Take A Break: You've Earned It!
When was the last time you simply sat down and took a break?
And I don’t mean sitting down for two minutes to have a coffee or your lunch. I also don’t mean taking the evening off from a hard days graft, or going out for a drink with friends. What I mean is taking a break, a real break that leaves you sitting there thinking; ‘Wow. When was the last time I did this?’
For a lot of neurodiverse individuals like myself, taking breaks is really hard. More often than none I’ll be in a constant state of heightened arousal from the days tasks and all the sensory inputs that I’m trying to make sense of at any given moment. A typical day is filled with a list of things to do, completing some tasks on that list, and then feeling guilty about the things that I didn’t have time or energy to do. That’s not healthy, or productive, and when I sit down at the end of the day and start to ruminate over what I’ve forgotten to do or couldn’t do, that’s when the secondary work starts. It’s not a break if you’re constantly anxious about the things you failed to do.
It comes back to spoon theory, and the idea that everyone wakes up with an amount of spoons. These spoons are the payment that you use to be able to accomplish something. For individuals without autism or ADHD, getting ready in the morning would take one spoon. For folk like me with a touch of the ‘tism, that activity is broken down into each individual task and each one takes a spoon. Physically getting out of bed? That’s a spoon. Going to the bathroom to brush my teeth? That’s a spoon. Taking a shower? That’s two spoons.
Sometimes the days are easier and the cost is less. When I wake up happy, or excited for the day, the spoon cost is lower. Sometimes when I wake up in a bad way, with my mental health in a poor place, the spoon cost is higher.
And then we have the amount of spoons to consider. Individuals without mental health problems may wake up with 15 spoons on any given day. They may complete everything they have to do that day such as work, basic hygiene, food, taking care of family or pets, and still have spoons leftover for leisure activities such as hanging out with friends, going on dates or even just watching TV and chilling out. It’s an odd concept, but yes; all of these activities cost spoons. All of these activities take energy.
So to the individual with ADHD, like myself, who cannot spare many spoons in the day, leisure and time off become something I deny myself. I want to be a functioning human being and with the 5 spoons I woke up with that day, I can only do certain tasks. My priority is always my hygiene and my pets. Once they are looked after, I think about food, or the chores that need doing. I have to mentally weigh up which tasks needs my attention more. Do I wash up the pile of dishes on the counter, or do I clean the oven? Do I spend 3 spoons on one task, or 1 spoon on a different task? This sort of thing is why I struggle to take a break.
When your mind is so full of the things you have to do, the things you will eventually have to do, or the things you did not do, taking a break becomes impossible. You cannot rest if your mind is too active. You cannot relax if your brain won’t be quiet.
So how do we function in a society that isn’t geared towards letting us relax? How are we supposed to relax when our social media feeds are full of people bragging about not sleeping, gloating about never taking a break, and shouting about their top 5 tips on how to start a business while being a full time mum that attends every single show their kid does and also joins 3 different clubs. It’s impossible to expect so much from ourselves. Sure, some people can do it, and good for them! Why not celebrate their achievements, that’s wonderful. The issue is not with them it’s with us convincing ourselves that we have to be like them or we are failures.
The issue is refusing ourselves time to rest and relax because we want so badly to be like them.
And a lot of the time it’s not true, either. The posts on Facebook and tiktok are cultivated to look desirable, like this person has created their perfect life. A lot of the time it’s fake. That person will take off their gym clothes without going to the gym, will slide back into bed while they edit their ‘morning routine at 5am!’ video. It’s not always realistic to expect so much from people, just because someone presents the ‘ideal’ lifestyle on social media.
I used to believe that I had to be perfect at everything I did. I grew up as a gifted and talented kid in school that was praised for my high level of reading, my imagination, my creativity. Now, fifteen years since I last was considered a GAT child by teachers and schools, I can’t even convince myself to pick up a paintbrush.
Because I’m burnt out.
I’m burnt out trying to be like those girls on YouTube that show a day in the life videos where they get up at the crack of dawn to pack the 30 orders they received over night, then go on a coffee run while they drop the kids off at school and their orders at the post office. Back before 9 and they’re already painting 3 new masterpieces, or updating all of their social media’s with fresh and invigorating content before filming a new daily vlog for the channel. I can’t be like them. I forget to update, I don’t have the energy to create, I don’t have the mental capacity to be ‘on’ 24/7. I need a break.
And you probably do too.
And a real break is turning it all off. Putting it all away for a bit, sitting down with a book you used to love or never finished reading. Forcing your brain to be quiet for a bit, if you can, and drowning out the guilt with pleasure. I know first hand how hard it is to make the voice in your head stop when it’s on volume 90 telling you that you need to get your latest novel written and sent to a publisher. I know how crushing it can be when you give in, work on it for a bit, and then fall into bed exhausted at 3am because you lost track of time. Taking a break is something you need to train yourself to do, and I’m not perfect at it. I have no idea what I’m doing. None of us do. It’s a unique thing for all of us to learn, mostly in learning how our minds and bodies will allow us to take a break.
So what is your method of taking a break? What works for you? It could be spending time with another person, hanging out with your pet, or baking. You could find joy and peace in reading or writing, or playing silly games. Whatever it is, it needs to fulfill you. You need to let go of the to do list while you’re enjoying it. You need to remind yourself that it is okay to rest, because it is.
It’s okay to take a break.
Nobody is judging you for how hard you work, we already know how hard you work. Look after yourself, and you can achieve. You can’t expect a battery to power a toy car if it’s not charged, after all.
Don’t burn out.
Take a break.