Monday, June 10, 2013

The Storm Before the Calm

It's not like I haven't tried.

Them: Breathe deep through your belly.  Remove all negative thoughts. Take in good, calming energy.

Me:  Ok, you got two minutes.  Exhale.  Yeah, I need to get peanut butter and eggs.  Inhale. Reschedule kids' dentist appointment.  Text Mary back.  Exhale.  Hope school nurse doesn't call.  Did I hand in that permission slip?  Inhale. Can't believe I ate those croutons.  Suspend breath.

I repeat my mantras.  Throw serious hook punches in kickboxing class.  Get acupuncture once a week.  Drink liquified, shipped-from-the-farm kale, dammit. 

And it never fails:  relaxing stresses me out.

I know, I know.  I've read the research about how critical it is for me to release my stress, meditate, sleep eight hours a night, eat clean and breathe. 

And I make every effort.  Seriously.  Have I mentioned the kale? The nutrient-packed, alkaline green concoction that tastes like the bottom of a swamp?

Just thinking about it brings me to my tranquil happy place.

When I was pregnant with my now-teenage son, my husband and I enrolled in Lamaze class.  I watched as all the women settled into a steady rhythm of breathing--in and out--zoning into the vortex of relaxation.  I began with long, sustained deep breaths, held them and thought about when to exhale.  My husband--who is the unruffled ying to my nervous-wreck yang--looked on in quiet horror as I began to hyperventilate. The instructor thrust a used Dunkin' Donuts bag over my mouth and showed us the door.  I left the room--an excommunicated Lamaze student--with dots of chocolate frosting and orange sprinkles smeared on my upper lip. 

Them:  You really need to relax.  Really.  It is critical for your health. How about a long hike in the woods?
Me: (Thinking) Lyme disease, carcinogenic bug spray, no cell phone reception, bears.  I'll be that mother Savannah Guthrie reports missing on the Today Show. I'd rather renew my driver's license and sit next to a man with B.O.  For real.

Call me worry-wart, the female Richard Lewis, high-strung, whatever.  But some of us are just hard-wired to be like DEFCON ONE.  It is what we know; it is how we react:  Get Out!  Holy Crap!  No way!  WHAAAAT?

Getting us to relax is like ordering Zach Galafiankis to be stoic. It twinges with inauthenticity.
If CAPS LOCK looked like a shoe...
Jeweled Satin Circle Sandal by Sergio Rossi.
I'm calm just thinking about it.  Ahhh.
For those of us who are in constant overdrive, quiet relaxation is simply an effort.

Maybe it's because I grew up with such urgent city sounds:  sirens, palpable music blaring from apartment windows, Mr. Softee's beckoning and relentless melody.

As an Italian-American city kid, I was always braced for action--whether it was my great-grandmother Nanooch throwing me five bucks encased in a tin foil ball out her window to buy a soup chicken or running through the park's giant sprinklers on the hot summer asphalt. We were always moving and always anticipating the next unfolding event and rarely stopped.

Few women in my neighborhood exuded calmness; most were colorfully emotive when they flung open the window sashes to yell for us to come in for dinner or when porcelain Capo Di Monte figurines crash-landed on their freshly washed floors.  "WATCH YOUR FEET!  YOU'RE GONNA GET CUT, GOD FORBID!" They, too, were also in perpetual motion.  The kind of women who made their own birthday cakes and brought their own made-from-scratch desserts to serve at their own family parties they booked at fancy catering halls.

I don't think they ever had book club or yoga class.

There were rarely the soft Carol Brady-esque cadences that we witnessed on TV, but instead the emphatic, loud expressions so typical of Italian-Americans.  It was often a CAPS LOCK moment. Whether the tone was mad or approving, it was just our cultural mode of communication.

Once I left the city for the quiet suburbs, I found it even harder to relax.  The white noise of chirping crickets and the blackness of an unlit night raised my anxiety to an entire new level. I needed the familiar noise, cracked sidewalks, a bustling of any sort--other than lurking raccoons.  Indeed, my hyper-vigilance still pulsated throughout my psyche. The suburban dead calm was initially unnerving--kind of like Stephen King's "The Shining."


Despite Enya, the extra-long pedicures, the Epsom salt baths and the yoga breathing techniques, I struggled with mental check-outs.

Every time I tried, I spiraled into an endless loop of even more anxiety.

So I stopped trying.

And in doing so, I discovered the most wonderful thing.

Self-acceptance brings the most unmitigated sense of peace and introduces you to the moment of surrender.  We are who we are-- even if it means you are at DEFCON ONE and failed Lamaze.

The moment I learned to say, "SO WHAT" is the moment I learned how to tango with my turmoil and become patient with myself and my surroundings.

The storm before the effortless, sweet calm.

The blissful surrender to being.


1 comment:

  1. I remember trying to crazy glue those Capo di Monte figurines, bowls and water wells after my brothers and I had put a ball through them. Lol Praying my mother wouldn't notice. Thanks for the memory. Still laughing to myself. Xoxo


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