On Giving Yourself Permission to Rest
I’m tired all the time. That sounds dramatic, especially considering I’ve been entirely commitment free for the last two weeks, since I finished my final exams. But coming up to two weeks of "rest" and I am still tired, all the time.
The last couple of months of university have been crazy. My Easter holidays, ideally intended for five weeks of catching up on sleep and gradually starting exam preparation, were taken up with a hen do weekend, visiting family, a mission trip to France, a funeral, a wedding, and a last-minute burst of writing for my 12,000-word dissertation due straight after the "holidays."
It was busy, and it was emotional. Getting a phone call on a hen weekend with the news that your granddad has died is emotionally confusing; celebration with close friends mixed with the grief of wanting but unable to be with your family. A close friend dealing with the breakup with her boyfriend added an extra layer of emotion; though not mine to grieve, I tend to feel the weight of my friends’ lives—it’s hard to be okay when they’re not okay.
Bridesmaid-ing (totally a word) at a close friend’s wedding was a joy and a privilege, but also a long day, with an anxiety-fueled hiccup in the middle of the celebrations when I decided to turn to champagne to deal with the panic of a room full of strangers to mingle with. Cue a few drunk messages later, and an explanation owed the next day.
Post-wedding, I had exactly a week to pull my dissertation together, trying to make sense of paragraphs that no longer seemed coherent to me after staring at them for hours and hours. Points to my parents for reading it through and patiently cutting down 3,000 words for me over the phone as I sat panicking. After handing in my dissertation, my body ached for a week. My back, neck, jaw; like I’d been clenching my teeth for weeks and finally felt the effects of it. After a couple of days rest, I wrote my final essay, had my French oral exam (whoever invented oral exams should be severely punished), and then finally into revision for my last three written exams. And then… nothing.
Well, not nothing. Then, my wonderful friends meeting me out of the exam room with champagne and flowers and chocolate and hugs. Then pub, dinner, drinks—celebration and laughter and total relief and joy—then bed.
I’m not saying that my final year has been harder, or busier, than anyone else’s. University is tough, final year is tough, these final weeks have been hard on all my friends and it’s such fun to celebrate with each other now we’ve made it through the other side.
But I think it helps me to go through the events of the last couple of months and remind myself that it was a lot, that it was busy and stressful and took a toll emotionally as well as physically. To remind myself that it’s okay to be tired, even after two weeks of doing very little. To remind myself that there’s a process of recovery to take place now, after four years of studying are over and my identity is shifting away from "student" and into something new.
I don’t think everyone thinks about this as intensely as I do—most people around me have moved on pretty quickly and are now excited about summer plans and job prospects. This is a normal thing—you study, and then you finish, you move on. But I’m an internal-processer, a deep feeler and deep thinker and it’s taking me a while to really process what’s just happened. Four years of studying, over? Is this real? Is it safe to feel this relieved, this thankful, or is it a trick and someone’s about to jump out at me with another assignment?
I know that not everyone rests in the same ways. A lot of my friends can’t stop and do nothing— heir rest time is still "doing" time—just doing things that restore rather than drain them. I know that extroverts regain energy through going out, coffee date to coffee date, keeping the ball rolling and the people-energy high.
But when I rest, I really rest. My body finally crashed last week into some kind of flu, which was painful but a welcome excuse to spend four days in bed. I watched Netflix and drank tea and caught up with my housemate when I had the energy for it, but spent the majority of my time in bed, with no guilt. My mind and my body is still processing the fact that I don’t have to go to lectures, that I don’t need to be thinking "I should be studying" all the time, that I worked hard for four years and now I’m allowed to stop.
So I’ve stopped.
Not that I’m becoming a hermit; coffee shop trips and movie nights are still welcomed, but I’m not forcing myself to fill my social calendar. It’s sometimes tempting to compare to the people around me, who fill up their weeks so quickly, who catch up with their hundreds of friends and leave me feeling, through no intention of their own, like a bit of a social flop. But I know that this rest time is good for me—that I am allowed to take things slowly, to see people when I want to, to say no to invitations when I want to. I’m sure I’ll reach a point soon when I’m ready to embrace the summer, to push myself back into saying yes, to making sure I’m still surrounded by community even when the student bubble bursts around me. But I won’t rush that moment, and I won’t feel guilty for taking this time how I want to. How my mind, and my body, are asking me to.
Comparison is an easy thief to let in, and it’s tempting to think that I’m somehow failing at this new freedom given to me. To think that I should be more productive, more sociable, more Instagram-able. But saying the secret fears out loud weakens them a little, and I’m reminded that my personality is mine, and my methods of resting and restoring myself to life are legitimate.
I graduate this week. Another day to celebrate the landmark it is of finishing this stage of education. And miraculously, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I don’t feel anxious about the next step. I’ve spent the last few summers dreading the coming September: the new year, the new place, the same fear. For once, I’m excited about what life will be like next year, even though it’ll be different and new. For the first time, I’m not anticipating the stress and pressures of academic life; I don’t have to move to a new place; changes will take place around me and in my own schedule but within the safety of a community already crafted and stabilized around me. I feel as though I’ve been finding my way through the woods for the last four years; now I’ve found my way out into a clearing. There’s space to breathe here, before moving into the next stage of the path. A new direction, new scenery. It looks like fun over there. But for now, I’m enjoying the clearing. I’m taking my time here. I’m allowing rest and recovery in this sunshine, after years of wondering if I’ll ever find my way out of the darkness of the woods.
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