I tend to place a lot of value on productivity. I tend to put a lot of pressure and perceived riches on how much I can get done in an hour, day, week, and month. I set goals and establish timelines. My lists have lists, and the feeling of scratching something off of them – orgasmic!
Before COVID-19, I used to work for the weekend. And even on the weekend, I’d have back-to-back plans and long-standing commitments. The kids would have extracurriculars and I’d make plans as a reward to me and my husband, for all the hard work we’d done in the five days prior.
I quit my day-job just before COVID-19 hit and the schools shut down (#longestmarchbreakever). I quit because I was burnt out and fed up with grinding on toxic environments for ungrateful men (more on that another time). After months and months of therapy, I quit so I could rest.
It took a lot of work to convince me to leave a job that was predicated on a career I had built for over 12 years. It took an unwavering group of best friends, 3 therapists, 1 yoga master, 2 lonely kids, and 1 worried husband for me to give into what my body and soul knew I had to do.
I prepared a stack of books on my nightstand ready for me to dive-in. I planned to rest, digest and reset so I could figure out the next best thing. In the meantime, I looked forward to walking the kids to and from school, working out mid-morning, grocery shopping amongst the elderly, and maybe even watching a good documentary (TV…what’s TV?)
Alas, COVID-19 had other plans for my overactive brain.
All of the work I had done to convince myself to rest went right out the window when I became a stay-at-home-mom, sheltering in place with my kids and husband. My reptilian brain was more komodo dragon than it was crested gecko. Like a tyrant, I went right back to obsessive-compulsive tendencies. The pressure to be productive, and establish routines and put out results was worse than when I felt the pressure of “the man” breathing down my neck. I could sense the fear and self-doubt, the shame and loathing, the guilt and trauma. It was all coming back up and presenting itself, for me to face – again.
I’m certain that this feeling of pressure and productivity is not just a Me problem. This is a women’s issue. I know this because I’ve heard it from so many of my friends, family, students and people in my communities. The exhaustion is palpable when we gather. We’re tired, and we’re ashamed to admit it. And if we admit it, it doesn’t matter, because we don’t know what to do about it.
I also maintain that this isn’t a COVID problem. This is a woman’s condition – to feel the need to be productive at the benefit of all others, and the cost of her own wellbeing. This was the condition of my grandmother and my mother, and the many women I’ve witnessed nurture their families and communities.
Fast forward 6 months. I’m writing this piece at 10:15 am on a Monday. I woke up only 2 hours ago, and I’m still in my pyjamas and so are the kids. We have no plans for the day or the week, for that matter. And while there are still anxious thoughts that creep in about my routine and what I’m contributing, I feel at peace with the one COVID lesson I’ve learned that has freed me: women resting is both radical and required for our own self-care, and the care of our collectives.
Rest looks like many things, and it’s different for all of us. It can look like sleeping in, or ordering dinner, or taking a walk in nature. It can be a social-media hiatus, a news detox, or switching out that deep read for a graphic-novel. It can be as dramatic as ending a relationship, as powerful as saying ‘no’, as supple as a hot bath, and as decadent as chocolate cake.
I’ve learned a lot about rest from Black, Indigenous and Women of Color, who are fighting on the front lines of their communities for justice and equality. And in doing so, they are opening themselves up to teach the rest of us. Notably, I’ve learned about rest from Nicole Cardoza, Rachel Cargle and Jacqui Wilkins. I do not put myself in the shoes of these warriors. Rather, I bow to them for their bravery, and thank them for their grace and all they’ve allowed us to learn.
Rest is self-care. Self-care is community care. And Women are the ones who not only build the foundations of strong communities, but uphold them and keep them alive. So with that, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on rest in your own life. If it’s time for you to take it, I hope you will. If you’ve been resting and it’s time for you to go on and do your work, then do that too. Just know that when you need it, you can claim it. Rest is radical and required.