Today I decided to start the hard work of figuring out why I resist rest and why I insist on pushing myself even when my body is shot through with pain. What I realized, after several pages of notes, is that my perception of what it means for me to rest is flawed. Rest connotes laziness, failure, worthlessness. Rest is the opposite of growth, the opposite of a positive lifestyle.
The reasons for this negative connotation extend far past the purview of this blog (read: childhood trauma, growing up too fast, and lack of control or stability during my formative years compounded by a lifetime of resisting help in even the most banal situations) and are too interconnected for me to extract the one, single cause for my belief. For most of my life, however, I have attempted to attain and maintain autonomy through grit and perseverance. Taking a break has rarely been a tenable option.
I have toiled through loneliness, heartbreak, injury, poverty, anxiety, illness. I have refused to be felled by physical or mental obstacles. This does not mean I have been a success at everything (or even most things) I have attempted. It doesn’t mean I have accomplished anything. It simply means that I prefer to move through failures and successes alone.
Except that last sentence is false. I do not prefer to be alone. I am comfortable alone. My default state is independence. What I crave, however, is connection. I long for someone to put their hands on my shoulders and tell me to rest (until someone, like my boyfriend, does and then I fill with resistance). My desperate secret hope is to be in someone else’s care.
A friend recently told me she has come to realize that all of her good friends (I am included in this group) are excellent caretakers. This is not a trait she actively seeks but, because she needs (and asks for) lots of care, less-giving people are weeded out. When she said this I realized that I gravitate toward people who (like her) seek out assistance from their friends for everything from illness to emotional stresses to company while running errands. In this way, we can create a bond of friendship but I do not have to ask for help; I can keep my needs hidden.
I have created a network that does not require me to be vulnerable. In many ways this is freeing: I share what I am comfortable sharing and the rest I keep to myself, with no hurt feelings. In other respects, however, I feel cut off from even my best friends, unable to share my hurts and needs. I isolate myself emotionally. I am adept at focusing a conversation on another person, while still appearing to contribute. My pains stay within my self.
Today I decided to address this system of isolation by examining my conception of injury. My conclusions shifted my perspective, I hope forever. Here is an excerpt from my journal:
“By removing expectations of what it means to be injured -frail, weak, demanding, depressed, stuck in front of a television, helpless, alone, poor -I free myself to rest on my own terms. For me, rest does not symbolize weakness but: healing, contemplation, revealing the high quality of my support system, reading, exploring my mind, engaging with curiosity my new perspective on the world, rejuvenating, being kind to my body, filling myself with light.”
My goal in the upcoming days, weeks, months (however long it takes for the concept to stick) is to embody my new definition of rest.
I work well with visual cues, so I am creating a chart for myself on which I will make a tick mark every day I allow myself to revel in rest. This is not an edict to spend all of my time in bed eating bon-bons, but a plan to carve out a few minutes every day for sitting with my thoughts, listening to my instincts, and doing the hard work of asking for help.