To Protect My Emotional Wellness, I’m Letting Myself Take a Break

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by Brianna Albers |

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Every Wednesday, I jump on a Zoom call with a bunch of writers and talk.

Sometimes we talk about professional things, like revisions, copy edits, or writing to the market. Sometimes we talk about politics. More often than not, we talk about survival — specifically, how to survive as a writer in a world that undervalues the written word.

I’m not exaggerating when I say the group keeps me sane. For one thing, they get it in ways that friends and well-meaning relatives don’t. For another, they force me to take care of myself. They don’t just value my creative output, they value me, the creator, even when I’m blocked, burned out, or physically unable to achieve the goals I set for myself late last year.

Every Wednesday, my writing group reminds me of my humanity. Meanwhile, my therapist interrogates my ideas of “rest” and “productivity.” I’m bad at resting. One might say I’m terrible at it. I have delusions of able-bodiedness, which is to say I’m good at pretending away my disease. I’m not disabled! I don’t have chronic pain! I just sit in a wheelchair all day and require assistance with everyday tasks — neither of which are prerequisites for abnormality.

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Every couple months, my therapist asks if I’m living in accordance with someone else’s values. Do I really want to be a productivity maven slash wellness expert slash activist slash bestselling author? Or is it simply that I feel like I should be all those things?

A couple weeks ago, I got my first COVID-19 vaccine booster. I knew there’d be side effects, but in truth, I never could’ve expected the degree to which it knocked me out. I was out of it for a week. I had everything from headaches to chills to fatigue. I knew that as an adult, I was expected to work through it; my able-bodied friends didn’t have the luxury of losing an entire week to something as inconsequential as a vaccine. They had jobs, mortgages, families. My list of responsibilities is short in comparison.

Naturally, I started beating myself up for not achieving everything I had set out to accomplish at the beginning of the week. I didn’t have the energy; I literally did not have it in me. But I was still frustrated. I knew I needed to rest, but some small, stubborn part of me felt like I shouldn’t.

My therapist’s response was simple. I told her I felt like I didn’t deserve to rest, and all she said was, “Why?”

“Why do you feel that way?”

“Why can’t you accept that you can’t do everything?”

My response was just as simple: “I don’t know.”

In public, I am the mom friend, bullying people into looking after themselves. But I am so much more cruel in private — not to the people in my life, but to myself.

All this time, I’ve been pretending to be someone I’m not. I don’t have limitless energy. I don’t have a body that bounces back from a particularly intense vaccine booster. I am extraordinarily sensitive — physically, but emotionally as well.

My emotional wellness takes a beating

It wasn’t just that I got jabbed, it was that my mom recently tested positive for COVID-19. It was the cumulative stress of a pandemic, a major home renovation, and a chronic pain flare. It was the unresolved grief of having to shelve the book I’d been working on for a decade. It was the intensity of a life transition plus the mental illness associated with the change in seasons plus the pressure of living with a progressive disease that should’ve killed me long ago.

“Why can’t you accept that your life is different than everyone else’s?”

I don’t know. But I’m going to find out.

A couple of weeks ago, when my writing group talked about ways to temporarily conserve energy, I came up blank. I’m not in school. I don’t have a job. I have several creative projects, but it’s not like I can call myself a full-time writer — compared with others in my field, I do the bare minimum.

I’ve been writing this column regularly since early 2017. It never occurred to me that like a bear in wintertime, I could hibernate for a while — hone in on the things that matter most to me, with every intention of revisiting certain activities once the snow melts. I’d been feeling burned out for a while, but I’d learned not to question it.

I’d also come to accept it. And how sad is that? A failure of imagination, if you ask me.

All this is to say that I’m taking the rest of 2021 off. I’ll be back in 2022 with the first draft of a new book and lots more thoughts on activism through storytelling. I can’t juggle eight balls at once — and that’s OK. My body is my body. If I’m going to survive in it, I need to figure out how to work with it, not against it.

Thank you for reading these rambling little essays of mine for years on end. It means so much to me that you’re here. I’ll return in the new year, but for now, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, subscribe to my newsletter, or support me on Ko-fi.

More soon, with love.

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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