Put Up Your (Manic) Defence!

I distinctly remember that middle school phase where inspirational sayings overlying a natural landscape was a staple of every social media timeline (i.e. highly stylised memes for the gullible); suddenly, you were the righteously self-titled “deep thinker”, reflecting much more than a mirror ever could. Admittedly, many pseudo-intellectual Tumblr quotes were saved to my camera roll despite its mild insult to great sayings by actual influential figures of history. Anyways, that was a much longer than anticipated trajectory to this wonderful quote by Oscar Wilde: “To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.” And, sir, I can finally truly appreciate your words.

Being idle and content with doing nothing is something I’ve aspired to for years. Curated by Disney’s “School’s out, scream & shout!” ideology and agonising exam periods, it’s bizarre to think how relaxation can be difficult. It’s almost been a month since I’ve touched down in Bangkok, where I resolutely told myself, “Now, I can finally relax.” However, I’m still periodically plagued with Raven Baxter-like precognition (except it’s a stabbing pain in my temples, not a vision, and I have that hideous look of a sneeze). I mean, my goodness – exams are over. Pre-clinical years have finished. I’m back at home for the summer holidays with limitless hugs from my family. So, why do I still feel like I’m subconsciously pushing ridiculous deadlines and complicating personal projects to unnecessarily create stress? Stress withdrawal symptoms, is this what this is?

Do I like being stressed?

An infuriating no! resounds, but even the immediacy in this response seems defensive. Maybe my whack hormones enjoy the high of stress, but my mental health does not find satisfaction in reaching a new high score on the scoreboard.

I guess I never really conceptualized it before, but holidays are weird. What are these short periods of unstructured time, and how does one simply do…nothing? My childhood summers filled up with personal projects that began as plain fun, which rapidly escalated to the infuriating high school summers where the same projects caused my eyebrows to furrow thinking, “What’s the point of this?” Because if the sole point was just to unwind, guaranteed I’d find it a waste of time. 

It’s partially my own values and personality, but it’s also partially the environment we surround ourselves in. “Taking breaks is so important in avoiding burnouts!” numerous teachers, friends, and Business Insider articles have stressed (ha). What a load of flapjacks, my body always thought, though never consciously. My helpless and despairing mind engages in warfare, grabbing pitchforks and desperately charges towards this utopia of nothingness, but it’s too late – once again, omnipotent control and overwhelming stress has won. The go-to war strategy has always been manic defence, especially in the predominantly Western mindset that there is supreme nobility in sprinting from one task to the next. Relax, but then the next person will beat you to whatever you were trying to accomplish. Demands of daily life are intense, never-ending, and relentless; thus, the guilt of relaxing really is a guise of your inability to master your agenda despite the ambition. It makes sense why when we stop, stress doesn’t. It would explain the scene of me shuffling pathetically through Suvarnabhumi Airport with a luggage in better condition than me, feeling absolutely battered and broken not from the 12-hour flight, but the 5-month fight, because it still isn’t over.

So be it if I must voluntarily delude myself in “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t make” quotes to help unstrap the belt around my head, to practice the art of doing nothing. Who would’ve guessed, that years later, my name is enrolled in a fight I never thought I’d sign up for: learning and practicing what it all means to simply relax, just like finding happiness.

©TMK

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