by Andrew Frame
Most of us have some sort of benefit plan at work, even if those benefits are only ten paid days off a year. Some companies call it "vacation time." Some call it "personal time"—different names for different policy books. A few fortunate souls are even blessed with the availability of "sick days"—time you're not supposed to use, 'cause you can always blow chunks into the trash can while you're working (and spreading enough pathogens in the air to wipe out a small third-world country). These plans are conventionally designed to address physical illness. But what about mental illness, depression, fatigue, and the like? I'm not talking about the "I don't want to go to work today" kind of feeling we all wake up with on mornings perfectly suited for climbing in the sand rail and beating some alligator trail to a gooey pulp. I'm referring to the serious, Uzi-wielding kind of feelings.
I notice these kind of things don't usually hit out of the blue, but seem to build for days, weeks, or even months. My "real" vacation time may be a half-year away, but I need some time now. Just a day. A day I call a mental-health day. So, the day before I plan on being not found, I make sure things are as wrapped up as they're going to be, notify my stand-in, and let the Powers That Be know I won't be in tomorrow. (I also let them know the day before I take off. What's good for the goose....) When asked why, I just say "personal business." Then, I spend the following day hanging out at the school with my kids for a few hours, having lunch with my wife, playing with the critters that share the house with us, calling my mother—whatever strikes me at the moment that could be relaxing and keep my mind as far away as possible from the second floor of the Pinebrook Building (not to mention napping...must have The Nap).
It seems almost every industrialized country in the world knocks off for a few hours each afternoon and depressurizes except the United States. We've got to go go go go until we go googoogoogoo. The world is in a perpetual state of acceleration. Look at microwave ovens, fax machines, and e-mail. All used under the umbrella of "time savers." Or do they just force you to move on to the next thing in your never-ending pile of What's Next that much quicker? I call it the Bigger-Better-Faster Syndrome. No matter how wonderful something is, the cry of "Make it Bigger-Better-Faster!" will echo before the beta-testing (or the spot playback) is even over. Doesn't your creativity suffer when you're excessively stressed? (Interestingly, most of us do our best work when the heat is on—a little.) If you're married, when was the last time you went on a nice hand-in-hand walk for an hour? Do you have children? When was the last time you had a tea party with your daughter, or tried to help your son bake a cake? Called your parents lately? Been to your house of worship? Turned off the teevee (or the computer) and read a book? "Stop and smell the roses" still carries more weight than any '90s buzz-phrase.
Collectively, we do what we do for a living because we love to create—and we're really good at it. But step back once in a while, and be in awe of the work of The Master Creator—the beautiful sunset, a child's smile, a kind word, a colorful flower. For me, when I let myself be absorbed by this natural beauty around me (even though I live in the downtown area of my city) the rest of the world ceases to exist. For a moment, one refreshing, cleansing moment the phenomenal majesty of this beautiful planet we live on rushes in to fill the psyche worn by the daily grind of work, complaints, and Bigger-Better-Faster. Take a day and stop if you can, stop and smell the roses, or the wildflowers. They don't want anything in return. They look great in a vase on the dining room table, and they smell wonderful.