Humbled by Rest

Since falling down the stairs, hitting my head, getting concussed, and experiencing a panic attack, I’ve found I’ve had to be diligent about rest to heal my brain, body, and spirit. It has been a humbling experience.

With three children and a full-time job, I’ve learned to get very good at squeezing in several activities in a short period of time. In a one-hour window, I can throw some clothes in the wash, get dinner started, vacuum, move the clothes to the dryer, and mop the floors. Writing this sentence, I feel a strange mixture of suburban mom pride (“Look how much busywork I can get done!”), embarrassment (“Maybe I’m actually not doing that much?”), and squeamish guilt at boasting about chores as a descendent of enslaved people and as a resident in a world where people do backbreaking work for dollars a day.

It is the guilt that bothers me the most, and that makes resting feel not rejuvenating, but like I’ve won the lottery with a stolen ticket. I work through the guilt by keeping myself busy. So busy have I made myself, in fact, that I find it difficult to use a spare hour for anything other than errands and chores. Sometimes I’ll read, write a little, or go for a walk, but most often I find myself scrolling the annals of Instagram before giving up and zoning out on Netflix.

The accident temporarily changed all that as I had a bout with post-concussion syndrome. This meant that when I read too much, concentrated on a piece of writing for a few hours, or focused too long on a screen, I ended up with a foggy brain, headaches, or delayed word recall.

This was challenging for a person whose day job involves reading and editing text on a computer, who writes for fun, who likes to unwind by hanging out on the internet, and who is trying to replace her social media habit with reading a few good books. 

I had to tap into an ability I haven’t really honed since grade school: the ability to exist alone in quiet. I was an only child and lived in a trailer with a quarter-mile driveway that often separated me from the neighborhood kids in my rural town. So, in the summers and after school, I learned to spend hours in the woods building shanties out of sticks or in my mother’s tiny art studio painting canvasses while she worked. Unencumbered by thoughts of what I “should” be doing, I played and created until my heart’s content and learned to sit with bouts of ennui until they passed. What choice did I have? There were only four television channels and no internet.

Now, though, I feel a nervous boredom when a few hours of silence land on my lap. Podcasts, music, and old SNL skits on YouTube fill the quiet so I don’t have to sit with my thoughts for long.

I’ve had to re-learn how to not do. I already know how to do. How to work nine- or ten-hour days, how to juggle multiple projects at my job, how to use a lunch break to load the dishwasher and make a dentist appointment, how to squeeze in fifteen minutes of work between picking up kids from different schools, how to listen to music or a podcast while I’m going for a walk.

Doing nothing is far more challenging: Like, spending a lunch break just…eating lunch. Or walking by a pile of dirty dishes and leaving them there. Or lying on the bed to daydream. Or taking a walk with the pat of my footsteps as the only soundtrack.

Perhaps this is such a challenge because rest is an acknowledgment of my mental and physical limits. When I rest, the world goes on without me. This is a fact that is at once painful and liberating, because it means that everything and nothing matters.

Rest also means facing my feelings. The fear I had when I sat on the couch with paramedics surrounding me. The terror that replaced it when the paramedics attributed my symptoms to a psychological episode. The strange relief I felt when I learned my panic attack was likely triggered by concussion symptoms. The fear that I will have another panic attack that will blindside me, one with no clear antecedent. And the ongoing pang of guilt I have when I feel overwhelmed by my worries in a world where so many people struggle to simply survive.

I try to sit with the feelings without being overwhelmed by their volume. I lie on the bed and ice and heat the ankle still bruised from my fall. I tuck myself into bed and sip a warm cup of tea. I remember that, as yoga teacher Tracey Stanley has said on this blog, rest is a birthright that belongs to all of us. And then I rest.

7 responses to “Humbled by Rest”

  1. Thank you for writing this. That happened to me…a fall and concussion…at the beginning of the pandemic. I’m still working on normality for me🙏

    1. Oh I’m so sorry, Millie! How are you feeling these days?

  2. Irie, you’re an excellent and captivating writer! I knew you when you were first conceived, and I sneaked and fed your Mom food she craved which was against the real healthy stuff your Dad wanted her to eat. 🤣 I’m so in awe of your talent and the beautiful life journey you’re on. I’m so thankful to God that you’re safe now and recovering! Hope to see you soon.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment and this story (I don’t know how I missed it!). Hope to see you at the reunion!

  3. […] become overwhelmed by this reality, but to allow ourselves as Black people to experience joy and rest even as we work toward a world that is fairer, safer, and more […]

  4. […] into high relief when I experienced a concussion (you can read all about it here). For a few weeks, I struggled with post-concussion syndrome, a mind-bending cocktail of symptoms that made concentration and […]

  5. […] change. Last fall, when I fell down the stairs, got a concussion, and experienced several weeks of post-concussion syndrome, I wanted to turn back time and tread a little more carefully down those steps. But denying my […]

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