On The Complications Of Resting
TL/DR: Resting when you are sick is a good thing but it is very complicated when many of your roles are responsive rather clearly defined. It would be helpful if people acknowledged how complicated it can be instead of just telling a sick person to rest.
Truth be told, I had a pretty good run of luck but, alas, all good things must end and last week, despite my various precautions, I came down with Covid.
(And, subsequently, despite our in-house precautions, so did my whole family. Thankfully, none of us took any scary turns for the worse and we are all improving slowly but it was overwhelming and difficult and worrisome.)
So, I guess that means that my resistance to (and reluctance about) going out last Monday was probably part and parcel of having a virus attacking my system, not just a case of garden-variety I-don’t-wanna.
Now, I know that the key to recovery from any illness is rest and that that goes quadruple for Covid. The internet is full of advice about just how much and how long you should rest during and immediately after a bout with the virus.
But, frankly, it feels a bit like when I was a new mother and I was told to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps.’
Just like back then, the advice is good and so are the intentions, but…
HOW THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO PULL THAT OFF?
Who is coming to step into my (metaphorical) shoes?
I‘m pretty good at the physical aspect of resting. I can take to my bed like a Victorian lady, surrounded by tea, snacks, books, and tissues.
However, even in the midst of all kinds of practical and moral support, it is damn hard to step back from the mental work of the things I do day-to-day. So my bedside accoutrements also include my phone and a notebook and some lists so I can deal with the things that are too complicated to hand off to someone else.
I am definitely not trying to claim that I am indispensable or any other nonsense like that but I am *used* to the things I have to do on a regular basis. I have practice. I am well-trained for my roles.
I’d need to be able to download the entire contextual net of my thoughts to be able to hand this off easily.
Now, to be clear, my paid work as a writer/coach/storyteller can largely be rescheduled. However, my family and volunteer roles, those can’t be handled the same way.
And a lot of that work can’t wait. I can’t, for example, put off groceries until I feel better. Normally, I would just go once a week or so and pick up the usual stuff and while I cook most of the time, any of us are capable of cooking.
But, I can’t just drop that task. We have to eat, even if we’re sick.
And since our existing system hinges on how my brain works, I have to be involved in the process of reassigning those tasks. Even if I am not going to be the one going to the grocery store, even if I am not going to be the one generating the list, I’m going to be consulted on the details. And since the default system (me going to the supermarket) won’t be happening, we need to figure out who is going to go and when they can go, and so on. Instead of an automatic system, it has become a series of plans and decisions.
That’s just one small part the various details I generally handle for my family.
For my volunteer work, often a lot of things can wait, but my work last week was related to upcoming public events that cannot be rescheduled. Yes, I have a team but I’ve been the person putting all the pieces together to make the big picture and it’s a bit late in the process to plop someone else into that role.
And I know some people reading are probably thinking things like: “Well, if you delegated the work in the first place…If you didn’t gatekeep…If you didn’t try doing everything yourself…If you trusted other people to do their work…If you insisted that other people take responsibility for things at home…”
I get why you might think all of those things. It’s a natural response to wonder if I have had a hand in creating this problem.
However, this isn’t about me trying to be a martyr and it’s definitely not about me gatekeeping or not holding other people responsible to do their part. It’s way more complex than that.
It’s about the roles I have ended up taking on in my life – by choice, by default, by societal expectation. It’s about a series of things going slightly awry and things coming to a time crunch. And it’s about someone with ADHD just doing the best she can most of the time and then not necessarily being able to ‘show her work’ so someone can take things to the next step.
Because of my ADHD, I struggle with creating systems. I have trouble seeing the bits and pieces of a project. I appreciate when I can delegate things but I’m not always conscious of the steps involved in my work until I am in the middle of them so it’s a bit hard to help someone else know what to do.
In fact, I often say that it is only when I am working on step one of a project that step two will float up out of the fog and reveal itself. It’s like one of those adventure movies or video games where the heroine has to be brave enough to step toward the chasm in order for the first part of the floating platform to appear.
So, as a result, way too much of any project I am involved in is in my head. I am working on documenting more of my routine activities but since that is exactly the kind of work my brain hates the most and since I don’t have someone willing to follow me around and take notes, it will take a while to make that happen.
So, while I am not a Type A person and I am not obsessed with work, when I am resting I have extra trouble giving away the tasks I usually take on.
Don’t get me wrong, I would happily hand them off. I don’t even need them to be done ‘my’ way. I’m just not sure what tasks I usually do nor am I necessarily sure what needs to be done next.
And even when I do know what to do next, I find that the coordinating tasks that usually fall to me take a lot of work to pass along to someone else. In fact, it is less stressful to do the thing than it is to to figure out how to share the information that I am waiting on a call from person A and if they say yes then tasks 1, 2, 3 need to happen but if they say now, then task 1 can happen but we need to call person B for task 2, and skip task 3, and do 3B instead.
(Meanwhile, if I do continue with a few tasks, I give the impression that I’m not all that sick or that it is business as usual, and then more work comes my way but that’s a whole other thing.)
Even if I were to try to explain that collection of tasks and what-ifs to someone who has offered to help, it’s likely that they would get completely overwhelmed because it is too much all at once. And since they couldn’t possibly pick up a month’s worth of details in a single conversation, I would end up with umpteen texts and emails to confirm bits and pieces of information.
So, instead of having one set of tasks to do in bits and pieces as I felt able, planning for the kind of complete complete rest that we’re advised to do would actually involve multiple levels of new tasks.
I would essentially be choosing between 1) doing the tasks as they showed up for me or 2) a) struggling to identify the tasks I unconsciously do for a given project b) connecting them to their relevant information in my head and typing that out somewhere c) putting both of that in some sort of timeline d) figuring out who the best person is to take the next steps e) hoping it isn’t too much to ask f) responding to the person’s (completely justified) questions at random intervals.
Which sounds more like rest to you?
In the end, I’ve been doing a hybrid sort of thing.
I typed out as many things as I could think of that needed to be done and added any context that occurred to me.
I farmed out any urgent things to people who had capacity to handle them (and, to be clear, I had lots of offers of help and support and I took people up on them as often as was feasible.)
I did (and continue to do) any things that I could manage, whenever I felt up to doing them.
And, annoyingly, I’ve dealt with some of the same sort of pushback I had when I was a new mom who couldn’t rest when the baby rested because it was my only chance to get something to eat, to put in a load of laundry, or to pick up the things that were cluttering the room and making me feel overwhelmed.
I’m not ignoring good advice.
I’m not pretending that the world can’t get along without me.
I’m not refusing to let other people help.
I’m trying to recover from an illness while I balance my needs against my responsibilities.
And while I could, in the long run, develop systems to make the delegate process easier, for right now, I am doing the best I can with the resources I have and getting grief for that just makes things harder.
So, can I ask you a favour?
If you are advising someone to rest, could you be respectful about it?
Maybe say things like ‘Are you getting enough rest?’ or ‘Is there anything I can take on that would help you to rest?’ instead of ‘The world can get by without you for a few days.’ or ‘You’ll never get better if you don’t rest.’
It’s all well and good to tell people to rest so they can recover but the process way more complicated than them just switching off their lives and heading to bed.
Let’s not pretend otherwise.
PS – I am deeply grateful for all the help and all the offers of help we have received this week. My friends and family have made things a lot easier and I have been well taken care of.
Photographs courtesy Getty Images; Collage by Gabe Conte GQ Recommends No more waking up in a pool of sweat.…