I’m tired of resting.
Go ahead, roll your eyes. Think: some burden. Your privilege is killing me. Oh, the whining.
I get it. I’ve lived many years of my life when I would have been thrilled to have time, especially generous quantities of it, to rest. To slow down the semester, not bring work home every night. Not to have a sick cat, a visiting writer, and a traveling husband all fall in the same week. Not to berate myself for neglecting to phone family more often because I’m too exhausted at the end of the day to make one more call, even to someone I love.
I’ve written elsewhere about the need for more rest, more leisure in our lives. With rest comes reflection, and with reflection, innovation. Not to mention that rest is fundamental to good health and self-care. I don’t by any means mean to malign rest, and I am extremely grateful to have the privilege to rest when I need to, especially when I know so many, whether ill or healthy but simply tired, don’t.
It would be better stated to say I am tired of having to rest. Tired of having to parse out my days, knowing if I want to enjoy an evening with friends, I shouldn’t go to the grocery store in the afternoon. That if I have a doctor’s appointment, it might be the only outing I have energy for that day. I think maybe I didn’t really believe the doctors or other survivors when they told me how fatigued I’d be, and for how long. I used to compile errands, thinking, hey, while I’m out, I’ll stop at X and take care of Y, too. These days I’m mostly a one-stop shop, and sometimes even then I come home and nap.
There’s an article that’s made its way around the internet about the “spoon theory.” The writer, Christine Miserandino, has lupus, and recounts the day, over lunch, a friend of hers asked what it was like to live with the chronic condition. On impulse, Miserandino grabbed all the spoons from her own and several surrounding tables, handed them to her inquisitive friend, and an analogy was born. Though the spoon theory initially described life with chronic conditions, the theory also applies to those with long-term illnesses. The basic premise: a person with chronic or long-term illness has a limited number of “spoons” (energy) to use each day and has to decide how to “spend” them. Different activities use up different amounts of spoons; the person has to plan carefully, because once a day’s spoons are used up, that’s it. For example, one thing Miserandino points out is that simply getting showered and dressed requires a spoon or two. As I gain strength, making myself publicly presentable takes less of a toll, but I still sometimes leave a little time between getting ready and going out so I can rest up for a few minutes.
Hubby Steve and I just spent a lovely weekend in New York City, the first traveling I’ve done since July. We started slow each morning, sleeping in and heading out for brunch between 11 and noon. Both afternoons we visited small museums for about two hours, then returned to our hotel for a couple hours’ rest before going to a show in the evening. We had a fabulous time, but the difference in our itinerary from our first trip to the city two years ago, when highlights included an afternoon walking tour of chocolatiers and going for a run through Central Park, was marked.
Some of my anxiety about resting probably comes from guilt. Though I do find value in rest, there is a part of me that feels like I should be doing something, doing more. Some days I get in a few hours of writing, or organize a file drawer or two in my office. But some days I don’t have the physical energy or mental concentration for much of anything, even reading. When I was really sick from chemo early on, I binge-watched television shows, but I grew weary of that fast. As a child, I only watched TV during the day when I was home sick, so I associate daytime TV-watching with illness, and it makes me fidgety. Instead, I’ve turned to podcasts and coloring books. Both have their perks: I’ve laughed a lot through the podcasts (laughter is the best medicine), and coloring is quite meditative. Still, there’s this little part of my brain that says, “Coloring? Shouldn’t you be doing something more productive?”
The first year I moved to Roanoke I contracted pneumonia in early January. When the doctor diagnosed me, he prescribed an antibiotic, then told me to come back for a check-up in six weeks. “Six weeks?” I asked, incredulous. Yes, he said, it would probably take that long to clear. I drug through each workday, went home and lay on the sofa until bedtime, then retired to my bed for the night, repeating the routine every day for weeks. One mid-March morning I woke up and realized, with surprise, “This is what it feels like to wake up feeling good!” I’d been sick and tired for so long, I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be healthy. It was a revelation.
I’m looking forward to experiencing that revelation again, whenever it finally arrives. I know it might be a while. Until then, I try to remember what my friend Sarah said when I shared my frustrations with her about my lack of productivity, my inability to do all the things I need and want to do.
“You are doing something,” she said. “Something very important: you’re healing.”
And in the meantime, I have my headphones, and a plethora of colored pencils.