mental health · resolution

Maintaining Momentum in … Serenity

You know that moment when you’re on vacation and it finally sinks in that you can relax, that life is not so bad, that, whatever happens around you and outside of your control, you’ve still got your health, your relationships, your friends, your family, your something or other? I know I’m making huge assumptions and generalizations here, and those things I’ve just enumerated and taken for granted amount to an enormous privilege, but–and it’s a big “but”–they’re not unheard of, nor impossible. Yes, that moment is what I want to think about more: perspective, serenity, optimism. How do you hang on to them if you’ve been so lucky to achieve them?

Anger at the current situation, righteous indignation at inflammatory rhetoric, and the chaos of regular work life: we’ve experienced them, exposed them, talked about them at length. They are productive affects for a period of time, but can we live with them in perpetuity? I know I can’t. I almost buckled under them and the pressures of a long, unrelenting Edmonton winter. Then I was lucky enough to go on vacation, where I managed to avoid email (gasp), shun Facebook (yes, it can be done), and circumvent Twitter (not a peep). And then came a day–the third one, more precisely–when I was completely and utterly happy, serene, and optimistic. I had it: perspective! And that was the peak, because the very next day? I began to worry. It was a meta-worry at first: a worry that anxiety will eventually begin to pile up again, take hold of my chest and constrict my airways. Needless to say, the fourth day was not the best. I lurched on Facebook, checked my email, and looked on Twitter. Not a good idea. That’s when the question struck me: how do I bottle the feeling of being at peace that I experienced on that third day, and bring it back with me? Hold on to it? Feed it, take care of it, and grow it?

I’ve heard–mostly in advertisements–that people make resolutions for new years. I make them on vacation, and they’re always the same: to maintain the momentum of my serenity; to remember to indulge in the unconditional love of my family; to keep in mind the important things, and to rejoice in their existence; to revel in optimism, in spite of its occasional cruelty. To breathe.

If you’re not like me, you can probably keep your perspective on you while immersed in your regular activities. Me? Routine kills my perspective. What I mean by “routine” is not really doing the same thing day after day, but staying in the same place, going to work, taking the kids to daycare and back. In brief: the daily grind. I need literal distance to gain perspective, and not just metaphorical one. But that literal distance is not always achievable, and not by everybody. So, how do you gain metaphorical distance? Or better yet, how do you maintain perspective, serenity, or whatever you want to call it, at the same time as living through the daily grind?

Some time ago, I had decided that I cannot live with in-betweenness for protracted periods of time. So, when I undertook to do my PhD, I decided that I will regard it as my job. Work at it more or less as a Monday-to-Friday nine-to-five occupation. It will be something I do, not who I am. As we were driving back home on Tuesday night on a sleepy and darkened Edmonton highway, kids asleep in their carseats, I realized I need to do the same for being on the job market. People say being on the job market is a full-time job, and they are right. So I will treat it as a job. I have been gaining experience, too, and that makes it easier. I will perform the tasks associated with applications as part of my duties, as part of my job, and hopefully it will make it easier. More detached. More serene.