An Introspective on Taking Breaks

Friday, December 23, 2011

Apropos of my Tuesday post on the college environment (and to kick off the start of this academic break), I wanted to talk about the extended break I took from creative endeavors for the past few weeks. You might be wondering: "Why talk about taking breaks? It's cool, we all take them." But for me, a break has long indicated some much more troubling factors than just simple lack of interest.

For many years, taking a break for me was a sign of failure. It was a sign that I was giving in to apathy, which is highly related to my bouts with depression over the years. I was excessively busy in high school for just this reason - to stop moving was to stop ignoring my emotions and have to actually deal with them. To stop moving at that point in my life felt like a small step towards death.

It may seem extreme now, but I think young people have the hardest time dealing with their emotions. They haven't been trained to sit with them (as is done in certain therapy techniques) and it often is not encouraged by our culture to cultivate the wide range of emotions we can feel at any given moment. As we grow older, we can internalize these patterns and fall somewhere along a spectrum - the extremes of never acknowledging deep emotions or drowning in them, or perhaps the healthier middle range with a skew towards one side. But when we are young, those patterns are still being felt out and we try to justify our actions with them as best we can. There are many theories on this, but I will keep to my own personal story.

Throughout these past few weeks, I have been doing a lot of stuff. I have been hosting programs through Well Woman, I have been planning creative projects, I've been taking exams... but these are not the reasons that I needed to take a break from blogging. I have been much busier throughout the semester and still had time to put words down on the page. No, the reason that I needed to take a break from blogging was more of a mind experiment than anything else. I simply wasn't feeling like I had anything meaningful to say and so I chose not to say meaningless things. Which, in a way, is frightening to me. My mind was full of questions: Does this mean that I'm depressed and my creativity has gone down because of it? Does this mean that I will lose a lot of the progress I have made? Does this mean I will never go back? These questions and more panicked me at the early onset of this break.

But, mysteriously, I found myself quieting down these ideas after a few days. No longer did blogging enter in on my daily list of to-do items and I wasn't sorry. I felt normal. I realize that this is not a major achievement to some, but for me it was a personal victory. I could stop being creative and stop working and still exist. I could be stop doing things and still feel like I was a meaningful person in the world.

I think when you define yourself so much by your creative work and your relationship to the outside world, it can be hard to withdraw into yourself and still feel acceptable. I am a classic extrovert so it is particularly perplexing to me why I would need to take time away from my regular reach-out to the rest of humanity, but that need was there for me over the past few weeks. I needed to regroup and recognize that it was ok to do so. The world would not end if I didn't participate in it (or at least as much as I usually do).

I believe that more people - especially young people like myself who feel like they can never do enough - need to respect the time that they need for themselves and find ways to circumvent burning out entirely. Whether you need a break from one aspect of your life or all of them, don't fear or feel guilty about the experience. It's hard enough to be gentle to ourselves without adding on the internal pressure to keep on moving at all times.