solid foundation that yields just a touch with the gentle kindness of a minor lean. The chair is a commitment to diligence and discipline. It has to be, because I’ve never spent this much on a goddamn piece of furniture in my life, and if it isn’t a commitment then it’s a warning sign of reckless behaviour.

Or is it symbolic, a gesture that I’m taking the work that I do while I’m sitting in it, myself included, seriously? Does it really need to be anything more than a chair, why must I justify the writing by a chair, and then justify the chair by writing? Aside from this – this vaguely chair-focused word-vomit – have I even written, or written anything worth reading? Perhaps this was all just a rotten idea.

Pause.

This is the process, it always is, and it always looks the same, or close enough to the last round that I can discern the pattern. Commitment. Optimism. That first creaking lunge, an adrenaline rush. Settling in. An ache, a distraction, heads buried in hands, doubt. Paranoia, questioning, fear, fuck it just run away. Or not.

The trick is to start, and if I have to start somewhere, why not here? So I tell myself, start with where you are. Start with where you will sit. Start with the chair.

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My cuss-loving self-care training wheels

CHILL THE FUCK OUT is a task, an appointment on my calendar from 6-10 pm tonight. It’s a stern warning to myself that I set early in the week, knowing I’d be stretching my physical, mental, and emotional limits for 3 consecutive days, and then expecting to return to a steady, regular pace immediately after. It’s relaxing. It’s self-care. It feels like it should be easy.

This is work though, real work, chilling the fuck out. Trying not to work is work. Taming my mind is work, after it’s been bargaining with me all week, juggling this schedule, trying to sneak a bit more transcribing or interview prep or house cleaning into CHILL THE FUCK OUT time. Convincing myself that I need this, I deserve this, that this is part of a healthy balance – that’s all work too, and working is what I’m trying to NOT do.

So I lay in my hammock in the backyard and read a magazine until the sun set. I wrote a bit, just my own thoughts, with no ambition attached. I packed up the hammock and came inside, unsure of how to chill the fuck out next, with two more hours to fill chilling the fuck out in some way before I could pull my only consistent move in chilling the fuck out and put myself right to sleep.

I don’t feel like chilling the fuck out in the bath. I could chill the fuck out with Netflix but they don’t like the numbers on my corrupted, cancelled credit card, so that option is out. I could chill the fuck out with the dishes or the vacuuming or maybe just pick up some shoes, slowly, in a really relaxed way – in jumps brain NOPE! That is NOT the definition of chilling the fuck out.

There’s an upside to being so hard on myself. If I’m determined to chill the fuck out, my brain will take that as a Direct Order to do nothing but chill the fuck out and anything else will Not Be Allowed. But then there’s the Procrastination Clause, sneaky like a mouse, tripping up every rule every single time. It led me here, and lo and behold, my fingers are skipping over the keyboard and I can’t tell if I’m chilling the fuck out or avoiding chilling the fuck out because I really am not sure that I know how to chill the fuck out anymore.

My brain is a constant stream of what’s next, of impending tasks broken down into steps. I look around and see a list growing in my head, laundry, dishes, catboxes, sweeping, that mail pile NOPE says brain, these thoughts are counter to chilling the fuck out so STOP IT.

Sometimes, my co-worker told me earlier this week, when your stress level is so high, self-care doesn’t look like walking away to chill; It looks like chipping away at that list so you can bring your stress down. In that moment, she was right, and I chipped the fuck out of that list and it helped me stay steady.

But now my inability to chill the fuck out is giving me chill the fuck out anxiety. I know that later, tomorrow even, when I’m back at a steady pace, all I’ll want is that elusive, blocked off CHILL THE FUCK OUT time. I’ll know that I had some and I squandered it, and I won’t know when I’ll get it back again. I will have chill the fuck out regret, chill the fuck out wastage guilt.

I’m already nervous anticipating the future regret I will have for my actions (or lack of non-actions) in this very moment. This is the economics of scarcity, aka how the fear of never being able to chill the fuck out again is keeping me from being able to chill the fuck out. But I NEED to chill the fuck out. It’s self-care.

Let’s be clear: self-care is a skill, and it’s one that I’ve heard a lot of chatter about but have only seen enacted in unobtainable upper-middle-class ways in upper-middle-class lives. I even thought that I was doing it, maybe, sometimes, but outside of so-called self-care time I was still really stubborn and hard on myself. But that was just ME, the way I was.

Me, the way I was, is unsustainable. Even if I keep believing that I can be a work-harder-horse, my body is telling me otherwise. I can keep this pace up in short bursts but I can’t do 12-15 hour days back to back for weeks on end. And it’s not that I didn’t know this before, I simply refused to listen or believe it. How could I be working too hard when the bills still weren’t paid, and the house was still a mess?

I obviously wasn’t working hard enough – that was the real problem. There would be time for self-care when I got that elusive balance, when I got ahead of the question of how to make it all work and still have room to live a little more kindly.

I don’t have the answer yet, and I no longer believe that there is one final way to make it work. Balance isn’t a stagnant point that you hit and then settle into, the magical centre where no winds will ever blow you off course.

It’s more like a bike with training wheels, sometimes leaning to the left a little until you feel that shitty plastic circle touching the earth and realizing you need to shift over a bit. Maybe you adjust your position on the seat, and then you’re leaning on the training wheel on the right. You shift again, maybe ride on two wheels for a block, but even when the training wheels are off, you never stay completely upright. You lean into a curve, you learn how to sway a bit from left to right without falling over and smashing your face on the ground.

I’ve smashed my face on the ground a few times now. It’s time to practice balance, even if it feels artificial, imposed, scheduled, rote, mundane. Even if it comes in all caps. CHILL THE FUCK OUT. 6-10 pm. A direct order from the self-care department of my brain, the one with its cuss-loving training wheels freshly wired back on.

Tonight, those four words feel more terrifying than a blank page waiting to be filled. I know, on an intellectual level, that I need to relax in order to sustain myself. I need it to live, like breathing, which I think my body is pretty good at most of the time. But then when I’m deeply involved in something, I forget to breathe. I realize in a moment that I’m holding my breath. AGAIN.

The computer informs me that it’s running on reserve power. All of this over-thinking has left me drained as well. I think I’ve stumbled on a new chill the fuck out trick – wear myself out until I have no energy for anything else. Maybe a bath would be nice.

Training wheel touch down. Only one hour of this interminable relaxing left; It’s time to get back on schedule.