Rest, the quiet rebellion

An Cailín Rua

HEADLONG INTO TROUBLE Bouncing off a burnout wall is no fun at all.

Why not take stock and adjust, like I did last year, in 2023?

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

This writer begins the new year positively befuddled – wasn’t the last new year only three months ago?! The speed at which time is passing feels like it mirrors the frantic pace at which we now live our lives... so, for at least the time it takes to read this column, it is time to press pause and breathe. That twilight time between Christmas and the start of the new year lends itself well to a pause; a turn to look back over one’s shoulder, and a look to what might await us in the future.
It’s not the first time your scribe has had to press pause this year. Every day is a school day in this life, but every so often a reminder hits us that as much as we like to think we are masters of our own fates, sometimes fate says different. The year 2022 was when I learned the importance of making time to rest. Even if I didn’t quite sign up for the lesson.
In ‘Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto’, published last October, author Tricia Hersey looks at the importance of rest, and how we, as a society, have quite a troubled relationship with the concept. For too long, she argues, our worth as humans has been measured in terms of our productivity, as cogs in a capitalist machine. Society looks down upon, frowns upon rest. Unproductiveness is akin to laziness. Busy-ness is glorified. I cringe when I remember, mere months ago, how when people asked me how I was, I would reply with ‘Great, thanks. Very busy’. Until I wasn’t.
For the first half of 2022, I was so busy being busy all the time that I didn’t see the burnout wall in front of me until I smashed, head-first, into it. And while burnout was a concept I’d never taken seriously before, I had to embark on a steep learning curve.
All the niggly things that had been bugging me for months – the tiredness, inability to concentrate, silly mistakes, low mood, trouble sleeping, procrastination, lack of confidence, abundance of self-doubt and, above all, constant sense of overwhelm and anxiety – all finally made sense.
While my mind was in denial, my body took over and shouted stop. A severe and terrifying panic attack in – of all places! – Hyde Park during the U-17 All-Ireland final (watching Galway win will do that to you, I suppose) was the scare that finally made me seek help. Doctor’s orders? Drop everything, and rest.
The physical symptoms of burnout were a surprise. Particularly the exhaustion and the anxiety.
It was all the more surprising because I do not have a high-powered job; I am not saving lives, nor I am I responsible for anyone’s millions (or indeed my own). I had simply, over a long time, taken too much on. Being constantly busy – though not unhappy – I had forgotten to prioritise rest.
Over five long months, I learned valuable lessons about rest’s importance to both body and mind. I learned about the incredible wonder that is the nervous system, and how the modern lives we lead place it under constant stress, leaving us all too often in a fight-or-flight position, rather than the more desirable rest-and-digest. I learned that rest, far from being a luxury, is actually a non-negotiable essential for both mental and physical health. I probably knew these things, but I didn’t fully understand them until I had to.
I wasn’t alone, either. When I told people what had happened, they shared their own stories.
So many of us are silently struggling with stress and exhaustion, but feeling we have no choice but to keep going. It struck me that we blame ourselves for this in the first instance, rather than looking at the dehumanising capitalist system in which we operate and asking whether it is in fact, what is broken.
We fail to question why things like digital technology, sold to us as a means of making our lives easier instead actually place a huge additional workload and mental load upon us that is rarely, if ever, acknowledged.
We accept that women by default carry a heavier burden.
And tragically, we fail to question why rest is so routinely dismissed, when science has shown us that in fact the more we rest, the healthier, the more productive, the more creative we become?
While bouncing off a burnout wall was no fun, in hindsight I can see it was a gift that will serve me for a long time to come. Months in the counsellors’ chair equipped me with life-changing tools, and a healthier, more selfish, perspective on life. I learned that no one is indispensable and that we all have a responsibility to ourselves, first and foremost to fill our own cups and put on our own oxygen masks first.
So, my new year’s resolution this year is a simple one. It is simply to rebel by doing less, unapologetically.
You should try and do the same.