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frances may design


On Rest

Lately I’ve been reexamining my relationship to rest: what it is, what it means, what it’s worth. A couple weeks ago I was home with a cold: bad enough to largely stay in my apartment (I, like many of us in this ‘post’ pandemic world, have a newly keen fear of spreading any type of illness), but not bad enough to render me temporarily braindead (unlike the mysterious flu I had a couple months ago, when I could barely form a full thought).

These cold symptoms appeared following a period of increased busyness in my business and my social life, during which I felt increased levels of fatigue. I’ve learned over time that it’s foolish to ignore the fatigue, so I did try to manage it with the tools I have, but I nonetheless woke up on Monday with telltale symptoms that demanded my full recognition. “I am sick”, they forced me to say: “I can’t go to that coffee date/work shift/album party/mentorship meeting/volunteer gig/…”

This is how I had come to see my body’s demands for my time and attention: a forced punishment and exile from the colourful world I preferred to be in. The feelings were not always so dramatic – sometimes it just meant a night in, or a cancelled appointment – but the overarching theme felt true. Rest meant doing nothing, and it happened when your body used its physical power to make you do nothing. It was an absence, and often a loss.

I think there are a few reasons I developed this relationship to rest and this ongoing tug of war with my being. On a macro level, of course, my society demands productivity. Busyness is a sign of virtue, an overflowing calendar is a sign of personal importance, and hustle culture is alive and well, especially in my new environment of entrepreneurship. I would encounter messages preaching the value of rest, renewal, regeneration, but they seemed to register only at a conscious level, never sinking into my subconscious way of understanding the world. That was nice for other people, who had done something to ‘deserve’ it, but not for me. 

Like many of us, I also had these patterns modelled for me growing up. Despite having different relationships to rest, both of my parents were extremely hard workers, who often seemed to push past their physical limits to get the job done. Rest was the forced counterbalance, an elemental force on the scales that pushed back against all this effort- a law of motion. While they always prioritized my care and wellbeing, it’s almost impossible not to internalize and repeat these ingrained patterns. 

Finally, I have a personal history of using alcohol as a coping mechanism, an elixir of energy that supported me in pushing past my limits. That toxic relationship had a fierce pushback, and I often had to cancel plans to lay in bed, suffering both physical anguish and emotional guilt. I had hurt myself, and I had to pay a further price of depriving myself of participation in things I loved, with people I loved, and of honouring commitments I had made. Reflecting on all this, it’s no wonder I came to understand rest as a necessary evil.

These past few weeks, something has shifted in me: rest has started to seem like something joyful, light, nurturing, all the care we give a seed in the soil. It’s becoming a presence instead of an absence: sometimes manifesting as a lack of activity, but also as reading, walking outside, writing a letter, perfecting a cookie recipe. As it happens with these cosmic shifts, no one event or a-ha moment has been the precipitate. Perhaps little things have bundled together over time to develop weight, and allowed a new understanding to sink into my subconscious. The conversations with my therapist, who encourages me to accept the pressure of all the things I’m trying to do at any one time, and to celebrate every step. The recognition that the people in my life truly want to see me healthy, even if that means I stay home sometimes. The change of seasons. The joy and comfort of sleeping in my clean bed, in my own apartment, never waking up hungover. The overwhelming freedom I now have with my time and energy, working for myself. The questions I’ve been asking myself as I prepare to enter the second year of my business: why am I doing this? What are my real goals here? What are my values, my compass points, what’s truly important to me?

I don’t think I’ve suddenly become someone who will always make the right decision for herself, but I’m growing closer to being able to fully trust myself in those decisions, big and small. I’ve always wanted to live a big, full life, and that may always mean a balancing act of rest and activity, with the scales ever shifting, sometimes precariously. This relationship may never be one of total peace, and that’s okay. It can still be one of love, instead of punishment and denial. Rest is not a place where things go to die, though some cycles might end and be mourned there. Rest is a place of growth and a season of rebirth, without which nothing green and new could reach for the sun. I welcome it.
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