I took a day off, yesterday. Almost a whole day (I sorted some laundry). This is rare for me. Normally, a day off is something that happens at a rate of one or two in a month, and means not putting the computer on. Instead I’ll end up doing a lot of domesticated things, or, in the case of September, the 21 mile epic of the five valleys walk.
It was tough in the morning. I felt like I should be doing something. (That was why I put laundry away). I wafted about a lot. What does a person do when they aren’t busy doing things that need doing or that are their work life or other people need? In the end I settled on a project that had been lying around for months – adapting a long strappy dress into a top with sleeves. Sleeved summer tops and dresses have been elusive to say the least. I hadn’t got round to it because overhauling a garment for me is a bit of a frivolous thing (trust me, it is a frivolous garment). I then spent the afternoon with friends, food and a film, and that was very relaxed and lovely.
By the time I got home last night, I was aware of a distinct physical change. My body had calmed to an unfamiliar degree. My mind had slowed as well. Often my thoughts ping about in fairly erratic ways and at high speeds – the mindset required for juggling kittens and chainsaws – which tends to be how it feels. There was nothing to juggle last night. Nothing that needed doing.
Back in January 2014, I was at a protest with a bunch of people who were talking about how nice it had been to have some days off. I’d had Christmas day off, but otherwise it had been work as usual. I hadn’t stopped, I didn’t feel refreshed and ready to dive back in. There just hadn’t been a break in my workflow and I couldn’t see how to make one. Plus, being a self employed person means a week off is a week not earning, and I’ve not felt able to justify that. This year is better. One of my stable jobs pays me for what I do but lets me organise it as I please – I’m not on call, and if I set things up far enough in advance, I can take as many days off as I please. I saw at that protest how relaxed and cheerful people were, as a consequence of getting a break, and it showed me how different my life was to theirs. The problem with that kind of arrangement is that it will leave you feeling like a second class citizen. Other people are good enough to merit time off…
I’ve had a lot of years dealing with the judgement of others, where being able to demonstrate that I was working hard was something I could use to defend myself. That’s no longer the case, but the habits of anxiety are harder to drop. The habits of fear within my body. The habits of not stopping and not treating myself as entitled to a break. There are things it isn’t so necessary to think about when you’re running flat out. What is this for? What am I doing this for? What is the point of my life? Grief, pain and fear can all be blotted out just by running hard. I’ve always been the sort of person to use work as a way of overcoming and blotting out other issues, and that’s helped me not deal with the other issues.
In stillness, in silence, in not busyness, there is room for other thoughts to surface. Questions, discomfort, existential angst, new ideas; all the checks and balances to a fuller life. Not contemplation held as a formal discipline (although that’s good too and very important to me) but a making of space. A making of space that lets something else in.