Rest. Why is doing nothing so hard? Part 2

Part 2 from the lovely Alison. And don’t forget to check out her blog arthousehomelife.

Why Is Doing Nothing So Hard?

Last week I knew I was heading for a meltdown.

I had painters, plumbers, carpenters, a plasterer, electrician and a frazzled site manager in my house all at once from 7am. My dogs were freaking out and trying to bite chunks out of the tradies’ ankles, Jazz (the cuter, but more nervy one) had stepped up her ‘I-will-not-wee-outside-if-it’s-raining-or-cold-or-a-little-bit-dewey’ campaign and used my daughter’s bed as a toilet (yes, lovely, discovered just as she was saying goodnight and about to climb in).

Every time I began to clear away the breakfast dishes or finish off the laundry, somebody would knock and ask another question or wander in with a ladder, or tell me there was someone knocking at the door, or ask me if I REALLY wanted to paint this thing that colour, and that they’d bought Taubmans rather than Dulux and it doesn’t match your other wall so shall I paint the entire room?, and btw the bathroom shop sent the wrong basin and the stonemason is leaving and won’t come back unless I pay him another $250, and the vanities were too low…. etc etc etc

This has been going on for almost a year and while I always say renovating is a nice problem to have and I am fortunate to be able to do it, my ability to be Zen about it all had worn rather thin.

I decided that for my sanity and the safety of the tradies (I was ready to stab someone, for no good reason) I would leave the piles of washing and hide in my study. Which is what I did.

It worked perfectly – I think after a few hours they all forgot I was here and surprisingly, without me, they all managed just fine. I had a lovely time blogging, reading, paying a few bills, relaxing.

At 3.30 I noticed the house was quiet. They’d all gone home. They hadn’t even knocked to say goodbye. I could get back to the things in the rest of the house that needed doing.

But after a day away from it all, the laundry pile looked higher, the dirty dishes in the sink were now crustier and hardened and much harder to wash, everything was covered, again, with a film of fine plaster dust. And it was time to prep for dinner. Worse, despite my ‘rest’ I had no energy or desire to tackle it all.

So rather than giving myself permission to catch up at whatever pace I needed to do it at, I began to berate myself for taking the time out. How could you while away the hours on the computer when there was work to be done? You wanted to renovate this place, tough it out. How hard is it to project manage while running a household? People everywhere do it all the time. Heck, you’re lucky to have all of this going on. Lucky to have a home at all. Lucky you don’t live in Syria right now, or Afghanistan, lucky you are not a mum with starving kids in Africa, lucky you don’t live in a tsunami zone and have your whole home and family washed away in one awful moment. Lucky lucky lucky. It’s just not that bad – you shouldn’t have rested.

I was so blah about it all, I rang my sister to download. I’m always wary of doing this. I don’t like to whinge or complain about my lot, which is, after all, a very comfortable lot in life. My sister, on the other hand knows what tough really is. She is a single mum to two children, one of whom has a profound intellectual and physical disability.

So that’s what I said. ‘I shouldn’t complain. It’s a nice problem to have. In fact it isn’t a problem really. It’s all fine. I just shouldn’t have spent so long in my study.’

My sister interrupted. ‘Maybe it’s not all fine. Maybe you did what you needed to do.’

‘But I did nothing. I wasted a whole day!’

‘But maybe you needed to do that.’

She was absolutely right. I knew I needed time out, I planned to take time out, I enjoyed taking the time out. I took time out. It was only now after the event I felt guilty.

‘You just listened to what your body needed, and you did it. What’s so wrong about that?’

And then she took the conversation to a whole new level.

She said this: ‘Do you remember a while back I would go to Westfield with R (her disabled daughter) and just walk? Not shop. Not talking to anyone. Just walk and walk?’

I remembered. She had just moved back to town after an awful break up with a man she loved dearly. She was heartbroken, exhausted and dazed, and bringing up two little girls on her own again.

‘I think I walked around Westfield for two years straight,’ she said. ‘At the time I berated myself. I should be at home cleaning, I should be finding a job, I should be exercising, I should be moving on, I should be doing this, or that, something – anything – other than spending all this time walking around Westfield. But now I look back and I know what I was doing. I was resting. My brain needed that walking, and that time out from doing anything else. My body was doing what it needed to do.’ (R’s disabilities means she’s not safe in the open, she runs off, and is very hard work. In Westfield she could wander around with my sister trailing behind, and not be at risk of getting lost, or hit by a car.)

‘I reckon your body tells you what it needs. I think it’s just hard to listen because we have so many voices in our heads telling us what we should be doing. Listen to your body. If you need to rest, rest. Why feel guilty?’

Yes. Why? Why not listen to what your body’s telling you loud and clear? Is it because we don’t trust ourselves? Is is because we fear we will rest for so long we might never get up and work again? Are we afraid of what other people might think? Would it mean we are lazy? Are we lazy?

I had to admit she was right. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I had rested. Nobody had died, nobody was hurt by it. There would be food on the table and enough clothes for the next day. I had done what I needed to do.

I know I’m a bit nuts at the moment, but I don’t think I am alone in this. I know a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable about slowing down. People who will keep going until they melt down, rather than see rest as a valuable investment of time.

Resting when we are tired is a natural thing to do. No need for judge and jury to weigh in afterwards to label it ‘wasting time’.

In the busyness of contemporary life listening to our bodies can seem like an optional extra. It’s not.

And guess what. Today, the laundry is all done and dinner for tonight was ready this morning, in case I needed external proof that I’m back, mind, body and spirit.

And you’ll be happy to know, no tradies or neurotic dogs were harmed along the way.

4 thoughts on “Rest. Why is doing nothing so hard? Part 2

  1. We all need to step back – or completely step OFF – once in a while. Right now I’m wondering what else I can get rid of (like blogs I never read, spending less time on Twitter and FB, writing fewer blogs). The editing biz is picking up, so I must realize that I am not a super-woman. Because I still must have a break once in a while. I try to banish the guilt.

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    • Totally agree, Karen. Stepping off is exactly what we need to do sometimes. And I’m with you in regards to the blogs – my inbox fills up faster than I can read them all! I often wonder how much actual writing I could get done if I wrote instead of read all the advice on writing! Glad to hear your business is picking up 🙂

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  2. I’ve been reading your blog and am enjoying the exceptional writing from both yourself and Alison. Just wanted to agree wholeheartedly about resting when your body requests it. I am a classic “overachiever” – never liked that word! Always going until exhausted. This is actually encouraged in nearly everything we read in most forms of media. After a health scare a couple of years ago, I believe it’s possible to do too much. Unless it is a human or animal necessity of some description, there is time to listen to your body. The down side of not doing this is that when you least expect it (and no doubt the worst timing in the world!) your body will insist on rest.
    So thanks for sharing all your thoughts – it’s great to know that many people think along the same lines as I do – over such a range of subjects.

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    • Glad you are enjoying it Gillian 🙂 Alison certainly is a wonderful writer!
      Couldn’t agree more re resting. Doing too much is possibly the greatest disease we are facing as a society. And the body does certainly have a way of being heard – we look after our cars and homes with more consistency and enthusiasm than we do our bodies, and at some point our bodies force us to listen. Let’s hope between us all we can start a ‘rest’ revolution 🙂

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