What It Means to Rest
Healthy folks: think about your last “rest day.” Maybe you ran some errands you’d been putting off, or just marathoned Game of Thrones with your significant other and ordered takeout. Maybe you finally made progress in that book you’ve been trying to read for months, or you partook in a Harry Potter Weekend and slept until noon. Maybe you finally made time for your favorite hobby, and you have a completed puzzle or a knitted scarf to show for your day. You probably came out of it feeling happy, rested, recharged–– and like we all need a lot more of these days.
My mom used to call them mental health days when we were kids, and they were great every once in awhile when you needed to recharge. I’ve always been a big supporter of a restful day off. But since developing a chronic illness, my rest days are quite a bit different than they used to be.
Unless you live with or are very close to someone who’s ill, you probably aren’t intimately familiar with what their day-to-day looks like. And that’s probably on purpose–– I tend to hide the worst of the bad days from my loved ones, so from an outside perspective, it probably seems like I’m doing decently most of the time, or at least just having a long string of “meh” days. This is done in an effort not to burden people. Being sick can feel like enough of a burden as it is, so I find myself trying to minimize that in whatever way I can–– which often includes not asking for help, or spending the bad days alone.
So what does a “rest day” look like for someone who physically needs it? That’s where I think the biggest confusion lies. A lot of people who are chronically ill can’t work, or work from home, or take a lot of time off. This can lead to a lot of guilt and feelings of worthlessness over not contributing like a “normal person.” This guilt is made worse when people think your rest days are just like theirs–– that you’re sitting home watching movies and eating pizza and having a great time.
There’s a big difference between resting in a traditional sense and resting because your body is forcing you to. The latter takes a huge mental toll. First of all, you don’t get to choose when these rest days will come. Sometimes it might be on a random Tuesday, but other times it might come on the Saturday of your best friend’s birthday party. It’s a lot less fun to binge watch Stranger Things in bed when everyone else you know is out having fun and you’re hanging out with your cats and your guilt over being a bad friend.
Second, your rest days feel like living life as a zombie. You don’t get to be productive, running all the errands you’ve been putting off. You don’t get to work on your favorite hobby if it requires any brain power at all, because the brain fog and lack of sleep are getting to you. The best I can do on a rest day is stare at the TV for 8 hours, or maybe FaceTime my mom. Sometimes I bust out the coloring books. It’s not exactly the height of fun and happiness.
So when a chronically ill person tells you they went to bed at 7 PM last night, or that they spent the whole weekend at home in bed, don’t tell them you’re “so jealous” or that “that sounds great!” Even if you think you’re making them feel better, you’re probably not. Because while spending the day asleep every once in awhile, by choice, is freaking fantastic, doing it on a regular basis because your body is physically shut down is actually not a barrel of laughs. Zombie days just make it seem like life is passing you by, and that you’re going to sleep through all the best parts.