I Struggled To Be Still And That’s Okay
Taking care of your mental health involves failing to do so too
It was an early weekday morning in August, when I sent an email to my manager titled: Burnout/Leave. I remember waking up after having a work-related dream, and feeling overtly drained despite the 8-hour sleep. It seemed to me that my mind had forgotten to turn work-mode off, even when it needed to. My body felt limp, mind numb and breathing shallow. My manager replied, saying “happy to let you take some time-off.” Finally, I took an entire week off from work, earlier this month. Contrary to my expectations, my mind apparently did not receive the leave memo.
The first morning of the leave, I was feeling relaxed and up about the day. Two hours later, all my anxieties had decided to sit beside me, while I sat on the floor waiting for the coffee to brew. By mid-week, I was struggling to keep my mind away from work-related dreams and thoughts. My fingers ached to check work email and get back on slack. If not work, my mind began racing towards finding other avenues to ‘seize the day’.
I was stunned at my behaviour. For someone who has consistently worked towards maintaining professional and personal boundaries, this was a shocker. I felt how a runner would feel after crossing the finishing line, running farther away because the legs wouldn’t stop. In this case, it was my mind. While I had physically paused from working, my mind had not.
Why do I need to do something to feel enough? Why isn’t not doing something good enough?
The answer might lie, in the way we’re expected to represent ourselves in the world.
Because we are always doing something, becoming someone, going somewhere: the very essence of who we are has become a verb.
Hence, when I decided to challenge this behaviour with a complete break from office work, my mind went into an overdrive. It wanted activities to fulfil my sense of identity of being who I am. It only felt better when I did something that ticked off ‘being on holiday mode’ list. Hanging out with friends, taking a nap, watching a movie etc., made my mind feel better.
I had done something. I had achieved something, on a holiday. Ironical, isn’t it? Because we are constantly in action, we are never still. Still enough to be, oneself. To be enough.
To be still also requires action - to pause and to surrender. That doesn’t mean giving up, doing nothing. It means reconnecting with your inner being — one that is the source of who you are. However, this act of surrender is often the hardest when the world is expecting you to be in control. To manage.
From time management to client management, our current professional structure negates stillness. It has forfeited the need for calm and replaced it with boredom.
If you’re not doing something, you’re bored. And where does boredom come from? From being told that one’s value lies in the work they do, not so much the person they are. I feel, we are coming a full circle here.
Every single time, someone asks for my bio, the question emerges — what am I? A researcher? A writer? A poet? A thinker? A podcaster? I struggle to put up a simple answer. There’s a looming discomfort in labelling myself. What if we remove all the verbs from our life? All the labels that force us to do something. Will that bring me closer to my inner self? I think so.
So as the final day of my leave draws to a close, I look back at this time, as a practice session. A practice which involved a struggle to be still. A struggle to accept myself without labels. A struggle to forgive myself. A struggle to be in the present.
And yet, I am certain this struggle brought me closer to my inner-self, than I understand yet. Above all, I took another step towards taking care of my mental health. And that is enough.
This article is written in observation of The World Mental Health Day.