Tag Archives: rest

Rest, action and illness

When ‘normal’ people are ill or tired, they rest. What do you do if ill and/or exhausted are your normal condition? I go round this one a lot, and while I’m not able to offer definitive answers, I think there’s mileage to be had in framing the questions and possible answers.

Rest helps us recover faster from illness. Not resting when ill not only slows recovery, but also undermines mental health.

However, being physically active helps move the blood and lymph fluids about, which can also help. Too much inaction leaves us with weakened muscles, reduced stamina, less healthy hearts. Not moving much can also make mental health issues worse. Physical activity is encouraged as an answer to depression and anxiety. Being as fit as you can be helps you stay resilient.

Except if you always hurt and you never have much energy, being active is hard. It isn’t easy to tell if a sudden loss of energy is because you have energy issues, or because you are coming down with some simple ailment like the flu. If you are used to pushing to get things done it can be hard to work out when not pushing is the better answer.

Depression causes loss of energy. Depression is a common consequence of living with long term pain and illness. It isn’t easy to separate the heavy lethargy of depression from the physical experiences you may be having.

It is easy to get into unhelpful cycles. If you push all the time to keep going, you learn to ignore what your body tells you. You become alienated from your body and fight against it continually. You don’t notice when things go wrong that need some response other than pushing harder. This puts you at risk. Perhaps in the end you run out of the will to keep pushing yourself onwards all the time. That can be very hard to recover from.

If you rest too much, you lose, or do not develop physical strength, stamina and co-ordination. Depression may increase. Increasing your feelings of lethargy. You feel powerless, you may feel increasingly intimidated by the idea of trying to do anything. You may just keep spiralling down in this way until you aren’t really living your life at all.

There’s no simple solution to this that I can see. Listening to your body is good and so is trusting your body, but depression and exhaustion don’t make you into a good listener. Often the opposite. Other people will have advice for you, maybe some of them will think they know what you need better than you know. Sometimes they may be right, but not always. Other people will have magic cures and absolute certainties for things that will change everything – but your body is unique and what worked for one person is not guaranteed to work for you.

There are no simple answers. Keep questioning. Keep trying things. Don’t give up on yourself. You may never be able to get so that your body works in the way a normal body is assumed to work, but that’s not the only good outcome available. You can find combinations that serve you best, and that improve your quality of life and you can do it on your own terms.


Resting is a virtuous activity

Industrial cultures are quick to blame anyone who isn’t busy busy busy working and consuming. Our leaders and commentators treat laziness like a mortal sin. It’s lazy people letting the economy down, work harder! It is lazy people who don’t have jobs – magically overcome your illnesses and disadvantages and get useful right now! And so on and so forth. We all hear that all the time, and it is feeding a sense that we have to be busy to be good.

This is total rubbish and doesn’t stack up at all. It’s not those who don’t work who create the problems in the economy, but the whole structure and nature of capitalism. If we want to point fingers at the ‘workshy’ we’d be better focused on those who earn a great deal for doing very little. Our economy depends on us being persuaded to buy things we can’t afford and don’t need – that’s not a good strategy for anyone individually, or for everyone. Debt creates bubbles and bubbles inevitably burst and leave a mess. Blaming those who can’t find work is simply a distraction to stop us from questioning the system itself.

Exhausted people who work all the time won’t do anything revolutionary. They’re too tired. Exhausted people are less able to make good decisions because they don’t have the concentration, and are more easily persuaded to do anything that might give them brief peace and respite. It is worth noting that keeping your victim exhausted is the kind of thing domestic abusers do in order to keep abusing with impunity. I see a lot of parallels between how governments treat the people and how abusers treat victims.

Being well rested makes a person calmer. A calm person can’t be panicked into making a bad decision. A calm person can think things through more easily. The well rested person has better self esteem and is less likely to accept things that harm them. The exhausted person is more likely to feel worthless and be less able to resist exploitation as a consequence.

When you get all the rest you need, you aren’t getting signals from your body to tell you there’s a crisis going on. So you aren’t looking around for something to eat, drink or own that might ease the feeling of crisis. You aren’t trying to buy shortcuts, and won’t be ripped off by people selling you false economies.

The person who rests has the time to reflect, to keep things in perspective, to figure out how they are and what they want. The person who can rest can lead a considered life, self aware and with the knowledge to practice effective self care. Rest time is when we pause to make sense of things, when we can chew over what we’ve learned, and see what’s important and what isn’t. The person who can’t rest may find themselves flailing from one mess to another, with no idea how to stop or even what’s gone wrong.

Rest is a virtuous activity, because rest allows us the space to develop wisdom and insight. The person who is always busy can’t do that in the same way. Hard work is not itself a virtue, and may be at odds with virtue because too much of it destroys the scope for reflection and wisdom.

The need to be useful

When you’re ill, it is important to rest in order to recover. However, the need to feel useful can be a real barrier to this. I think it most afflicts people whose self esteem is tied to their output. If being useful to someone else is how you get to feel ok about yourself, then stopping is really hard. The lower a person’s sense of self worth is, the harder it is for them to feel that resting and recovering might be more important than doing the useful things.

The result can be that if you do stop in order to try and get well, you end up mired in panic and feelings of worthlessness, none of which helps. Especially not when what you’re trying to recover from is depression and/or anxiety.

It certainly doesn’t help that we have a government intent on making us believe that we are either workers or shirkers. We are to believe that hard work is the only thing that can save us from economic ruin (such a big lie). We are told by media and ministers alike that if we aren’t useful, we aren’t worth anything to anyone. Ill people are treated like scroungers and criminals. In that context, who wants to admit they are too ill to work? And so many people end up working when they should not, and making worse the health problems that might have been fixed if they’d felt able to stop.

If you are unable to fend off the idea that you must be useful, but you are also in need of time off, here’s a thought that may help. If you are well and rested, you will be better at doing the things. Your mind will be sharper, you’ll be faster, more efficient, and more effective.

Mostly, the time to tackle the pernicious idea that the measure of our lives is our utility, is not when you’re in a crisis. This is an every day sort of problem. We can challenge it by affirming each other’s rights to rest and to good health. We can remind each other that we should not be cogs in someone else’s profit machine. We can look after each other, and we may at times need to support and take care of those who are being let down by the system. We can campaign for change, and resist the lies of politicians and media alike, overcoming their bile to recognise our shared humanity.

We all need rest, time off, and time to recover when we are ill. Without a doubt, we will all face serious illness at some point – either our own, or that of someone close to us. We need to gently educate the people who are lucky enough not to be really ill, and who are buying into the lies about effort and scrounging. Of course it is tempting to believe it when you seem to be winning, because it means it is your effort keeping you ahead, not pure chance. It gives the illusion of being in control, and that’s a hard illusion to let go of.

We are soft and fragile things, our bodies damage easily, our minds can be broken. We cannot ask ourselves to function like pieces of machinery. We should not have to work ourselves into the ground in order to survive, or to be socially acceptable.

Time off, regardless of the behaviour

I’m not really here. The internet is very good at letting me appear to be here when in fact I am not. If all has gone to plan, I may not even have climbed out of the duvet as you read this. I wrote this blog last week, when I was plotting my time off.

One of the things I have learned the hard way is that I can’t work an event over a weekend and then get straight back into a regular working week and expect to function. So, this year, after spending the bank holiday weekend at a massive and wonderful steampunk event in Lincoln, I will spend the next day recovering. Recovery time is essential to mental and physical health, to concentration, productivity, efficiency and getting to be a person. I’ve stopped treating it like some kind of luxury and started recognising it as essential.

I’ve also noticed how much my thinking is affected by time off. I think better when I get decent breaks from doing that. I am more likely to have good ideas when I’m not especially trying to have good ideas.  There’s a definite correlation between downtime and creativity.

I’ve also learned over the last few years that I’d been under-estimating how much time I need to process big emotional experiences. Emotions take energy. Suppressing them takes even more energy. Making space for them is good. I have a better head if I make space for the feels.

As I write this, I know Asylum will be full of feels. There are lots of people I adore and don’t see very often at all. Some only at this event, in fact. There are people involved I would go so far to say that I love, and spending time around them will impact on me hugely. I’m taking out two public displays, one to try and get people involved in The Hopeless Vendetta, and one song based performance, and that’s going to have an emotional impact. No doubt there will be things I didn’t see coming – there always are.

Time to reflect, to absorb, process, make sense, digest – whatever needs doing – is essential. I don’t want to be bouncing carelessly, thoughtlessly from one experience to another. I want to live a considered life. Often that requires more time in the duvet, just chewing things over.

Rest Days

With ‘hard work’ held as a value and overstimulation being normal for down time, a day of rest can be a challenging thing to pull off. However, running flat out forever is not a viable option, and I’ve faced the truth repeatedly that if I don’t plan my stops, there will come a point of being forced to take them, and the timing then is often lousy.

I find physical rest days difficult in no small part because my feet are my primary form of transport. A day resting means not walking anywhere, which seriously limits my scope for being sociable. My down time has to be the sort of thing I can do in the flat. I find crafting works well for such days, although that does mean my hands are busy, if I take it gently I don’t put much extra strain on them.

Mental rest is a totally different process and I find it’s often best served by getting outside and doing something with my body. Long walks help me clear my head. Failing that, short walks are always a help.

I’m conscious that for many people, rest means flopping down in front of a screen. I’ve also noticed that for me, this isn’t always effective for brain rest, because I tend to think about what I’m watching, and it’s easy to over-stimulate my mind if I’m already overtired. Watching is an easy answer, and thus very tempting when knackered, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the effects and fettling accordingly.

I try to make sure that brain and body get sufficient rest time on a day to day basis, but even so, the whole day off needs to come round every now and then. Total rest for the brain is something I seldom want, but when I do, it’s a case of just lying in the duvet and making room for nothing to happen.

Of course it’s often possible to push through this and keep busy, putting the hard work as an imagined virtue ahead of wellness and moving myself towards physical illness and mental breakdown. It has been hard to pull away from that, to stop, to recognise that it’s not heroic to keep pushing on and it’s seldom necessary. Plus, if I rest when I need to I get more done when I’m working. While a focus on efficiency does keep me tied to the idea that work is everything, it is a way of fighting fire with fire. Should I stop now? Well, how is that going to affect my productivity tomorrow?

Spiritual life and the working week

For the first time in a good 15 years, I’ve had a month of working five day weeks and taking the weekends off. The consequences have been numerous. When I started out as a self-employed person, I guarded my weekends. However, the person I was living with became ever less interested in doing anything with time off, and so out of boredom I started doing more work at the weekends. Increasing financial pressure kept me there. Then I married a man who was entirely settled into seven day working weeks. It’s not easy taking time off when the person you most want to take time off with is working. What started as a bad call became a habit, and something that seemed necessary – and in fairness, actually was at some points.

There’s a macho culture in comics that is all about working yourself to death. In Japanese manga it’s even worse, with creators not being able to expect enough downtime for proper sleep, even. Our wider culture is keen to link wealth with hard work, and poverty with indolence, so if you aren’t raking it in, there’s a pressure to try and make sure everyone at least knows that you’re trying very hard all the time. It’s worth noting that exhaustion does not increase productivity or creativity. Rather the opposite.

The five day working week means I can have time to rest and relax, and the energy and time to socialise and get inspired. I’ve felt much less isolated this month, and there have been a lot of joyful things. Working almost all the time and being exhausted the rest of the time is a recipe for depression, and it certainly increases anxiety. I’ve got to a point where I can afford not to be flat out all the time, and for this I am deeply grateful.

I’m perfectly happy to think of anything I do as a potential expression of my Druidry. However, this is a thing to be cautious about, because it can mean just not really doing any Druidry. The more run-ragged I am, the less room I have for gratitude – and to be honest, the less reason as well. To practice gratitude you need the time to stop and appreciate things. A person running flat out all the time can’t do this. It’s difficult to meditate when you’re fretting about deadlines. It’s difficult to celebrate when you’re anxious about money and work.

To bring your spiritual practice to all things calls for time. It’s not compatible with a never-ending workload. It’s also, I eventually came to realise, deeply inhuman and dehumanising to just be something that works until it can’t and then falls over, and then does it again.

Some of it, is about whether you have the luxury of choice. With a low paid job, the ‘choice’ is to work long hours, or struggle to pay the bills for the most basic things. When the only job you can ‘choose’ requires a long commute, when you’re expected to work unpaid overtime, when you’ve got to work multiple part time jobs to make ends meet, genuine choice is in short supply. Those of us who can choose, can do our bit not to support a culture of working to death. We can reject the idea that hard work is what brings money – it isn’t. Money is what brings money, and the traps that keep the poor in poverty are numerous.

Rest is a virtue, not a vice. It is something we should all have the right to, it should not be a privilege for the few.

Whole days off

I’m not sure when I got into the habit of not taking whole days off very often. Parent to a young child, self employed, then married to an over-worked artist, and struggling with work that required a lot of time and didn’t pay much… there were lots of reasons not to stop. It’s not helped that for a large part of 2014 my other half was working ten and twelve hour days, and seven day weeks all too often. It’s not easy to stop and chill out when the other person in your life is stuck at the table, hunched over a board and dangerously close to sweating blood. I managed half days off, but it’s not the same.

Since midwinter, I’ve been taking whole days off now and then – one or two in a week. For me, a day off means not switching my computer on. No email, no social networking, no blog (I write them in advance to cover those days). Nothing intellectually demanding. I may spend time on nest maintenance, crafting, I may read a review book, but there the line is drawn. There is, I have noticed, a vast qualitative difference between two half days off, and a whole period between sleeps when I’m not working. It’s like a reset button for my brain, and the impact on stress and mood is huge.

It is an odd feature of contemporary culture that we’re encouraged to spend our time off being just as over-stimulated as we are when working. If you’re sat in front of the television with your social media feed on your phone (and I think a lot of people are, based on how they post) the information coming at you is considerable. There is no rest when you’re processing that much. It’s also hard to go from that kind of over-stimulated over-thinking to peaceful sleep.

Sleep deprivation leads to weight gain. It’s a clearly established but under discussed issue. We have an obesity epidemic, in which no one is talking about sleeping, nor about how our culture impacts on sleeping. But then, no one makes any money out of us when we’re peacefully unconscious.

I’ve had to spend a lot of time getting things badly wrong to properly understand why getting it right is so important. I’ve watched my usually sharp mind become truly blunt, I’ve watched my once excellent energy levels become unpredictable, and often very poor. I’ve watched my mental health degenerate. All of these things locked me down into fear and it seemed like the only way out was to try harder, do more. It’s very hard, when you’re mired in that way to see stopping as anything other than very dangerous and bound to make things worse.

I’m sleeping better. I’m in less pain. My moods are more stable, and my thinking is a good deal clearer. I’m having more and better ideas. And yet our politicians bang on about the virtue of hard work and keep telling us that hard work alone is what it takes to lift people out of poverty. Maybe this is not an accident. Maybe they know perfectly well that over-stimulated, over worked people are more readily persuaded to keep running round in the same little circles, going nowhere. If we stop, we might have time to think, and if we think, we might question and if we question it might occur to us that we’re mostly running round in little circles for someone else’s benefit, or no benefit at all. And then what would we do?

Days off

People I know who take health and fitness stuff very seriously make a point of time off. Rest days, and even rest weeks when there’s no running around. Fasting days to clear out the system. It’s something I think about more than I do. The rest days are tricky because walking is my primary mode of transport and one of my main leisure activities. What else do I do all the time that it would be a good idea to take a break from?

Caffeine is an obvious candidate. I use caffeine to push through tiredness, and I use it most days. On a practical level, that reduces efficacy and can’t be doing me much good, so, a day off from caffeine now and then, or a reduced intake day, is something I try to allow myself time for. Today is a no-caffeine day.

The caffeine habit goes with a work pattern that doesn’t give me whole days off very often. Aside from the handful of things people pay me reliably to do, I have three books in progress at the moment, and unplugging from thinking about that is hard. The political side of my job requires me to pay constant attention to local and national politics – days off there are risky and infrequent. I have to know what’s going on. Sometimes I really wish I could have a day off and the respite of ignorance.

Fasting is difficult if you aren’t in a position to rest your body and mind a bit. Fasting is not a viable option if you also have to run hard, it’s just another scary pressure to add to the mix.

I’ve set today up so that I can float round the flat, and I’m intending to crash out intermittently through the day. No caffeine. There will be fruit juice and nut milk, because this is as much about changing what I do as it is about getting into the whole ‘fasting’ thing, and I’m not especially hardcore. It’s an opportunity to reflect on how I construct the ‘normal’ of my days, and whether that’s actually a good idea.

It is not my personal belief that people should work seven day weeks – it’s just that Tom and I are in a situation that makes it difficult not to. He has some hefty deadlines and spends most of his time working, and while I could take more time off (which wasn’t previously the case for me) I feel guilty about stopping when he can’t. If hard work equated to wealth, we’d be rolling in it.

It’s half nine, and I learn that I blog a lot slower without the morning coffee. My concentration is not what it could be, and today I am going to let that be ok. I’m not going to push against tiredness, I’m going to let my energy levels be low, and not do much. My theory is that this should be good for me. Thoughts on how that works in practice, to follow.

Exhaustion, bees and depression

A total absence of energy is often taken to be a symptom of depression. Based on experience, I am inclined to think this is not a simple case of cause and effect. Exhaustion can be as much a cause of depression as a symptom of it.

Every other mammal rests. The creatures that work flat out – the busy bees and their fellows – have very short life spans. We humans have got into the idea that some of us, should be working like bees, despite the fact that our mammal bodies really don’t handle this well. We are meant to rest. If we do not rest, then eventually we fall over. Based on watching my own cycles of burnout and depression, it tends to be the case that I get depressed when I am exhausted, and not the other way round. Exhaustion is not a symptom for me, it is the root cause. There are days when it takes all the will I can muster to get up and keep doing. Continue that day after day, with no proper breaks and no respite, and body and mind alike will eventually falter.

We are sold the idea that hard work is both a virtue, and the answer to all risks of poverty. Hard working people are celebrated by politicians, while those who are not able to be working hard enough are denigrated with words like ‘scroungers’. If hard work were all it took to be successful, I would be significantly more successful than I am. If hard work were the magic answer, those years my other half spent working two jobs and only getting a few hours sleep a night, would have made him rich rather than damaging him.

I know a lot of people who work very hard, and many of them are not especially successful. There’s an influence in choice of job – if you set out in life to get a job that will pay a lot of money, you’re probably doing better than someone who answered a calling to teach, to help, to put something of beauty and innate worth into the world. Medicine seems to be an exception there. If we measured people by the value of their contributions, teachers and nurses would be a good deal better paid, and football players would not, I suspect, have quite such vast incomes.

Work hard, throw all of your energy, passion and inspiration into what you do, and one of two things will happen. Either you will see no significant benefit, or you will get somewhere. The difference in outcomes may have more to do with luck than your own efforts. To work hard and soulfully in any capacity, and see no return, is soul destroying after a while. Depression seems an entirely natural response to this. To be unvalued, not well remunerated, not going places, seems to invalidate not only the work, but the soul and effort that went into it. This is always an issue for creative people, and very often an issue for anyone who gives a damn about what they were doing.

We do not live in a meritocracy. How good you are and how hard you work often do not count for much. The loudest, angriest voice often wins the argument. The person with the most buying power pays for the result they want. The person willing to do whatever it takes to make the profit, makes the profit and never mind the exploitation along the way. We spend our school years being told to try our best, work hard, and strive, and then we get out into the real world and find those rules frequently do not apply. If you want to be successful, you’re much better off getting someone else to work hard, while you cream off the profits and sit back. That way lies respect, power, and kudos. Work hard, and all bets are off as to what may come from this.

Nothing offends those in power like poor people with no desire to work themselves to death as busy little bees, enabling someone else to make a fortune. I am not a bee. I want a culture shift.

The quest for happy accidents

I’ve been making a lot of changes to how I work and live, and also trying to shift how I think about things. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to do the work that is meaningful to me, and if I can’t make that pay the bills, I have to find some other stuff to fill in with. (Probably tutoring, but we’ll see what comes.) Alongside that, I’ve also come to the conclusion that time off for rest and play is essential. To which end we went to the pub last night. A man walked into the bar carrying a banjo. This is not the opening of a banjo joke, bear with me…

A bunch of other guys turned up with guitars, and as we were in their corner, asked if we minded and set up around us. We didn’t mind, and they didn’t seem to mind us, either. I haven’t had much live music in my life recently, so this felt like a treat. They kicked off with ‘Ride on’ and it boded well. Between the musicians, sat a box, of rather distinctive shape, which nobody opened. Now, I haven’t had the violin out all winter, and I haven’t played a viola in about two years. When they played REM’s ‘Losing my Religion’ – a song I used to do with my good friends Dave and Andy Simpson, I realised I had to ask. Fear of failure became outweighed by need to try. I asked what was in the box. Yes, it was a viola, and the guy who owned it had only been playing a year and was mostly sticking to his guitar. Yes, I could borrow it.

It took me a moment or two to figure out where my fingers needed to be, and then it all came back, and we jammed and it was good, and I now know where else they meet up to play and have an invitation to go along. Apparently they’d been hankering after getting a fiddler for some time.
Happy accidents. They seem to turn up more when I’m looking for them, and when I’m already doing the right things for the right reasons. Right place, right time, right people. If I’m in the wrong place doing the wrong things, there’s little chance of that happening. This morning we had a lie in, and as a result missed the rain, and moved the boat in sunshine. Win. The running hard, pushing hard, has not worked much, and mostly wears me out. The time spent on curiosity, exploration, play, experimentation, pays off. Almost always. I can feel a perceptible difference between pushing, and flowing with what is. The flowing only works when I invest care, creativity, and my very best work. It’s not a sloth option, but it calls for being more attuned to the whole right place, right time vibe. Turning up, doing, daring. The more I rethink how I go about my life, the more convinced I become that taking risks, doing what speaks to my soul, and trying to be the very best that I can, (not merely the most marketable that I can) is where the good stuff lies.

How I work has changed so much in the last few months. Including how I think about my work and what I actually produce, and how I feel about it. More on that tomorrow.