The Fine Art of Doing Nothing

I’m an introvert. I know that personality tests and BuzzFeed quizzes can only get you so far in life, but I also know myself really well (when your mind is prone to fits of randomness, it’s self-preservation to take the time to study its whims).

I’m an introvert in pretty much every way imaginable. If I spend time with people – Welshman and family aside – I need time to recharge my batteries afterwards. I find social situations, particularly involving large groups (more than two people, actually) really stressful and unrewarding unless I know everyone involved really well.

I would pretty much always prefer pyjamas and Netflix to going outside. I tend to have a good time if I force myself out of the house, but it will always be exhausting for me. Even at big gatherings, you’ll usually find me in the corner with one or two randomers, discussing life in New Guinea in the 60’s. I have a severe allergy to small-talk – the last networking event I went to, I’m fairly sure I persuaded a PhD candidate from the University of Michigan to learn German and take up mountain biking.

It’s also true, though, that I don’t handle extended periods of solitude particularly well. I grew up in a big, loud family, and I’m fairly cat-like in my approach to people – I may not show much enthusiasm, but I will always prefer to sit in a room with a person than an empty one. Long days on my own send me into spirals of depression, my thoughts turning inwards, over-analysing everything and quietly picking at whatever scab has formed over my recent failings as an adult.

Sometimes, though, you need to be fully alone. Turn off the noise, take a deep breath, and just be with yourself. I’m completely aware of the need to occasionally take a moment of quiet and let boredom do its necessary psychological work, de-cluttering your hard drive and giving you some space to breathe. The issue, at least for me since my mental illness stepped up its game, is that while I need more quiet time than I’ve ever needed, I’m now terrified of my own thoughts.

If I’m off-sick, or having a lazy Sunday, chances are that my brain will take this relaxation time as an opportunity to have that panic attack it’s been craving all week. I’ll be melancholy and moody, and I’m not ashamed to say that sometimes, I worry what will happen if I get truly unwell and there’s no one around to monitor my behaviour and reign in my breathing.

Sometimes, I need a distraction. Sometimes, I don’t have the energy to do the emotionally mature thing and work through these irrational feelings. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, to be really, truly tired.

In those situations, I need to find things to do that are low-energy but highly engaging. Not easy, when some of my previous quiet-time hobbies (such as reading) are made difficult by my depression’s effect on my focus and short-term memory.

So, here are my top 5 things to do when you don’t want to be alone with your thoughts:

  1. Watch very dramatic reality TV. My two personal favourites for this purpose are RuPaul’s Drag Race and Say Yes to the Dress. The former is a masterpiece of modern TV, a makeover show meets Project Runway meets a comedy cabaret. It is nonsensical, beautiful, and deeply emotional at times – it is so cathartic and so moving, and the ladies who grace the stage are immaculate beings of joy and drama. The latter is a group of awful, screechy women getting really, really worked up about truly ugly dresses. If, by some monumental error, I am ever elected President of the World, my first decree would be that the drag queens have to be present for every bridal dress fitting on Say Yes. I just think it would be hilarious.
  2. Write fanfiction. I am the staunchest defender of fanfic. I think it’s an amazing way to explore your abilities as a writer, and the communities – fandoms – are full of really supportive, interesting people. If you love something, and can’t bear to let the characters go after the show/movie/book is over, try writing a little fic. The warm fuzzies you’ll get from writing a happy, innocent coffee-shop AU (alternative universe) for your OTP (one-true-pairing!) will last for days, even if you decide not to upload it.
  3. Go for a walk. I know, very well, the feeling of frustration when you’re mentally ill and everyone keeps telling you that exercise will make it better. It’s absolutely true that the benefits of exercise are myriad, and it releases all kinds of good hormones into your bloodstream, but it’s also true that it’s hard to find motivation at the best of times, and impossible when every last ounce of your energy is being used up by just surviving. Therefore, I propose something a little more achievable. Walk. Listen to music or listen to nothing, but go outside into whatever weather awaits and storm about for a bit. If sitting on a bench makes you happy, do that. If going to see the ducklings in the park makes you happy, do that. I, personally, always feel 100% better if I see a dog being a Good Dog. They will be doing it in the park, so I go there. It honestly doesn’t matter how long you walk, or how far you go. Sometimes, just leaving the house is a huge achievement.
  4. Play room escape games. It might be a very personal coping mechanism, but I tend to feel better if I shut off my thoughts by engaging my brain with a complex, low-stakes task. Crosswords work, as does sudoku, but by far the best one I’ve found is point-and-click room escape games. My favourite is the Rusty Lake series, but please bear in mind that it’s a horror game, and pretty graphic in places, so it’s not for the faint-hearted. Solving puzzles is a great way to shut your lizard brain up for a while.
  5. Listen to a podcast, and get stuff done. I like to plug my headphones in, turn on a podcast, and sort my life out. Clean the bathroom, declutter my drawers, iron the Welshman’s work shirts. Something mundane and rhythmic that allows me to solve a small, accessible problem and feel good about what I’ve achieved. My favourite podcasts for this purpose are John Finnemore’s Cabin Pressure and the amazingly funny My Dad Wrote a Porno. Go forth, and feel a little bit cleansed.

I know it can be hard to find motivation to do anything at all with your free time. I know how emotionally, psychologically and sometimes physically exhausting mental illness can be.

No one is judging you if all you manage to do today is go from lying in bed to lying on the sofa. What you’re going through is hard. Be kind to yourself. You deserve nothing but kindness.

With love, always,

Tea.

NB: Please note, I am not a doctor or a mental health professional. This blog is intended as a personal diary, and any advice given is friendly and light-hearted – please do not use it instead of seeking professional help. If you disagree with any advice I give, please let me know. Similarly, if you are offended for any reason, please share and I will take your thoughts into consideration. Finally, if you are having violent or self-harming thoughts please seek medical help as soon as possible.
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