Learning to Rest
I never let myself rest.
At some point when I was sick with chronic illness, all I could do was rest.
I was told by my doctor that all I could do was stay in bed. I was not allowed to work, or to get up and move around. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV that was too exciting or read a book that was too emotional.
All I was supposed to do was to do deep breathing and gather my strength. I was told that I wasn’t even strong enough to heal.
It took years to understand that the advice I had been given was more traumatic than I could have ever imagined at the time.
That I would carry these messages into my healing.
Because what I didn’t realize, was that rest became synonymous with illness.
When I started to get moving with life again, I would push and push myself to keep functioning as intensely as I could. What I didn’t realize was that I was trying to prove to myself that I was no longer sick. That I could do it.
But the complicated part of that was that sometimes I would forget that I was a human.
I would get so completely exhausted and drained from pushing myself so hard, that I would be depleted.
And then I would cry.
I would weep because I thought that being tired meant that I was sick again.
That my world would start to slip away from me once more, and I would lose everything that I had worked so hard to gain back.
There was nothing more terrifying than the thought that I could end up back in that place.
That place of bedrest.
Over the years I developed this maladaptive practice of berating myself when I got tired. And as someone who still struggles which chronic fatigue, I get tired often.
I had forgotten that people can’t always be on the go. That life is like a pendulum of functioning, productivity, and the need to take a beat. That humans need to recalibrate.
Trauma had warped my sense of what was healthy.
Productivity, in my mind, had become the height of health– as long as I was creating, I was living. No matter how awful I felt in my body, no matter how tired I was– as long as I was producing, it was proof to me that I was OK.
In my darkest hours of healing, engaging in my own creative energy and producing– I felt as if even if my time on this Earth was God forbid, short– that I would leave something meaningful behind. A legacy for my family and my community. That even if I would succumb to illness, my lifeforce would extend beyond my lifespan. That is would all have meant something. That pushed me even harder to stay in a productive space.
I have spent a long time working on these maladaptive thoughts.
I have spent years now reminding myself that all humans need to rest.
That choosing to rest is an act of self-love; of respecting your body and your mind.
It’s about creating boundaries around your energy levels so that you can recalibrate.
So that you can heal.
That patience can be nourishing for the soul.
That nothingness can be modulating for the nervous system.
That breathing can be grounding for the body.
That sleep and food and staring at nature can restore us.
I had forgotten that these things weren’t only found in recovery from illness– but were healthy parts of everyday life.
Even now, when I am in between projects or feeling overwhelmed by my work I forget to stop. My automatic reaction is to ask myself, “What is next?”
I am still working on saying “Hineini” for my need to slow down.
In my continued work on developing my own sense of self-compassion, I need to pause and remind myself that rest should be a choice I make for myself sometimes.
Today, I chose to simply be.
Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism.
She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community.
She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience.
Shira made aliyah with her family two years ago to Jerusalem.
Headshot taken by Tzipora Lifchitz.