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Can I Breathe Yet?

I’ll be honest, I left this blog for the very last minute because I convinced myself that I have no idea what “renewal” feels like. “Renewal? That thing that implies transformation? A character arc? A fresh start? I’ve felt stuck for years, what can I possibly say about renewal?” I ask as I force myself to undergo some of the most frustrating transformations of my life thus far.

Anyway, I didn’t want to believe that my growth was really paused for the past eight years of my life; I could really do without the existential dread right now. So, in an attempt to force some optimism into my naturally pessimistic thinking, I started brainstorming. Sure, I don’t feel renewed right now, but what are some things I’ve felt that are allowing me to recognize this feeling? I know I haven’t felt it in a while, but for whatever reason, I know it feels like a breath of fresh air, so I must have at least experienced a dose of it at some point in these long 20 years on earth.

It didn’t take me too long to realize that renewal is actually not nearly as rare as I first thought. I felt renewed after declaring my major and coming to terms with the challenges it would bring (shameless self plug: you can read more about that in my first blog article). I feel renewed after a workout, after cutting out anything toxic from my life, and even after I implement a new skin care routine. No, none of these are some poetic character arc, but they keep me going because they give me this feeling of renewal; they remind me that life doesn’t have to be stagnant if I don’t want it to be.

I won’t lie, these small doses of renewal can only do so much, hence my previous belief that I had never even experienced the feeling before. I can’t remember the exact terms that were used, but I remember reading somewhere that there are two types of self care: there’s the self care we do as an every-day practice, with the intention of showing ourselves care simply to protect our mental stability, and there’s the self care we do to heal, to create that mental stability, with the recognition that we’re not in a good mental space and must work towards a better one. Most of the small doses of renewal I mentioned (such as the skin care routine, the workout, keeping toxic things out of your life) are the former, the self care that maintains our mental stability. Recognizing the difference between these two types of self care was crucial to me. I tend to only practice the former at times when what I really need is the latter: the self care that creates mental stability.

Recognize When to Step Away

I wish I could list examples of what that “oh, we’re hitting rock bottom” self care looks like, but the truth is that I have no idea. I’m afraid to admit to myself when I’m doing so bad that I need to step away from my normal routine and prioritize my mental health over responsibilities that I’ve been convinced will make or break me (eg. any essay that I’ve ever been assigned in my college career, but that’s a story for another day). It wasn’t until recently that I recognized that a change in routine isn’t a bad thing. Honestly, it wasn’t even until today that I became completely aware of just how unrealistic I am with myself when it comes to my self care and godforsaken to-do lists. The truth is, when it comes to “renewal,” I’m a work in progress, and the progress barely started this year.

I mentioned earlier that renewal feels like a breath of fresh air, which sounds nice until you consider what that implies about how we feel when we’re stuck in routine. To be unnecessarily transparent, I may or may not have cried for longer than I’d like to admit over the stagnancy I’ve felt over the past several months. It’s normal to feel that you’ve run into a dead end or that your life has been stagnant, but that’s why it’s so important to be realistic with yourself and recognize when your routines call for change.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve thought that I’m drowning, I’d probably be buried under piles of money. These thoughts could have been better dealt with had I recognized the need for change in routine, but like I said earlier, I didn’t even realize this was my issue until very recently. I’m more familiar with the consequences of postponing opportunities for renewal than I am with the feeling itself, so please excuse me for dwelling on it instead of explaining how to achieve it.

Renewal Demands Submission to Change

Like I said, postponing opportunities for renewal makes me feel like I’m drowning, and metaphorically, I am. Since most of my life is currently consumed by school (or rather, stress caused by school), I will explain the feeling in the context of a college student. It can apply to anyone who has a routine they can’t completely control, however. It can be a job, kids, school, etc. The point is that for a lot of us, our minds love change; they need change. It doesn’t matter how well my morning and night routines were working at the start of the new year. Now I’m under the stress of a heavy workload, and I need these routines to cater to different things from what I originally created them for.

Yet, I’ve been insisting on keeping them the same. I need to recognize that this one uncontrollable variable (school) does not dictate all other aspects of my life. I’m drowning in schoolwork right now, and I haven’t allowed myself to change my workout plan (which I eventually gave up on, partially due to the fact that I didn’t change it when I needed to), or my morning routine, or my new skincare routine, or–well, you get the point. I’ve prohibited change in my life because of a routine (school) that really shouldn’t control more than about 40 of my 168 hours in a week.

It feels like a leg cramp causing me to drown in five feet of water. Because I’ve accepted that I do need change, I’m starting to recognize what part of my day-to-day routines I can change and don’t need to sacrifice just for my one uncontrollable variable.

I’ve been forcing this rule onto my life that I can’t change anything as long as I’m in school, and it’s caused this dreadful stagnancy that almost made renewal a foreign feeling to me. While small doses of renewal have helped keep me afloat, it is still difficult to mark major shifts or points of progress in my life because I’m constantly trying to maintain these rigid routines rather than allowing them to flow and evolve with me.

Now that I’m done dwelling, I will appreciate the reality that I’ve finally recognized this as a problem and that I know where I need to focus to see some progress. I can remind myself that it’s okay to breathe now. It was always okay and will continue to be so because (and this may come as a shock if you’re anything like me) I do need to breathe to survive. There’s no reason to force myself to keep these routines that only sink me deeper and deeper. While my high school swim coach may hesitate to agree, I really can’t get to the finish line without slowing down to breathe somewhere along the way.

About the Author

Born in Cuba and raised in Las Vegas, Cesia is a junior at UNLV pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in History with a concentration in Latin American history and a minor in French. Outside of her school interests, she finds herself particularly interested in astrology and travel plans. While she hopes to stay in the field of history, she is passionate about mental health and hopes to help others through her writing for us here at LYF.

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