When I finally went to the doctor, more than two years ago now about anxiety, I had a lot of practical advice. One of the things that came up then, and later doing cognitive behavioural therapy, is the importance of rest. It’s something I find difficult. I’ve always been driven, although what drives me can vary, but the need to be creative, coupled with the need to do something good in the world has always got me out of bed in the morning.
As mother to a young child, that got quite out of control. Looking after a little one is a full time job, and trying to work full time on top of that and hold together voluntary work, some kind of social life and my own learning, resulted in regular burn out. I felt under a lot of pressure to achieve. Then, with my circumstances changing, the need to earn a living became ever more pressing, but there were even more pressures and demands on my time, solicitors cost a fortune, and so the pressure inside my head built, and built. I did not dare stop. I’d work until I couldn’t, only taking time out to do things for my child, or with him, but not having ‘me’ time and fighting, constantly against depression and anxiety. Being low and fearful is not conducive to fast or effective work, which feeds into a vicious cycle.
It took a deliberate decision to step back from that, and it was hard. Stopping, resting, taking time off felt like a luxury I had no right to. Pausing felt like cheating, I was waiting for someone to come round and tell me off. At the same time I also knew that if I didn’t do something, my mental health would continue to decline and the doctor made it clear that if I did not take care of myself I would get to the point where I simply couldn’t work. Watching other friends on facebook and out here in the real world wrestling with the exhaustion-depression combo, I know it’s not just me, and that’s why I wanted to write about it.
Right now in America, Obama is talking about how people need to work harder. It’s a line governments troll out now and then. Work harder and you’ll get to where you want to be. Work harder to achieve, to earn, to get results. Often it means work harder for fewer returns, less money, less down time. Work harder for someone else’s benefit. Work harder than what? Harder than whom? Get on that treadmill and all you can do is run faster and faster round the same circle until it destroys you.
Quality of life is not all about money. Rest is a big part of quality of life. Time to relax, contemplate, nurture wellbeing. Time to seek inspiration and be gently spiritual. Time for loved ones, and peace. What are we working for, if not that?
I’ve not worked as much in the last two years. I always stop at least an hour before I intend to sleep, often sooner. I take half days off. Sometimes even whole days. I’m daring to imagine I could have a proper holiday next year. I’d still like to do less, but I have a lot of conditioning to break, for that to be possible. I’ve noticed a thing though. I may spend less time working, but I get as much, if not more, done. Not being exhausted all the time, not running hard just to slide backwards. My writing has improved, my concentration is better, my memory and imagination more reliable.
Work harder? It’s not a good aspiration. It’s about keeping you down, keeping you too tired to pay attention to what is being done to you, or in your name. Work harder, so you have to buy in more services. Work harder, so someone else profits. It’s all part of the array of lies underpinning our dysfunctional culture. Every day, I have to make a conscious effort to avoid feeling like my every waking moment should be devoted to a money generating activity. Every day I am consciously spending time not being economically active. It’s a fight. I am healthier because of it. I am not on long term antidepressants. I am still able to work. I am not a cog in someone else’s machine.