How to De-Stress, or How Not to


There is something self-destructive about trying to de-stress – like a self-fulfilling prophesy, but backwards. Sometimes any steps I take to relax after a stressful week only lead to more stress, or simply time lost in the attempt. I'm certain that there are 123,623,326,098 books written on the topic, but sometimes one just wants to get away. Reading suggestions on how to focus, or let go, or any of the other things that my soul wants to do is not quite as appealing as getting in my car and just going. In this way I relate to Rose from The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Patchett's debut novel. There is something freeing about getting in the car and driving, with no particular place to go. When I was younger, I used to see the signs over the highway indicating a distant city that the highway led to, and I would want to just leave, just stay on the highway and continue to that other city. Not go back home to get anything; that would break the spell. Just go.

Half a lifetime of going, and it's not quite as appealing as it used to be. The idea of escape is still there; it's just dressed in a different disguise these days. I tried drink; I was never very good at it. Intoxication never offered the freedom of driving on a highway with its untapped possibilities. All of it is an illusion one way or the other, but driving didn't generally lead to hangovers or regretful memories of how I had behaved.

This last Saturday I asked my partner if he wanted to go with me on a project. For some reason (mostly anemia, I have come to suspect) I had had a very stressful and anxiety-ridden week. I've had a project in mind that I wanted to work on, a photography project. I want to take pictures of Austin landmarks. Not buildings, but street art. The "HI HOW ARE YOU" frog, the "I love you so much" wall. I started last December with a painted privacy fence only to discover that the camera had no memory chip in it, which is the equivalent of having no film. So, I thought it was time to try again.

The painted privacy fence I pass on the way to work each day

About the only thing I took a picture of this sunny day 

However, we took off at 11 on a bright, sunny morning and this is not conducive to good outdoor photography, unless harsh shadows and overexposed highlights is what you're after. I was driving and I was frustrated. I was angry at myself for not taking off earlier; I was angry at my partner for delaying when I had asked him if he wanted to go; I was just angry and tired and stressed. I abandoned the project, but between the two of us we couldn't think of anything else to do that was fun, so we went home to take a nap.

The next day we had brunch at a local cafe and on the way home he missed the turn to go to our house, so he just kept going. The road got less smooth and more narrow. Eventually, we saw a sign indicating that state maintenance ended and sure enough the road changed from paved to semi-gravel all at once. Eventually we came up to the highway that leads to Lexington, but we turned off, deciding to save that for another day. We had other commitments that day and didn't have the time to spend just exploring a new town. So, we found another road that seemed to want to swing back around to Elgin and took it instead. After a couple of turns we ended up in Coupland, which is on the way back home from Dallas.

View from a random highway on the way back home from an extended wrong turn

I learned from that trip that maybe projects aren't what I need when I desperately need to de-stress. I learned that it can be better if somebody else is driving. I learned that there is an art to letting go, and it's all about timing. Finally, I learned anew that being in the car is relaxing and the anticipation of a new place can be a solace for the soul.

Happy driving. :-)