We live in times when there is so much pressure to hustle. To be doing, doing, doing; being constantly productive, striving for more, being better. Disabled people in particular – who may have been excluded from traditional employment due to barriers both in accessibility and in attitudes – have been forced into monetizing their skills and hobbies to supplement their incomes. And in one way that’s fantastic, we’re a resourceful bunch; but if the things that we love doing become our jobs, what do we do to relax, when do we switch off?
This social pressure to DO seems to have been magnified during the COVID-19 crisis. Many people –and most disabled people – are isolating at home, we’re all spending more time online, and social media influencers are telling us we must use this time to grow, to learn, to improve. We should be doing online workouts, we should be cooking and baking, we should be learning a language and taking up knitting and growing our own vegetables and home schooling our children and, and, and, what about just being?
I’ve spent most of my adult life overworking. Working for fun. Working as a coping mechanism, to unconsciously ignore thoughts that I don’t want to address. I’ve worked full time in the accessibility industry for the last 15 years, and outside of that I run a blog which shares my experiences of travel as a wheelchair user.
Two years ago, my husband became suddenly critically ill. The breaks were slammed on my busy lifestyle, everything stopped, and my only focus was getting him home alive. Amazingly, after a rollercoaster four months, he did indeed come home. Three weeks later, I was offered my dream job. Life, which had been nothing but traumatic for months, was suddenly amazing again – I threw myself into work, traveling all over the country each week for meetings, I nursed my husband back to full health, I started travel blogging again and we took 7 trips in 5 months, I spent my evenings writing and publishing reviews from those trips. To the outside world, I was living the dream.
This went on for about 18 months. A quieter period then naturally arrived, and suddenly I found that I felt not ok. I’d buried the trauma of living through my husband’s critical illness in busyness, and these things only stay buried for so long. I was able to access some counseling, the crux of which was, although of course I needed to talk about those traumatic experiences to process them properly, what I ultimately needed to do was learn how to relax again. Something which I now know that we all need to prioritise and make time for.
I’m not talking about relaxation in the context of spa days, beach holidays and yoga retreats. Of course, those things are important, but they’re generally things that we do every few months for a short period of time, before going back to busy routines. To ultimately benefit from relaxation, it must be something that we actively choose on a regular basis. And the benefits are huge. Any reduction in stress hormones can allow our immune systems to function better, less tension in the body can reduce pain and fatigue, taking time to be mindful and present can result in more feelings of wellbeing and happiness – and isn’t that what we all want out of life, to feel happier?
My relaxation ritual is a bedroom retreat, it’s what helps me when everything feels just too hard. I get into bed, I light a candle, and I read a book. Somehow it feels even better if I do it in the middle of the day. At first it felt so indulgent, such a frivolous way to spend time, and I’d be constantly battling with an inner voice telling me that I should be doing more (the should voice, I have learned, is always there, I just have to make the voice that says ‘this is exactly what you should be doing’ louder).
If you’re reading this and thinking that you don’t have time to be sitting around reading books for hours on end, it doesn’t have to be huge pockets of time. Taking 10 minutes to do a short meditation, eating lunch outside instead of hunched over a laptop, or taking the time to watch your favourite movie and giving it your full attention, just putting your phone down for a couple of hours– it all helps.
The irony for me is that by taking time out each day to consciously relax, I am able when I choose to be more productive. To enjoy cooking my favourite dinner, to workout because it makes me feel good, not because I should (go away should voice), to properly focus on my work because I’ve given my brain the space to do that. This particularly benefits creativity – I simply can’t write well when I’m stressed out, when my thoughts are too busy, because a huge part of the creative process is unconscious.
I was guilty at the start of the COVID-19 crisis of reverting to old habits, of going back to that constant hustle, of indulging that part of myself that must feel useful. Some of that, I know, is internalized ableism, I feel like I must be the best wife, employee, friend, dog-mum, cook, writer, daughter, because I know I’ll never be The Best Walker. My thought processes are a work in progress, none of us are ‘fully cooked’ as my therapist told me, but I’m working on it.
So, I decided simply to enjoy the beautiful sunshine that we’re lucky enough to have in the UK at the moment. I laid down in the garden, I plugged my headphones into a podcast, and before I knew it three hours had gone by, and I felt better. That’s why I want to see less glorification of constant busyness, and more promotion of the benefits of relaxation. Because taking some time out for you will always make you feel better.
Carrie-Ann Lightley is an acclaimed Travel Blogger and also Marketing Manager at national disability organisation AccessAble. She’s a wheelchair user who loves to travel and a well-respected figure within the tourism industry. Carrie Ann’s blog has become a firm favourite with her followers and led her to write for the Guardian, HuffPost and TripAdvisor, as well as many other websites, magazines and industry publications.
She launched www.carrieannlightley.com to share her experiences and expertise, and inspire others to travel.
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