Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
For the past week or so I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather physically. On Saturday, it became clear why: Covid has finally managed to track me down. I’ve been blessed with rather mild symptoms: a slight headache, a tickle in the back of my throat and a sense of being tired most of the time. I’ve also lost some sense of taste and smell, though not all. Overall, it feels like a decent cold.
The surprising thing is, Covid is actually making my situation easier. Sure, I have to arrange rides for my kids to school (they are free of symptoms and allowed to go to school under our current Covid measures) and I had to cancel all of my appointments for the week or move them to online sessions. And yes, being sick means chaos slowly takes over your house. But I suddenly have this socially acceptable, demonstrable reason for staying in all day, lying on the couch in my pyjamas. I’ve even got the note stating that I can’t leave the house for a whole week. I feel fully justified staying home all day, just resting. Something I haven’t felt yet even though I’ve been on sick leave since the end of October.
I know that doesn’t really make sense, and yet I recognize it from other times in my life and from what others have shared with me as well. We somehow feel that we are only really allowed to rest when there is something physically wrong with us. That’s the only time we can justify it to others, and to ourselves.
During the time right after my divorce, when I had just started working full-time again, my son had just entered pre-school and I was constantly worried about whether I’d be able to keep my house, work and take care of two small children, I used to fantasize about something bad happening to me.
I would be on my bicycle, thinking ‘If I just slip on that wet leaf, crash down and hit my head, I might need to stay in the hospital for a few weeks.’ Or I would dream about getting really ill, so ill I couldn’t work or take care of my children by myself (but still be able to see them every day). It’s not that I wanted to actually get sick, I just wanted everything to stop for a little while. I needed something to take the pressure off of constantly performing.
Now I recognize these thoughts as pretty big alarm bells ringing for some time of rest. And I’ve learned that I’m not alone in these strange fantasies. Others have shared similar thoughts with me from the time right before they went into burn-out, or at times when life just became too overwhelming.
So why don’t we rest before we get to the point where we wish for calamity? For me, I often didn’t feel like I could, like resting was an option. As long as there was more work to be done – and I was ALWAYS behind on something – I had to keep going. I just. couldn’t. stop.
Our culture has a mean streak when it comes to wanting to rest, taking breaks, working less than full-time… It is seen as being lazy. Many of us have internalized this judgement, to the extent where it becomes nearly impossible to just rest for the sake of resting (instead of for the sake of performing better after the obligatory rest is over). I used to look for the usefulness in everything I did: watching a movie with my partner? Working on the relationship. Going on Youtube? Only if the videos are instructive. Walking in the woods? It’s a good thing it’s a form of exercise, otherwise, why would you?
I’m exaggerating, but you get the point. There doesn’t have to be a point to resting. You can just sit down and watch a movie because you want to. And if there’s stuff you think is important to take care of, you can do it later.
I believe Covid’s been teaching us to push the break for almost two years now.
I guess I’m just a really slow learner.