Since starting For Grace 17 years ago, I’ve had little success unplugging and getting away from work. That is until last July – and I now find relaxation fairly easy to achieve. In fact it’s one of my biggest self-care go-to’s. But like every wellness-generating therapy, it takes practice.
I’m a self-proclaimed workaholic and that applied to my 21 pre-illness years. As a “triple threat” (singer, dancer and actor), I always had a dozen more things to do. Classes, rehearsals, auditions, on and on. There was nothing I loved better than my performing life, especially the bustling busyness of it all.
In those days, though, I was great at balancing the hubbub with good old fashioned leisure. I grew up in a big family with lots of friends, activities and relaxation. After fun and games outdoors, I remember often pulling a tub of Neapolitan ice cream out of the freezer, grabbing a big spoon and lounging on the couch watching the boob tube.
After being ill with CRPS for 20 years and starting For Grace from my bed, balance had been wiped away. My partner and caregiver John was the only one still around – and being social was rarely an option. To fill the void, I worked constantly. Not only did For Grace give my life meaning, its endless work filled the hours. In fact, I despised the loneliness of the weekends so much I worked right through them.
After about a decade of this nose-to-the-grindstone stuff, I was way beyond burned out. My stressful existence spiked my fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome so badly, I went years getting next-to-no restorative zzz’s. I remember often being in our office, chin slumped in hand, catching myself from falling. I was so sleep-deprived, so wrung out, my mind going a mile a minute, I was ready to collapse. Oh yeah, I got everything done – but I was in a perpetual fog, my self-built hell of fight or flight.
I tried time and again to relax because my integrative doctor constantly reminded me that my life lacked balance. That, and I inherently knew that all work and no play made me dull and sick. Trouble was I was so isolated that when I left work “relaxing” left me lonely, bored and, worst of all, depressed. It gave me too much time to think about the tragedy of my life, all of my losses.
Even when I traveled, I was so addicted to my treadmill I ping-ponged from tourist sight to sight with never a moment to pause and enjoy. There was always a close-by internet café where I could lose myself in work while in an exotic land.
Long after I’d learned that relaxation was not in the cards, I coincidentally began to meditate daily for work related-research. All the rage in the pain world was that meditation helped – and I wanted some personal experience when journalists inevitably asked. Strangely enough with time, I was getting hints that it was doing just that. More often than not, I’d come out of my meditation state refreshed, smiling and, yes, relaxed. My shoulders dropped and I was far less reactive to upset.
Then last summer something magical happened. Good friends invited John and me to meet them and many others on the Greek islands. This was my dream trip, but John always cautioned that it couldn’t be done in a wheelchair. These angels figured it all out for me – and soon we were in the playground of the gods.
I’d planned to work in our seaside apartment every day, but quickly grew resentful and uninterested when colleagues emailed to engage me in tasks. For the first time ever, I let them know I was unavailable until my return to LA – and COMPLETELY unplugged. I spent two glorious weeks swimming daily in the Aegean sea, lounging, eating, laughing shopping, and, most importantly, decompressing.
When I returned, relaxed and rejuvenated, my delighted doctor shared with a smile, “When you forget what day and time it is, Cynthia, that’s when you know you’re healing.” The new me isn’t so rigid with work, deadlines can be pushed and I enjoy my weekends, many now filled with social engagements, pursuing passions and, yes, relaxing.
I really love this new me. Life is so much more enjoyable when I’m not in a rat race trying to escape the hours. Instead, I relish my down time. I’m performing and more social, both which fill my soul. My work is more productive and efficient. Most importantly, my pain flares and bouts of depression aren’t nearly as often or severe, and I’m sleeping better than I have in two decades. There’s less turmoil and tumult driving my life, and I’m convinced that’s because I’m more at ease.
Looking back, the scales tipped to better wellness when I took up meditation. Prior to that, I was a skeptic because it seemed to me that doing nothing couldn’t possibly help women in pain heal. But now I’m a believer, a card-carrying, horn-tootin’, shout-it-from-the-mountain-tops proponent of guided stillness that embraces the present while listening deeply within.
That’s doing A LOT in my book.