Well look at that; the first “real” post on my new blog. I sure took my sweet time, but there’s a reason for that. The past months have been busy, especially August, September and October. I moved into my own place; a rental apartment in the same city I had formerly been living in. For those three months my life consisted working a full-time job, arranging things with both my old landlord and the new rental cooperation, stressing about money, borrowing money from my parents to make my apartment livable, keeping up with my side-projects, more arranging paperwork, maintaining a social life, doing fun things, stressing about my future, crying, feeling tired, sensory overloads, stress.. so much stress..

And then I knew I had to act quickly; to save myself from a looming disaster. I had to take a break. Multiple breaks. Long, short, minutes, hours, days.. I just needed time where I did absolutely nothing. And it’s starting to work. I’m starting to feel more at ease. I’m still a bit stressed though, but I’m fairly positive that a crisis has been averted.

Why is taking a break so difficult?

I recently overheard someone talking about a burn-out. You know, the thing where you are so stressed it’s endangering your health. And I keep wondering: “why did that person not take more breaks?”. So I started to speculate about that, and I came to the conclusion that shame might play a factor. Though, maybe shame isn’t the right word. It’s more a matter of not wanting to fail or give in. Wanting to prove to yourself that you can handle all this.

But is it really proving something to yourself, or is it proving something to someone else? Being tough, or at least acting tough? What for? Why do we work ourselves to death just to prove something? Why do we struggle taking breaks, when all you have to do is put your work down, lie down on the couch, or do something that doesn’t involve whatever is giving you stress. What is the reason there is a taboo on taking a break?

Recently I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on why we do things. Why I do things. What drives me? What is my reasoning? By self-reflecting I realised that we as humans are more in control of our lives than we think. We can take breaks if we want to. We flip the switch and decide “I quit for today” or “I’m putting my work aside and am going to watch a movie”. But we don’t. Because often there is something at risk. May it be unfinished business, low grades, losing a job or letting go of something you’ve known your entire life. And sometimes people threaten you with these things if they notice you’re considering taking a break.

Personally, the only things that would prevent me from taking a break are things that would risk my stability: my job, my house, my way of living. Those things hold power over me, sadly. They do with most people. So what do we do when we desperately need a break but we can’t afford to lose these things? Why is society wired to push people to their limits like this, and what can we do to change this? 

How do we fix this?

I think the tools we need to change this are the tools that many of us are struggling with in this day and age: communication, understanding, and compassion. We need to communicate better; communicate our wants and needs to the people around us. Communicating our feelings has been a taboo for ages, but that has to change. It needs to change. Communication has always been important in my life; I’m autistic and without clear communication I often can’t do my work right and can’t keep up my social life. I need clarity, confirmation, honesty. I need to know what people want and expect from me and I want them to know what I want and expect from them. Personally I feel like many autistics will feel the same about this.

But our society isn’t made up out of autistics. It’s neurotypical dominated. And neurotypicals fear communication, it seems. They don’t want people to know how they truly feel about something. They fear judgement or broken relationships due to a lack of understanding (which I will get to in a bit). But then, how can people help you or accommodate you if they don’t know what you need? How can you fix a relationship with someone if neither of the parties explain their feelings? We need to communicate better so we can understand each other better.

Give others a break

That takes us to the second and the third tool: understanding and compassion. For decades, maybe centuries, we’ve been so distanced from our fellow humans, all while living in a capitalist society that puts profit before people. Our society is wired to focus on getting an education, a job, a home and a family. These have become our life goals and anyone deviating from the path to those goals is looked at with a strange eye. Anyone even taking a rest stop at the side of that path is scolded at. But when was the last time we’ve actually stopped right beside them and asked if they were okay? When did we become so focused on ourselves that we think what applies to us applies to them too?

“I’ve gone through the same thing, you’ll be fine, don’t worry.”

Will they be though? Your experience is not the same as theirs. So what we need is understanding and compassion. Understanding that, when someone is telling you they need a break, they actually need a break. Whether we agree or not, all you have to do is understand that this person knows themself well enough to know they need time off, and giving that to them. The compassion part comes into play when someone doesn’t seem to know themselves very well and there is a suspicion that they are pushing themselves too much. Compassion encourages you to go up to that person and ask if they are okay. Tell them that they should be taking a break and take it easy. After all, we are together on this planet, so we have to look out for each other, even if the one we need protection from is ourselves.

Give yourself a break

That brings me to my final point, the point where I encourage you to stick up for yourself. Because sometimes there isn’t really any pressure from anyone to keep going until you reach a breaking point. Sometimes you are the culprit. And that’s when you should be taking a break. During my break I did whatever was necessary to put my mind at ease. Even if that meant I would sit at work with my headphones on and not talk to anyone all day. I didn’t care if my co-workers would think I was in bad mood, or being rude. My break was my attempt at saving myself and I wouldn’t let anything get in the way of that.

I think we as humans need to fight for ourselves more. We only have ourselves to be with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So we know ourselves, and if we don’t, we should get to know ourselves. Figure out what our selves need and what they want, and how to give it to them without harming them. This is a relationship you need to build with yourself in order to allow yourself to catch a break. A guilt-free break. So don’t be afraid to reach out to yourself, tune in with yourself. And every day, ask yourself: “how am I feeling? What do I need?” and listen. Just listen. You might hear yourself whisper the answer from within.