Is it Just Me?
Last week I had an “aha moment” that, at first, I felt a bit foolish about. My ‘revelation’ was so obvious that I truly felt like a bit of a dope. What was my realization? If there is something that is the opposite of a drum roll – this is the perfect spot to insert that sound clip:
I realized that somewhere along the line I had determined that the definition of “relaxation and personal enjoyment” for me, was playing video games. As a result, anything that kept me from getting to my computer, popping on my headphones and losing myself in a variety of worlds, scenarios, and creative canvasses was causing me frustration.
I would get home from work, enjoy having supper with my family, but from there – everything that I did until I ‘got to’ sit down at my computer had begun to feel like a chore. Now, some of the things that I would do, were technically chores; dishes, yard work, housework, etc. but most were things that I chose to do because I wanted to do them. My typical weekday evening schedule:
Take Espresso for a walk – Espresso is an avid sniffer! Our walks have never been about exercise for me, but are intended to provide her with enjoyment and stimulation. These walks had become interminable torments of walking 10 steps then stopping while she sniffed and explored and I stood, huffing and mentally tapping my foot, ticking off the minutes that were ticking away from my computer time. Espresso is a very sensitive companion and when my huffing became audible, she would let her tail droop, leave her exploration, and continue on – for me, because she felt my frustration with her.
Upon my return from walking with Espresso I would check the flowers and garden boxes – do any watering and weeding. The lovely flower planters I had spent long, joy-filled minutes selecting plants for, and the garden boxes Craig and Dylan had laboured to build at my request were feeling like a burden.
Play Beat Saber for 300 calories worth of burn. I know – Beat Saber is a video game, but it is also exercise, and placing the 300-calorie minimum on a session shifted my focus from play to chore. In this mindset I would blunder through song after song and be frustrated with how slow the calorie counter was ticking upwards and, on the dashboard, the clock which is displayed on the opposite, upper corner seemed to be flipping onward at fast-forward velocity – stealing minutes from the one thing that I had begun to see as my singular pleasure activity.
Make tea for Craig and I while spending some time on the floor playing with Espresso. Again, each minute that ticked away felt like it was robbing me of “my” time. When Craig or I forgot to get the water boiling before I took Espresso to walk (so it would re-heat faster when I was ready to make the tea) made my teeth clench and brought a mental growl of irritation: ‘why was everyone else able to head straight to the things that were important to them, while I had to do all of these things?’
I felt ‘put-upon’ and unappreciated and frustrated by each of these tasks. Then, I would finally sit down at my computer, to enjoy the one activity that I had somehow decided was the only treasure in my ‘relaxation’ treasure chest but… no game, design project, adventure was enough. Really, how could it be? What could possibly live up to the expectation of supplying all of the relaxation and enjoyment to my life?
It was Errol’s hands firmly shaking my shoulders one evening last week that woke me from my stupor. I was in the kitchen, squeezing the peppermint tea bags into cups for Craig and I when I glanced at the clock: 7:55 pm – a tiny smile lifted the corners of my lips because I recognized it as an Errol-touch, but at the same time a wave of frustration pushed even that gift from my mind. I would have only about half an hour of ‘me’ time now that all of my tasks had been accomplished. But on this night the steam from the tea wafted up; peppermint tea – Errol’s favorite. In that moment I remembered that I didn’t make tea every evening because I had to. No one was asking it of me, or expected it of me – I do it because it is a ritual that is precious to me. It is an activity that lets me draw close to Errol-memories, just like playing Beat Saber. There are many ways to burn 300 calories – I choose to play Beat Saber because Errol and I loved to play together, and when I’m not busy focusing on the clock or calorie counter I can easily get lost in the memories of how we would cheer at successes or laugh at ‘failed levels’.
Right there, in the kitchen at 7:55 pm all of the frustration fell from my shoulders and I felt like a complete idiot. Talk about self-limiting thinking! I was conflicted. I knew right away that I wanted to write about my experience but I felt so foolish! At first, I thought that surely, I was the only one silly enough to identify one thing as the single source of enjoyment and deny all of the pleasure in every other moment. Then I started to wonder – is it really just me? Sure – maybe not many people reading this blog identify computer time as their one source of enjoyment, but switch it up just a bit for each individual and maybe…
How many people do you know who are not happy and don’t allow anyone around them to be happy unless things are done the way they have determined as ‘right’? Perhaps you know someone who becomes inordinately frustrated with anyone who is driving in a way that doesn’t allow them to drive exactly how they want to drive (I’m not talking about others driving dangerously – just maybe too slow, or stopping too long as a stop sign). Have you come across anyone at work who is continuously frustrated because things are not done the way they like them to be done? What about when you are spending time with friends and someone walks by sporting a look that draws the derision of one of your companions. The list is endless! These are all very different scenarios from the self-limiting trap that I had stuffed myself into, but at the root, I think they are all similar.
Are you frustrated with work? Try to remember why you choose (and you do choose) to be there. Do you get testy with your spouse because they squeeze the toothpaste in the middle rather than at the end? Hint: the condition of the toothpaste tube is your happy-requirement – fix it if it makes you happy, or just let it go. Does the condition of your child’s bedroom behind closed doors (assuming there are no bug-attracting conditions) make you want to scream even though you never spend any time there? If they aren’t expecting you to clean it up and it isn’t bothering them; what stake do you have in the tidiness level of their space?
I guess it all comes back to mindfulness (I’m not using the term as a word that has become interchangeable with meditation, but rather, being in a state of awareness of what is real and what is eliciting the responses you are experiencing). I had let myself slip into several weeks of being generally miserable. I had gone from finding myself being drawn into a grief ebbing pool to focusing on the things that would help me to find my way back into life’s flow, then became frustrated with the very things that were helping me to stabilize. One thing that I have come to realize is that negative moods tend to be perpetrated by habitual thoughts and actions – false habitual thoughts and actions. Life is a gift. There is joy to be found in the vast majority of moments we are given here on Earth. For me, when I find myself struggling to find enjoyment in life – I know I have to start asking myself what the roadblock is. Maybe it’s just me… but the hardest blockages for me to recognize are the ones that I build myself.