A Day Off Is Saving My Life

“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

—Maya Angelou

Last year, I wrote about how poetry was saving my life. I put the question that sparked that post to myself this week and discovered that having a day off last Saturday made the biggest difference in my life. Prior to Mother’s Day, I’d traveled 3 weeks in a row. I was so tired. I was trying to recover from a cold. I was worn out. And as I looked around, I saw dishes piling in the sink, baseboards needing dusting, a tub needing scrubbing, and a mounting pile of laundry. Getting those things done would make me feel better, but they’d also leave me as physically exhausted as ever.  

So, on the first Saturday I’d had at home in a month, I sat down with my toast and reread passages of Aurora Rising, a book I’d recently read and loved. I washed my hair, then lay on the sofa with Tyler and watched a couple of shows on the science channel. I met my former roommate for lunch and then we went to see The Hustle. I ran a couple errands afterwards in the rain, both necessary for Mother’s Day the next day, and arrived home with my arms laden with bags. I dumped them all on the floor and fixed myself a bowl of ice cream. I enlisted Tyler’s help to wrap the presents for the next day. I checked on my plants. I dozed. After a frozen pizza dinner, I watched two Hallmark movies, then went to bed. 

I sometimes talk about being socially exhausted as being “peopled out.” Saying this to my former roommate once, she quickly offered to leave me be, but I answered, “You don’t count.” Of course, she counts as a person, but she isn’t someone who tires me out, whose presence drains me of energy. This puts her in company with only a couple other people in the world. I can want nothing to do with all of humanity and still be happy to be in her company. She still holds that position, but now Tyler’s there too, along with my best friend and my brother. My ideal day involves a lot of quiet time to myself, or in the company of those few people who I can fully, completely rest around. 

On my ideal day, I don’t have to cook or clean. I don’t have leave the house at all. I nap. I eat something sweet. I read in the sunshine. I watch something funny. That Saturday was pretty close to perfect. But a perfect day off, a day of true rest, doesn’t happen on its own. It has to be planned for and it must be guarded. 

When I plan a day off, I make sure I have food for all my meals. I accomplish early or push back every possible chore, phone call, and obligation. Even if I have just one thing to do, it can feel like a burden until it’s over. At the very least, that one email or phone call distracts me from following my proverbial bliss. I let go of my expectations about the dishes and my hopes for the baseboards. I carefully choose who I’ll let into my day so I can spend my time recharging. I do simple, quiet things and let the simple quiet restore me. I set myself up for success by lowered my expectations for myself and focusing on my word for the year: enjoy. When I’m tired, I sleep. When I’m hungry, I eat. I’m kind to myself. I let myself heal.

I’m well aware that many people don’t have a whole day to set aside to do only the things they most want to do. For many people, keeping themselves alive for one day, doing the bare minimum, requires much more than my day requires. If nothing else, keeping another human or two alive, plus a couple of animals, requires effort I don’t have to put forth right now. And for many people, reaching that bar is all they’re capable of on a typical day. Our ideal days might very, very different be based on our season in life and who’s around us. 

What does your ideal day look like? And if that seems like too much to think about, what would you do if you had a morning or afternoon off to just rest? 

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