by Patheresa Wells
Every morning — well, almost every morning — I get up, and the first thing I do is complete three longhand pages of writing. This exercise is a creative brain dump based on the “morning pages” exercise found in The Artist’s Way. Usually, what I write in my pages stays there. But occasionally, an idea sticks with me and asks for more room. This holiday season, as I reflected over the past few months, the past year, and how long it has been since we have been in this pandemic, a thought stuck with me beyond the written page. It’s something I’ve had to tell myself many times in the past, something that I have never really felt: that it’s okay to take a break — if you can.
I would be remiss if I didn’t note the ability to take a break is often a privilege, one that I have not been able to afford for much of my life, and many others still cannot. Yet because the pressures of this world are often the hardest on those who are unable to escape them, I must implore you, implore myself, to find ways to put some things down and let them go. Ask for help, reach out, say “not today,” say “no.” And while soaking in a bubble bath can be relaxing, I think it’s important to note that self-care is more than that. Some of my best breaks have come because I was at my wit’s end and decided no more until my cup was refilled.
Even my 2022 epiphany, that it is okay to take a break, didn’t come easily. What I first wrote down in my morning pages journal the other day was, “Usually I am so aware of time it feels like each moment I am watching its chariot hurtle towards me.” It wasn’t until writing that line that I then realized taking a break is a necessity. Time and money, or lack of it, are the things I fear almost as much as a militarized police force, institutionalized racism, and being Black in the United States.
I am always trying to get ahead, yet there always seems to be more work to be done, and always when I’m at a disadvantage, when it’s harder. While I often wonder if this feeling is my mind’s way of pushing me to excel, at the same time, I know I have been at a disadvantage for generations. I do have to work harder to achieve. For example, with my poetry, I have to work harder to get my poems published because I do not have the funds to submit them to literary journals. I lack the privilege of poets who can afford those fees.
In fact, according to data from the U.S. Census, as a Black woman, I would have to work seven extra months a year to earn what my white male counterpart does in 12 months. Even if we have the same skills, education, and occupation, I have to work half a year more in order to financially achieve what white men do. This wealth gap is at the core of how this country was built.
In the U.S., there is an ideology that grinding will help you get ahead; that the harder you work, the more likely you are to succeed. This idea of hustling for success has been a part of my legacy for as long as I can remember. Everyone in my family either has side jobs, is involved in entrepreneurship, or has ideas to strike it rich. We have been fed the idea that working ourselves all day and night to produce more will pay off. Yet most of my family lives paycheck to paycheck despite their hard work. To me, it feels like workaholism today has become its own sort of overseer; a mentality driving us to work past our breaking points.
It’s exhausting. I am exhausted. Even the things I have in my life that are healing, like therapy, were born out of necessity because I had to find a way to make it. I dream of a world where it is much easier for me to take a break, where taking time off is encouraged, expected, even to the point of being supported by our government. But until then, I have to remind myself every day that it’s okay. That the world will not end because I stop producing for an hour, a day, or, heaven forbid, a week. That the cycle of generational poverty I am fighting against will not be harder to tackle because I took a much-needed rest.
If you cannot take time off, which was a reality for much of my life, I encourage you to seek ways of giving yourself a break somehow. Maybe that’s getting outside for a walk, reaching out to your community for support, engaging in your favorite hobby, or listening to some music that puts you at ease. Because I know how hard it is to take a break or find resources when you need to decompress, I also want to share that NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has a BIPOC Mental Health Resources guide. It includes information on a weekly peer-led support group open to BIPOC individuals seeking mental health support and connection. I’ve found talking or listening to others with the same struggles can be therapeutic.
It has almost been two years since the COVID-19 pandemic started in the United States. Two years of increased stress and of navigating new challenges. Two years of trying to make it through while still battling all the other difficulties we face in life. While I marvel at the resilience of humanity, I also must acknowledge how this time has impacted our social interactions, finances, mental health, physical health, etc. And I must remind you, as I remind myself: It’s okay to take a break.
Footnote: I would like to acknowledge that my ability to take this needed time off was made possible by the support of the South Seattle Emerald. I am thankful to everyone whose help makes this possible.
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Patheresa Wells is a poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She currently attends Highline College in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
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