Too much rest exhausts one to lethargy.
One day a few weeks ago, I slept late. It was 9:00 when I woke up, two hours later than usual, and I went to bed at 12:00 the night before, a full hour earlier than usual.
In other words, I slept three hours more than I normally do. I may have needed these three extra hours of sleep to make up for my habitual sleep deficiency. But, instead of feeling rested, I woke up sleepy and tired, as though sleeping too much brought on fatigue.
So, I started the day feeling lethargic. I had no plan for the day that morning. I had a lovely leisurely breakfast and sat down to read the newspaper. But in no time I was sleepy again despite the good long sleep from which I had awaken only a couple of hours earlier. I was so sleepy, uncontrollably sleepy. Then, I caught myself dozing. I made several efforts to sit up straight and keep my eyes open wide but to no avail. My eyes quickly drooped and my body sank. I put my head down on the table and slept for an hour or so. When I woke up I was even more exhausted as I might be at the end of a long day of hard work but without the gratifying sense of achievement that normally accompanies a physical fatigue. I just felt inane, inert, and indolent. I was drained of energy, and not only could I not think of getting up to do anything but even think of thinking of getting up to do anything. It was depressing.
It was already past noon by then. I had no appetite but made something to eat and ate it with barely a sensation. I couldn't even remember ten minutes later what it was that I ate.
After lunch, I was again sleepy and had a strong urge to lie down on the couch in the living room for a nap. But I resisted the temptation and decided to do some work on the computer upstairs. My body felt dense and inert and I dragged myself step by step up the stairs which I normally climb effortlessly in one breath. Trying to work on the computer was useless. My head kept flopping down on the keyboard. I felt so tired, uncontrollably tired. Getting up from the chair was a hard work. I never felt so heavy and slow in years except when was sick or when I had a little bit too much to drink, and I hadn't done anything to speak of since the morning, physical or mental. I had a glimpse of the bed in my bedroom. I desparately wanted to tuck myself in the bed; but I knew I was not sick; and by habit I don't like going down on the bed unless I'm sick or it's bedtime.
The sensation of lethargy was, in fact, worse in some ways than sickness. Not only did I feel exhausted but empty and forlorn and old. Very old. I felt I suddenly added at least ten years to my age. I was miserable.
I knew, of course, what I had to do, and I did exactly what I knew to do. I had to move. I had to get moving, and so I did. I made a mental schedule of physical chores I could do in and around the house for what remained of the afternoon. I went out into the garden to prune, weed, and fertilize, until it started to drizzle; I found enough to do in the house, wash the kitchen floor, clean out the closet, and sort out old magazines for recycling. By the time I started cooking dinner I felt I was regaining my energy. I was again more or less my normal self after dinner.
The experience confirmed what I often said, always believed to be true, and firmly insist on practising (though I failed just for this once). Fatigue results from physical exhaustion, from too much work. But too much rest exhausts one to lethargy. Inactivity lulls us to rest but brings about a feeling of laziness. To be lazy is to resist work; but not working causes the lazy feeling. When we feel lazy we don't want to do any work; so, being lazy is to resist work. But not working generates a lazy feeling. Not having any work in sight depresses the body to exhaustion and fatigues the mind to indolence. After a day at the office when work is slow, we come home more exhausted than when we had a busy day. It is damnably exhausting to be unemployed. Retirement understood as stopping work is no blessing; it's a curse. Moreover, laziness is a habit and it is habit-forming.
In old age lethargy, I claim, is lethal.
When we feel lethargic, we stoop and slouch. When we slouch, we feel lethargic. The sofa is a seat that is ergonomically tailored to promote slouching and lethargy; unless we lie down, on the couch we slouch. When we are young, after slouching, we get up and snap back straight with little or no effort. As we get older, it takes longer to straighten up. Eventually, we lose elasticity like the old rubber band. When I sit on a sofa, I get sleepy and feel indolent for the rest of the day, or for hours at any rate. Resting, I am convinced, is a good regimen for aging quickly; the rest home provides such amenities. Too much rest kills us slowly when we are old. As for myself, I am content to wait for my rest until I have my resting-place.
Take it easy, people tell each other. Relax, they insist. I may be a miserable wretch who never learned to relax, to lay back, and enjoy idleness. Little wonder I dislike vacations and coffee breaks. I enjoy, for sure, lying in the sun for a deeptan, but I read, think, and write while I lie seemingly idle.
But those who keep working well into old age, stay well, live longer, and remain happy. God rested after seven days after a hard work of creating his universe. Oh, yes. He didn't need a day of rest, I'm sure; but that's all right. He is divine, or She. So, the misery of lethargy is beyond Her, or Him, or Whoever.
T. Kaori Kitao, 07.22.07