Sundays are usually the days since I’ve moved to Tampa to go over to my mom’s house and give her a day of emotional rest. See, my amazing, incredible, strong, powerful, faithful mother is also a wife to a man who was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago.
Being a caregiver is a full time job. She doesn’t necessarily view it as that. My mom views it as agape love, a pure, willful, sacrificial love that intentionally desires another’s highest good.
With any form of dementia, there is truly no time to rest. To regroup and care for yourself. So you have to make the time to do that. And it helps when she has someone on her support team to give her that.
As I sit here finally getting her husband to eat his lunch after an hour battle, I realized something.
I’m emotionally exhausted.
As much as I’d like to think that I’ve given myself a day of rest, the truth is, I haven’t. My “day of rest” was me scrolling on social media constantly thinking about the next thing I needed to get done. How I was “being lazy” with my time when I could have been doing the things I needed to get done.
But then I remembered something a friend of mine said to me the other day,
“They don’t recommend exercising seven days a week. Your body needs time to recover. This applies to your mental and emotional growth, too.”
Well if that didn’t completely hit home. My therapist recently commended me on the self-awareness I’ve developed over the last few years since I’ve started my journey of recovery. But I genuinely have a love-hate relationship with it. More love than hate, but still the feeling is still there.
Every single day is an uphill battle with my mental illness. With my depression, my eating disorder, my anxiety. But through the hard work I’ve put in, the hill is a little less steep. The weight on my back is a little lighter. But it doesn’t make the journey any less exhausting.
With self-awareness, there is this element that can seem overwhelming. Every moment is an opportunity to learn and grow. But like my friend said, I haven’t been giving myself any time to recover. I haven’t been giving myself a true day of emotional rest. And today, I’m over it. Tomorrow, I might not be. But today, I’m ready for my day of rest. A day to not have to process feelings.
But how do you find the balance? If every opportunity is a chance to learn and grow, to become the version of myself I want to become, how do I also allow myself a moment then to take a breath?
The concept becomes muddled because, as I’ve learned recently is something many people don’t know, mental illness is not linear. There is no clear, definitive beginning or end. It’s a journey that takes you from A to G to B to K. There are hard days that don’t allow a moments reprieve from the inner demons we struggle with.
But on the flip side, there are beautiful days of endless joy that allow us to see clearly. To see that all of hard work, pain, struggles, and journey of recovery has been worth it.
So what I’ve learned as I sit with my step-dad silently celebrating the victory of watching him eat, is that today I don’t need to exercise my heart. I don’t need to lift mental weights in my mind. I’m allowing my entire being to recover. And I will, for the next few days.
And guess what? That’s perfectly okay. Because as we know, the world will continue to revolve. All of our responsibilities will still be there if we let ourselves stop and breathe. Here is a crucial reminder on your rest day…
Your rest day is not a day to forget. It’s not a day to say, “Screw all of the hard work I’ve already done.” Because you have the tools. They didn’t disappear. You will not backslide if you allow yourself a moment to rest. If you find yourself in a compromising position for your mental health, you still know exactly what it takes for you to turn around before you reach the edge of the cliff.
Your rest day is a day where you don’t even have to walk up that hill in the first place. You can set your backpack down, pitch your tent, hang your hammock, and enjoy the view. And if a fox comes out of nowhere when you least expect it (because life will always throw you curve balls when you’re not anticipating it), you can turn to your wild life ranger to help you out (your therapist, your doctor, your partner, your best friend, your support group, whomever it is that’s on your team).
Believe me when I say this, I’ve had to practice the hell out of this concept of resting my emotional growth. This has not come easy for me. There was an element of fear that I would “slip up” if I wasn’t on high alert with my emotions at all times. But that’s just not true.
My mom likes to say, “It’s an opportunity to flex your muscles.” She uses this analogy (and probably is where I get my love of using analogies from) in almost every situation I come across. And she says this for a very good reason. Because it’s TRUE.
Resting takes just as much practice for someone with mental illness as does the day-to-day management. To the outsider, it may seem incomprehensible. How could it be that hard to take a rest day? Just plop yourself on the couch and watch Netflix or something.
Again, it’s not that simple. Every mental illness is its own complex, intricate snowflake and not one is like the other. It’s about the person experiencing it. Not the illness itself. How I process, rest, and grow is not going to look the same as everyone else. But if we practice flexing our muscles, if we practice what true, genuine, emotional rest means to us, eventually the view will be less cloudy and we’ll be able to truly allow ourselves to recover.
If you need a day, take a day. If you need a week, take a week. Learn what it means to rest for you. Not for anyone else.