How Rest Saved My Soul

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When a mom drives her minivan by an empty park in a raging thunderstorm and sits there for an hour screaming in tears, people might think she’s nuts. I know that’s what I thought of myself.

You’ve completely lost it. You’re out of control. Crazy.

At that moment, I was in the kind of deep crazy that takes you to your knees, praying to whomever will listen, with a mixture of snot and salvia dripping down your face. It’s not pretty and far from perfect. But today, I now know that this is the good kind of crazy. This is when the gate opens.

What gate? You know, that dusty gate that we ignore, so we can continue to walk around with our green smoothies, go to the gym, stay busy, and look as if everything’s fine—we’re fine. But are we really? This is the gate that helps you drop all the veils of perfection and helps you start a new—raw and real—conversation.

I arrived at the gate, as most of us do, makeup-free, hair matted to cheeks, after a big wild cry, in what felt like ear-plugged silence. Silence provides one of the keys to the gate, because, with it, comes clarity. No one arrives at the gate singing. The singing comes later when you realize you made it through the gate. In the silence of the minivan or wherever you happen to be, you’re given the courage to get out of the past, and commit to an intention that aligns more deeply to you.

I am healthy. I am enough. I am a good mother.

These are the mantras I began repeating the moment I went through the gate. And that’s when I heard a whisper reminding me of how much I needed to rest, that rest was healing, and how without it, I feel crazy, and probably am crazy. The bad kind of unconscious crazy.

The bad kind of crazy is what women from the mid-nineteeth century until the late 1910s were feeling when tens of thousands of women became depressed and sick (1). The industrial revolution wasn’t a rosy time for women, many of whom were not welcomed in a man’s world and, especially creative women, were bored and isolated at home (1). This cocktail of holding back one’s desires and boredom was enough to drive huge numbers of women crazy.

The list of creative and activist women going crazy ran deep. At 25, writer and feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman became paralyzed for no apparent reason. Jane Adams, the famous social reformer, fell into a depression at age 21, and also became paralyzed for seven years (1).

The most common complaint women gave was feeling deeply, ridiculously tired and anxious. The cure? Rest—which seemed to make sense, but instead, this Rest Cure, as it was called (which today’s modern woman would see as an answer to her prayers) was driving some women, like Gilman and Adams, to the brink (1). They couldn’t take one more minute of resting, idle in their rooms.

This is the point when we have to make a choice: do we want to remain unconscious to our heart’s desires or meet consciousness at the gate and wake up?

It turns out, while alone in a room resting all day, Charlotte realized that rest was a way for men to tame women and their dreams of something bigger in life. Rest was used to shut women up. Charlotte saw this and wrote about it in The Yellow Wallpaper, a fictitious account of her experience enduring the rest cure.

Clearly, back in the 1880s, women like Charlotte—and Jane, too—stopped resting to save their souls. The moment Charlotte ended her rest confinement, she divorced her husband—and two years later even took the unthinkable step to leave her child—to fiercely protect her deep desire to be who she was. If she hadn’t, she would’ve lived a life feeling that bad kind of crazy (2).

Today, rest is, ironically, the remedy for women to shed the bad crazy—where we don’t feel aligned with our true selves—and start embracing the good crazy—our true power, creativity and intuition. Deep rest gets us to the gate, and helps us walk through to claim the prize—an awakened life.

The moment I got quiet in my minivan, I remembered my experience of having the best “nap” of my life several years earlier when I walked into a yoga studio and discovered 25 women lying down practicing a guided, sleep-based meditation known as yoga nidra, the sleep of the yogi. This is the fully awakened rest that leads you to be the good crazy, like in my case, write a play when everyone thought you couldn’t and then have it raise lots of money to benefit the lives of women. I committed in my minivan right then to practice this kind of rest when I got home. I told myself that I’d practice every day for an entire year and see what kind of effect rest could have on me.

First, I put the “Mommy’s Napping” sign up. Then I told my husband that our two kids, seven and nine at the time, were his for 30 minutes every day, making it clear in my facial features that if they disturbed me I was going to be the Charlotte Perkins Gilman kind of crazy.

I made it 40 days. Forty continuous days of blissful rest with yoga nidra meditation. And here’s what rest taught me:

You must grant yourself permission to rest. Nobody is going to take care of you like you can. I had a gazillion excuses not to rest. Really good ones. It doesn’t matter—rest must be a priority because if you don’t thrive, the people around you won’t either.

Don’t turn to an expert. Turn to yourself. You are the expert. For so long, I was frustrated from not having answers from other people to my problems. Why is my son not reading? Why do I still have post-traumatic stress from a robbery over a year ago? Why do I have acne in my 40s? I thought I didn’t know. I thought that “science” was higher than the value of my experiences and gut feelings. I was wrong. When you get deep rest, you rise up with the energy to dig deeper and believe in yourself. You get the all-important memo that you are the quarterback of your life—not a doctor or your family and friends.

Women are not crazy; they are intuitive. This is a biggie for women. We’re still seeing signs of the female life cycle being branded as weak, crazy, and sensitive. Menstruation is still viewed as a curse and menopause as the end of a woman’s juicy life. Deep rest reminded me that none of this is true. I am always juicy; I am a strong woman; my biology does not define me. I learned to be proud of being crazy. The good and fully conscious kind of crazy. This is what women need today—heavy doses of it to save their souls, reorganize the workplace, and awaken the world.

(1) Ehrenreich, Barbara and Deidre English, For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of Experts Advice to Women (Anchor Books: New York, second edition 2005).

(2) Charlotte Perkins Gilman (edited with an introduction and notes by Denise D. Knight), The Yellow Wall-paper, Herland, and Selected Writings (Penguin Books: New York, 1999).


This piece was originally published in Thrive Global.