Let your inner 10 year old out to play again
Mind Moves: Look to childhood for an antidote to exhaustion, writes Tony Bates.
Whoever said in summertime the livin’ is easy? Ah yes, that guy at the piano wearing shades. He sang the song so beautifully, a song that has been passed from one generation to the next, a song with imagery that makes your temperature rise.
But for many of us at this time of the year, that song doesn’t quite capture how we are feeling.
Instead of fish jumpin’, our nerves are jumpin’. The tingle of our tiredness signals the toll our bodies are paying for the past 12 months. We feel weak, sore and complain our energy is low. We try collapsing into bed to shake off our fatigue but it doesn’t work. We reach for our preferred mood-altering substance to get relief but any reprieve is short term.
Summer is for slowing down. But, however welcome this seasonal permission may be, it can be really hard to stop.
When we do, we may discover how addicted we’ve become to the incessant drumbeat of emails, deadlines and emergencies. We should be prepared for withdrawal symptoms: restlessness, edginess and paranoia – does nobody miss me?
Doing nothing can be as oppressive as overworking. The antidote to exhaustion is not inactivity, it’s redirecting your energy wholeheartedly into something, some place, or someone you love. Or into something new.
To locate an activity that might work for you, start by getting in touch with your inner 10 year old. Ask him or her what captured their imagination and their passion during those lazy warm summer months when school was out. This may give you a clue as to what might work for you now. I am not suggesting that precise activity, but maybe some adult version of the same.
I liked making things as a kid. I’d build elaborate landscapes in which armies battled with others for world domination. I launched matchsticks and tiny plastic shells from shiny olive-green cannon to stop armies of plastic soldiers in their tracks.
For physical relief, I participated in world sports tournaments in which I snatched victory from my opponents in the closing seconds of the game, as the light faded in the back garden.
I found happiness in building stories. I crafted a world in which the underdog won and the hero found a way to belong, and in which I traded a lack of self-confidence for a feeling of power and freedom. I found courage and strength in my private world of adventure.
As an adult, films and books offer appealing ways to step briefly back into that world and find respite from an overdose of reality. But I miss being the creator of these alternative universes rather than the consumer. So I found an acceptable adult equivalent: I joined a creative writing class.
I was never taught the art of writing. This summer I felt it was time to address this gap in my education.
I remember my “first day at school”. It didn’t feel that different from when I walked into class for the first time as a petrified five year old. Everyone looked much more at ease than I did. The teacher had a kind face but the sun pouring through the window behind me made me feel uncomfortable. I found it hard to concentrate.
Familiar voices played out their cynicism in my head: “Pity you didn’t start this earlier, like 40 years ago!” “You were never any good at this kind of thing: what makes you think that this time it will be different?”
When the nerves died down, I thoroughly enjoyed these classes. People sharing their unique take on the world through their poems and stories. Opening up to the comments and feedback of others, some for the first time.
I felt nourished by the experience. I was encouraged to explore new ways of building stories, to rediscover as an adult how to play, but this time to share this with others.
One final thing: if a friend tells you they are thinking of trying something new – such as archery, art, jogging or belly-dancing – don’t look at them like they’re losing it. Bite your lip and say something encouraging. They are probably looking for a way to unwind, to change gear and renew their energy for the year ahead.
Tony Bates is the founding director of Headstrong – the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, www.headstrong.ie.
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times. Headstrong would like to thank the Irish Times for their ongoing support.