Rest Lessons: “It’s taken 5 years of rest to recover from the trauma of Grenfell”

Welcome to Rest Lessons, Strong Women’s new weekly series that asks women about the moment their relationship with rest and recovery changed for ever.

Content note: this article contains references to suicidal ideation that readers may find upsetting.

Charlie Craggs is an actor, activist and author. A former Stylist cover star, she’s recently undergone voice surgery and is currently raising funds to provide free self-defence classes for trans people. 

Hey Charlie! What’s the one lesson you’ve learned about rest?

It’s essential.

Talk about not beating around the bush! So, what does ‘rest’ mean to you right now?

I’m actually recovering from surgery and am on enforced rest right now (including vocal rest – FML). Weirdly, I quite like the idea of enforced rest; I think we should all be forced to rest more because Lord knows it’s the only way a lot of you will actually do it. 

If we go through something physically hard like surgery or an injury, we understand the importance of rest because we know we could do long-term damage if we don’t take time to recover. Why then, as a culture, do we struggle so much with applying the same logic to resting after we’ve been through something hard – be that a tragedy or just a bad week at work?

We all need to rest more, and if I had my way it would be enforced. Legally. 

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*Sets reminder to rest in phone.* Has there been a point in your life when rest had to become a priority?

It’s kinda depressing, but it’s when my best friend was killed in Grenfell. My life fell apart and rest wasn’t a choice or an option, it was a necessity and a priority. 

I’m so fucking privileged that I had the luxury as a self-employed person to take that rest. It’s disgusting that we live in a culture where all my mutual friends with Khadija [who died in Grenfell], who were also grieving and also on the brink of suicide, didn’t have a choice but to go back to work after. It speaks volumes about the sort of soulless society we live in that prioritises profit over people. 

It also says a lot about the need for getting your priorities straight and making your wellbeing the biggest priority in your life – not your fucking job. Work to live, not live to work and all that.

It’s hard to imagine how difficult that period must have been for you. How did your relationship with rest and recovery change in that moment?

I was so career-driven up until that point. My first book (To My Trans Sisters) was about to come out just as Grenfell happened, and I went from doing TV stuff, photoshoots for magazines and winning awards to not being able to get out of bed.

I fell off the horse, and I’m only just getting back on it now, five years on. I’m finally doing the things I should have been doing in my career back then, now. Hibernating for five years wasn’t a choice; it was a coping mechanism. I would have probably killed myself if I’d had to keep working and wasn’t able to fully rest.

It sounds like rest, for you, has been life saving.

If it wasn’t for taking that time to rest I probably wouldn’t be here now, and I certainly wouldn’t be doing the things I’m doing now in my career.

I also just wanna say that it wasn’t a conscious hippy-dippy healing period; I didn’t know that what I was doing was healing and I certainly didn’t feel like I was healing at the time. I just listened to my mind and body and allowed it do what it needed, which was literally nothing. My mind and body did the rest. No pun intended. 

What do you think women tend to get wrong about rest?

Under capitalism, everyone – regardless of gender – sees rest as some sort of luxury. It’s not our fault; it’s literally what we’re taught as children. We’ve been made to feel that if we’re not being productive, even on our weekends, we’ve somehow failed. Resting has become some sort of treat we need to earn when, in reality, it’s a basic need like drinking water.

 Your mind and body can’t function properly without rest. I think the difference is that women have been made to carry more than their share since the world began. As well as having a job just as hard as any man’s, women have been conned into doing more than their share in the home, with housework and childcare, so there is even less time to rest. Things need to change and we need to be the generation that makes the changes.

 And finally, how do you prioritise rest day-to-day?

If I don’t wanna do something, I’m not gonna fucking do it. End of. I’m the most important person in my life and I treat myself accordingly, and you should too.

Follow Charlie Craggs on Instagram @charlie_craggs.

Images: Charlie Craggs

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