Saturday, July 2, 2016

How I (Really) Took A Day Off

This would definitely be on my "allowed" list, if the frozen daiquiri were hand-delivered to me by a sexy waiter. 
In searching for solutions to a persistent health problem I'm struggling with, I realized something important this summer about myself:

I never really take a day off.

Oh sure, I have a five-day work week with Saturday and Sunday off during the school year, and two and a half months off over the summer, but every single day of my life--every single day, even on vacation--I have a to-do list. I have multiple to-do lists, actually. Today, for example, I have three. It's a Saturday in the middle of my "summer off" and I have three to-do lists going. I have a to-do list for critical things I want to get done today for sure; I have a "procrastination" to-do list of things I need to get done sometime soon and don't want to forget about; and I have a long-term to-do list or "Action Plan" for my business.

Why, you might ask, especially if you are one of those lucky, free-spirited souls who breeze through life without the compulsion to make to-do lists?

Because I love getting things done. I mean, I really love it. It feeds some sick drive I have to continually be productive. So even on my "days off," I must be doing something productive, or else I feel a weird let-down.

So this summer, I've been struggling with TMJ disorder. I clench my teeth at night sometimes, have for years, and finally in March my jaw said "enough." It kind of feels like a toothache that moves around to different areas in my mouth. So, my dentist made me a new mouthguard (two actually, because I didn't like the first one,) prescribed a few painkillers, and told me to eat soft foods until it went away.

That was in March, and the pain level fluctuates, but it has never really gone away. I've researched the problem thoroughly online, tried stretches, exercises, massaging my cheeks and jaw with lavender oils, Biofreeze, moist heat, sleeping with the mouthguard in, sleeping with the mouthguard out, Epsom salt baths, yoga, prayer, you name it. Two weeks ago I was working in Cincinnati on a temporary summer job with College Board, and the TMJ thing was intensifying every day, to the point that I found myself in my hotel room in tears the Friday night before my last day of work.

I felt I had exhausted all my resources, and I knew I didn't want to resort to jaw surgery or narcotics. (My pain level isn't such that those solutions are necessary, it's more of just a dull, nagging chronic pain in the background.) I just kept looking at the ceiling and asking this question: what do I do?

The answer came back to me: You never really take a day off. You don't rest.

When I got home that Sunday evening, I really started pondering that. It was true; as I said above, I always have a list of things I want to accomplish, every single day. There are no days, and haven't been for years and years, where my list of things to do that day says "nothing."

So, I planned a real day off this past Sunday, a day of real rest. (Of COURSE I planned it. Planning is hard-wired into me!) I didn't want it to just be a day where I tried to nap after lunch and take it a little more easy than I normally would. I wanted it to be a real day off from everything I would normally do, a day of To-Do List: Nothing.

I made this list of rules for my day off:

1. No to-do list (obviously.)
2. No phone, laptop, or PC.
2. No Xbox. (I don't watch TV, but that would be on the list if I did.)
3. No cooking (I made extra food the day before that I could just reheat.)
4. No planning things in notebooks (another compulsion of mine.)
6. No plans with other people.
7. No work.

So what would I actually "do" on my day off? What would be allowed, I asked myself?

1. Sleeping.
2. Napping.
3. Lying in bed.
4. Gentle yoga, nothing too strenuous (I have to move my body or my back gets sore.)
5. Drinking lemon water.
6. Sitting in the sunshine.
7. Spiritual reflection.
8. Journaling.
9. Reading.
10. Hot shower or bath.

So Sunday arrived, and I woke up feeling so...free. This was a day I had purposed for doing basically nothing. I was not allowed to do anything, and it was an incredibly good feeling, right off the bat.

I went downstairs to warm my overnight oatmeal I'd prepared the night before, lingering over it when it was ready, savoring the comforting, yummy flavors of cinnamon, coconut, and vanilla.

Then I went back to bed, because I felt sleepy. Normally I would get moving, get started doing something, and either not notice or not care that I felt sleepy. In fact, I was surprised that I felt sleepy, and even more surprised when I woke up two and a half hours later, apparently having needed that extra rest.

I read a little, journaled a little, sat in the sunshine sipping lemon water, heated my soup, ate it, and went back to bed. I got up and took a shower, did some yoga, and went back to bed. I worried it would get boring, just napping, eating, and lying in bed, but it was glorious. I probably slept an extra 4 or 5 hours that day. My jaw pain completely subsided for the first time in a month. Monday, the pain stayed away as well, even though I went back to my three to-do lists, and worked at my computer for at least 6 hours.

Tuesday morning when I woke up, the pain was back.

I knew then that I was on to something, and that was my emotional, physical, and spiritual need for rest, real rest, of having at least one day a week of doing absolutely nothing. I might have to do it twice a week (or more?) for the rest of the summer to really see results with this TMJ thing, and I won't lie, a part of me hates the idea of not making progress on my new romance novel I'm writing for two whole days a week.

But I have to look at it this way: if I push myself to the point of physical breakdown (and the incredible toll chronic pain takes on your mind and emotions) in order to feed this desire I have to be creative and create, grow my business, accomplish things, and be productive, isn't that counter-productive in the long run? I won't be able to accomplish as much if I'm struggling physically, emotionally, and mentally. I've already seen that happen, if I'm honest with myself.

So today is Saturday, and I'm already getting ready, making some extra food, tying up some loose ends on my to-do lists so I won't be tempted tomorrow.

Because tomorrow is my (real) day off. And I can't wait.

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