Weaving Your Safety Net

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March 20, 2018 by Julia

At times I have trouble just relaxing. But I still need to do it, even if I don’t enjoy it in the moment, because it’s good for me. And I tell myself: you may not enjoy this now, but you will later.

That mindset has been a helpful revelation for me. When we think of ‘doing our future selves a favor,’ most of us probably associate the idea with getting dreaded tasks done now, so we don’t have to deal with certain problems later. But it can also apply to things that are supposed to be fun or restful.

For example, if I am going to a social gathering that in theory two weeks before sounded great, but in the moment, I’m tired and moody, I can remind myself that even if I’m not enjoying it, it’s still worth the experience of being out and around people. I might be home alone all the next day, while my husband is at work and my kids are at school. I will certainly enjoy the quiet solitude then much better, having been social the night before. My enjoyment was deferred, that’s all.

Same goes for nights when I am too spent to do much but veg out. I might be tempted to worry about the things I am slacking on, or about the failed parts of the day…or I might be so bored or empty that I can’t even stand TV. But I still have to make myself stop working when I cross a certain line of exhaustion or frustration, whether I feel like it or not, whether it’s a “fun” break or not. Ovid said, “Take rest; a field that has rested yields a bountiful crop.” James Baldwin said, “He who finds no way to rest cannot long survive the battle.” If I want the energy to keep doing the work I love, I must rest.

It’s not just a way of convincing yourself to relax or have fun, though – it’s a way of dealing with the disappointment or disillusionment when rest or fun don’t seem all that great. When the things we looked forward to don’t live up to our expectations, it can become depressing. (An inability to enjoy things is one of the worst symptoms of depression and anxiety. Speaking from experience, here.) Remembering that there will be future benefits is one way to salvage our experiences. If we are doing something worthwhile that we just can’t enjoy today, we need to keep faith that we’ll be grateful for these moments, or actions, in the long run. The memories will sustain us. Or the lessons we learned. Or the people we grew closer to.

I also like to think of Gretchen Rubin’s mantra: “It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.” I could apply this to every aspect of my life, and it does help with apathy or other depressive tendencies.

Keeping up our social ties can feel like work, even if we want to see our closest friends and do fun things. Most of us would probably prefer to have the scheduling and prep done for us, so all we’d have to do is show up to our favorite places, with our favorite people waiting there for us. But there’s research, and planning, and then afterward there’s memory-keeping, and so many little bits of communication, figuring it all out. And the longer I go without seeing people, the harder it is for me to get back out there.

If I can just take a little time every day to plan for people or events or travel or holidays, I am strengthening all the bonds that keep me in my life, instead of letting myself drop out of it for days at a time – a risk for anyone who works from home. I also spend time every day on preserving important memories. It’s like a net. I am tying myself more securely into the things I believe in: past, present and future.

Will I enjoy this good thing now? (It’s okay if I don’t. No need to panic. Enjoyment is not gone forever.)

Will I reap the enjoyment later, when I have energy again? (Probably.)

Do I look back on that funny incident fondly, now, even though in the moment it was extremely uncomfortable? (Yes. I’m glad I have that story as part of my identity, part of my fully lived life.)

The enjoyment is there, somewhere, if we are patient, and can keep the faith in doing what we know is good, and good for us.

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