Monday, April 21, 2014

How Las Vegas Became My Happy Place

"Visualize your happy place," my therapist tells me, but it's tough for me to do because I'm not the kind of person who responds well to terms like "happy place," or even "visualize."

I am the opposite of the word “crunchy.” I don't do yoga & I don’t ever want to do yoga, & I can't get down with meditating, despite a few attempts at a friend’s urging, using YouTube videos. I even have a hard time with regulated breathing because I find that the loudness of my beating heart overwhelms my mind, distracting me & making me more anxious - which of course only happens in the times when I need tips like regulated breathing the most.

But I'm trying to listen to her, my therapist, because I'm paying her to tell me these things & to help me figure out how to be a person whose heart doesn't feel like it's going to explode at all times. That's why I started therapy, to tackle the parts of my anxiety that were making life debilitating, & if that means I need to find a happy place, I'll give it a try.

I wasn't sure what to pick. "It doesn't have to be a real place," she told me, but I've never been a creative type, the kind who can conjure up fake scenery like that. Plus, what if I got so attached to my nonexistent happy place that every other (real) place felt like... a sad place? I'm trying to get out of my head, not further into it.

At first, my happy place was my family's cabin in Pennsylvania. We've been going there since I was a baby, spending long, quiet weekends in the woods where the only obligations include helping to clean up from a massive homemade dinner & staying up late enough to partake in conversations around a bonfire. My therapist told me to close my eyes, & she talked me through visualization exercises - what do you see, what do you hear, how do you feel? – to help make it more natural for me. We practiced it over & over again so that I could do it alone, without her there.

But I could never do it by myself. A few things tripped me up, not least of all the recent development of some complex feelings about my happy place that I won’t go into here. Suffice it to say that as much as I love the cabin, thinking of it now gives me anxiety, & when you’re trying to figure out a method for dealing with your anxiety, it’s best not to choose one that worsens it along the way.

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t been visualizing my happy place much these days.

Two weekends ago, though, I went to Las Vegas with a few friends. Given my last trip to Vegas & all the anxiety that accompanied it, I didn’t have high expectations for this trip. I was spending money I didn’t quite have, traveling with people I didn’t quite know, & in the days leading up to my flight, I just felt… apathetic. I don’t even like Vegas that much! But perhaps low standards are the key to extraordinary experiences, because this trip exceeded even the highest of my secretly harbored hopes.

I know, I know. Las Vegas isn’t a place that sounds particularly relaxing. It’s all bright lights & big city, glitz & glamour & shiny facades. It’s drinking & drugs & gambling & hookers & the sort of extravagant, encouraged hedonism that doesn’t exactly lend itself to calm collectedness. And yet somehow, this trip was the most relaxing vacation of my life.

Standing on the balcony of The Cosmopolitan, overlooking the neon lights of the Strip while drinking champagne & soaking up the sun & laughing with friends & being mesmerized by the famed Bellagio fountains below us, I was perfectly at peace. Serene, tranquil, unruffled, all those words that mean “All is right with the world” – I felt them all.

This week - God, has it only been a week since Vegas?! - I've tried the "visualize your happy place" exercise on my own more than once. I still have a long way to go because, man, that ish is so crunchy, but it turns out that after that four-day trip, I'm a lot closer than I was before. When I imagine that weekend in Las Vegas, I'm transported back to the way I felt when I was there - totally calm, worried about nothing, just glad to be in the moment. The way I want to be all the time. Happy.

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