“How would you go about giving yourself a mental break?” My cousin Iris, who is a life coach, asked me after I told her about the anxiety and feeling of impending doom which have been following me since August. Would a vacation be a mental break? I asked her. “From what I know of you,” my cousin replied, “your anxieties and stress follow you to the vacation.”
How then does one go about taking a mental break? And what is a mental break anyways? “Just letting yourself be,” my cousin said, “without needing to do anything or achieve anything or finish anything. Just be.” She thought for a moment, then added, “Maybe it would be better to start with an hour. Or even five minutes. Or thirty seconds. Of just being.”
I went to take a shower. Before going in, I told my anxieties to wait for me outside. I asked the critic if he wouldn’t mind to let me go to the shower by myself, just this once. It occurred to me that I rarely shower without my critic leaning over my shoulder and commenting on how long I’m taking, how much water I’m wasting, and the general scarcity of water in the world. Let me enjoy my shower as a mental break today, I told him. Please wait outside.
It is much harder than I imagined, to get even thirty seconds of mental break. It seems my stresses and anxieties are standing by, ever ready to take advantage of any opening to come into my mind. I think to myself: all is well in my world at this moment in time in this place. And somewhere a whisper pesters: “But you don’t actually know that. The kids are not under your eye. Your parents are not here. Even Dar is in the other room and something could happen to him before you can hear.”
A friend told me the other day that the first step in the twelve step program is to admit powerlessness. I am, as yet, far from being able to admit that. Powerlessness scares me. My first thought in response to the whispering voice is that I should tell Dar to stay near me at all times. Can you imagine me actually doing that? And the critic, as though adding wood to the fire, laughs in my ear: “You’re a control freak,” he says, satisfied.
Oh dear. All these parts of me talking and commenting and judging. And where had the mental break gone? And yet, I think perhaps for a few seconds, maybe not for a whole thirty, maybe for only ten seconds or five, my mind rested in the moment of peace of the hot water washing the day off my back. Five seconds today, and maybe five seconds tomorrow, and maybe eventually they will start adding up, and I can rest in the moment, and let that mental break happen wherever I am.