There is nothing like the first signs of sickness to send you into despair. Last Sunday night was my first sign. I woke up at 4am to the dreaded yet pervasive message, packaged as an ache, from the back of my head, to my limbs, calves and beyond. This was not a new message but one that I had known, yet chosen to ignore for a while – my machine was worn out and now riding on empty.
Our bodies are total machines and I have to admit that I haven’t been oiling mine sufficiently for about a month now – not feeding it with quality fuel, yet pushing it to reach its goals, whilst hoping, expecting and assuming it will run efficiently each new day. Suffice to say, last week, it had had enough and I awoke Monday morning to an awful headache, a congested nose and achy limbs. Why? Well, the simple answer is that I abuse my body and I continued to do so on Monday as I proceeded to go to work. I hate to admit it, but I usually invest blind faith that my body will be on my side as and when I need it to be and when it isn’t, I trust that illness will take its natural course and eventually dissipate. I’m also ashamed to admit that I wait for my body to communicate at its highest possible pitch before I even begin to listen to it. Again, why do we wait until crisis point to address ill health? I endeavour to listen to others as attentively and gently as I possibly can when they share pain, so why do I not show the same attentiveness to myself? I’m not sure I have all the answers to these questions right now, but the mere fact that I have them makes me want to commence the search for their answers.
So, when wellness didn’t materialise by Wednesday, and I sat shivering at my desk, I succumbed and started to realise that I needed to not just hear, but actually listen to my poor body, which simply needed a break from life. Hence, I left work a little early and decided to take the next day off.
As I awoke on Thursday morning, I spent the day doing very little in the way of active recovery – I slept for minimal amounts on and off throughout the day, watched some Netflix and wandered around the apartment aimlessly but by the time sunset arrived, I couldn’t believe what a difference that had made to how I felt. Doing nothing heals. However, interestingly, it also brings a huge amount of guilt that sounds something like: ‘I wonder how much everyone else at work is achieving whilst Im sitting here doing nothing?‘, ‘If I’m at home all day, I should at least be doing something worthwhile, shouldn’t I?‘ ‘Am I sick enough to be at home?‘ What I found intriguing is that whilst I was being kind to my body by allowing it to rest at home, I was continuing to abuse my mind. What is that about?
I began pondering where this guilt comes from, because I know I’m not alone in feeling it, and I know it’s been a dear friend of mine since childhood – even as a teenager, when I felt too sick to go to school, I would continue to go in (I told you, I was a strange teen!) I would always fear missing an important piece of learning, or wonder what was going on in my absence – a constant fear of missing out; sickness or my wellbeing didn’t warrant the absence. So, I have started to wonder whether this is a guilt we all share, or whether it was/is specific to me. Is it imposed by society? Our internalised voices from childhood? Ourselves? Sometimes, I speculate whether the root is irrelevant, but rather, it’s the solution one needs to explore because either way, self punitive thoughts during both physical and emotional pain do not aid recovery.
As human beings, we deserve and need to do nothing, at least once a week, and not feel shame or guilt for it. Somehow though, in our twenty four hour online society, we have been made to feel that we are not good enough if we are not ‘doing’ something every minute of everyday. If we are enjoying the sunshine, we question whether we should be folding the washing/ doing the food shopping/ buying the present/ making that phone call/ **add in as appropriate! The result however, is that the doing becomes completely futile when it’s an obligation, running on empty. Our bodies and minds need time to process our experiences so that we can organise and declutter both our physical and mental spaces; without processing time, we become overwhelmed, exhausted, confused, irritable… the list is endless.
This week is Mental Health Week, yet this doesn’t mean that our physical health is any less important. We have both, and they are inescapably combined to influence and shape each other. I realised this week that feeling physically unwell made me feel sad, frustrated, unmotivated and fed up and yet when I allowed myself to physically recover, my mindset did so too. Happiness this week therefore is…. doing nothing – for 10 minutes, a few hours or a whole 24 hours – whatever it is YOU need to rejuvenate. We need to give ourselves the permission to own this time to reflect, process, think idle thoughts – space to pause, and simply go offline for a little while, because ironically, its through ‘nothing’ we actually produce ‘something’, even if that something is an entire Netflix binge – hey that’s an achievement in my eyes 😉