The Difficulty of Rest

I’m exhausted. It’s always terrifying to admit that, but I’m exhausted. I’ve been recovering from a really nasty cold, I’ve quit nicotine, and I’ve done a lot of things that are always really hard for me: I’ve shared ideas with my peers, I’ve asked for help, I’ve been job hunting for summer work, and I’ve been writing very personal posts where I admit that I’m not super-human. So I’m exhausted.

Last time I wrote about pacing and burnout, and how I’m using quantified self tools such as Beeminder to try and help me pace my workload. Well after doing a lot of thinking, working, and writing all weekend without giving myself a day off I’ve now realized that it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. I can look at my Beeminder goals and see that to stay on course I’d need to write a blog post and about 700 words today. I went to bed planning to write about 1500 words and get another one of my theory of computation lectures posted, but I woke up feeling just completely drained and like my body needed another 10 hours of sleep at least.

My first instinct, of course, is to declare that I can rest when I’m dead and that I need to rushrushrush. After all, my mental window of what-have-I-done-lately is only about three hours wide on a good day so I’m driven by the desperation to prove that I’m not worthless. That desperation is the source of my burnout/crash cycle when it comes to research and while it can temporarily feel like a victory to go along with that impulse it will at best be a pyrrhic one.

For others who have that same drive and that same tiny window for acknowledging our own accomplishment, I think the hardest thing is believing that allowing yourself to rest isn’t the same as laziness. Of course, other people are allowed to sleep in sometimes, take vacations, and relax but you shouldn’t because you haven’t worked hard enough to earn that right. I know that’s the thought process that goes through my head and some others I’ve talked to, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually very common.

The reality, though, is that far from being lazy, allowing yourself rest is productive, healthy, and responsible. So that’s what I’m going to do today. I’m sitting on the floor, with my morning coffee, writing this post. Now, I wanted to write enough to keep up with my Beeminder goals because that’s important to me, and I want to post something today for the same reason. As you can see, dear reader, I’ve chosen to take care of both those things by talking about exactly why letting myself only do the bare minimum of my commitments is just so hard. It’s fundamentally the same problem as why I’ve had two bad periods of anorexia in my life and, in a sense, why the money aspect of Beeminder isn’t my primary motivation: it’s hard to moderate my discipline. I almost called it self-control, but that’s not entirely accurate. Self-control would imply that, well, I feel in control of it. This is discipline and self-denial, which can be wonderful and productive tools when used in moderation.

Today is my day for practicing that moderation. As such, I’m now halfway through my morning coffee and most of the way done with this post. When I’m done with those things, I need to write an email to some folks about potential summer work as an instructor and I need to help my partner this afternoon with putting together the Ikea bed frame they’re having delivered here. If you were wondering why I said I was sitting on the floor earlier, that would be because they’re currently asleep on our very comfortable couch rather than sleeping on a futon that is so sharp & uncomfortable one might suspect it’s actually attempting to steal one’s kidneys in the middle of the night. Funny, actually, now that I mention that I do have this odd scar. Alright, I also need to check eBay listings for human organs and see if any of mine are up for sale. Other than that, though, I’m going to spend some time sitting out in the sun, reading some of my favorite poets, and drinking lots of tea.

Because, as I have to remind myself frequently, no catastrophe will happen if I take a day off.

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