Learning How to Rest
July 25, 2014
Andrea Allen ’17
I can't take it easy. It's incredibly difficult for me to "Chill."
My summer has been much busier than I thought it was going to be, although not to my surprise. I've spent my weeks hard at work in the office as an intern for the Climate Protection Campaign in Santa Rosa, CA. I had been working on a blog post about what exactly I've been doing for this internship, but then I abandoned it because I was too busy. That should have been the first warning sign.
On a typical morning, I wake up early, go running (side note, it's all hills where I'm living so I have no choice but to work my glutes and quads until I think I'm going to die), make coffee, eat something, and go to work. In the evenings I do some yoga and hang out with my family and read and then sleep and repeat. It doesn't sound very wild, but I'm spending a lot of time doing what I love.
My weekends have each been their own adventure. I went backpacking. I've gone to acroyoga clinics. I went to LA to visit my mom. I learned to rock climb. I took an aerial silks class in Berkeley. And then two weekends ago, I got a sinus infection. Well, first I thought I had a migraine. Then I decided I was having an aneurism. When my family convinced me that that probably wasn't the case, I settled on the most logical conclusion: that I had brain cancer.
When it was suggested that I take the day off and rest, I said no. Why would I do that? I'm fine. I'll just take a truckfull of ibuprofen and carry on. I have things to do.
That Wednesday I had plans to go to a 4-day yoga festival in Squaw Valley. I'd been looking forward to the festival for over six months, had picked my classes out and had things I wanted to work on, people I was going to see, etc. So getting sick a few days before was really not ideal. I went to a very nice doctor (I also have a horrible history with doctors so this was a pleasant surprise) who prescribed antibiotics and some other medication and wished me luck. I went on my way to the festival, pumped myself up full of drugs, and made a promise that I would power through this thing and make the most out of it.
Umm I'm sorry but how could I not go?!
Here was my pile of medication. Kind of sad.
And I did power through it. I learned a ton. I exerted myself to my body's maximum ability and felt sore muscles I never knew I had. I met inspiring teachers and connected with fun and beautiful people, did acro in a swimming pool at eight thousand feet, and ate a lot of free samples of protein drinks and granola bars, all the while taking preventative painkillers and antibiotics (and a beer every now and then... maybe not the greatest choice either).
My mom and I being yogis at high camp.
At least I learned to do this!
I came back and was exhausted. I drove back from Squaw early Monday morning, and after a four-hour drive, went straight into work. That evening I passed out on the couch. The next day, my ears started bothering me. The sinus thing had moved from my forehead to my ears and it felt (and still feels) awful. I went to sleep early so that I could get enough sleep to run in the morning. I sure enough woke up, took some preventative decongestant meds, and went running. I am an idiot. What is my problem? Writing this is quite a revelatory experience, actually.
The day after that I went to the doctor once more, desperate for answers as to why the antibiotics weren't working and why I had something like an ear infection. I told her that yesterday, before my run, I'd taken more decongestant and that my ears had been fine for a few hours but then came back.
She looked at me and said, "There's your problem."
I realized how ridiculous I sounded. I had an infection. Sure I was taking antibiotics to kill the bacteria, but my body needed the strength to fight it. She told me my body had the capabilities to fight it if I just took a rest.
"You're running on empty," she said. "You need to let your body have a chance to catch up and heal itself, because really, it can do that."
What I felt next was something entirely new to me, and it caught me by surprise. I felt a physical resistance to her words. I swear I actually felt the word "No" in my arms and legs and chest (and sinuses). Then I hung my head like an embarrassed puppy.
"Okay," I finally managed.
I went home. I called in sick to work. And as soon as I accepted, mentally, that I was sick, all of a sudden I felt exhausted. Completely and utterly drained. I spent the day mostly in bed, feeling worse psychologically than physically. I hate not doing anything. I did read a hundred pages of a book and also washed all the dishes, and then made myself go back to bed. It sucked.
That was yesterday. Today, I still feel pretty weird in the ears and nose and head. It's my second-to-last day of antibiotics, so I may have already blown it and missed my healing window. I don't know how long it's going to take me to fight this thing, but it's certainly not going to go away if I keep pushing myself. I came in to work for a little today (again, dumb) because I didn't want to let people (myself) down. I stretched a little to make up for my lack of exercise. Honestly I still feel pretty bad. I have a problem resting; I don't know how to do it, I don't believe it's necessary, and I think I can power through anything. I'm addicted to doing the things that make me feel like myself, and I'm convinced I'll lose all progress if I pause at all. I have an extremely hard time taking a break even if it's for my own health. But I'm only hurting myself.
I'm sure I'm not alone, so this post is for you all out there who have the same problem. The Oberlin community especially is full of incredibly driven souls who do eighty things at once seemingly without rest, and so I welcome with open arms any pieces of wisdom on how to address this. For now, I'm going to go home, substitute the ibuprofen capsules for a big chill pill, go back to bed, and breathe.
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Responses to this Entry
YEP I DO THIS. That's probably not a surprise. (Also, when I read "hung my head like an embarrassed puppy," I had an immediate and perfect mental image of you doing just that. It's almost like I've spent time with you or something.)
So, in my Oberlin life, it took me some time to accept this, but I learned that I was not allowed to schedule anything during fall and spring breaks, even if I felt fine, because as soon as I slept in the first day of break and let myself relax a teensy bit, I would get sick. Every single time. Also christmases. My first winter term, I was not quite over the christmas-relaxing-induced sick, so I flew to Oregon with DOUBLE FLU. Two kinds of flu at once. After already having had the flu over Thanksgiving (which I spent in New York). 0/10 do not recommend.
My way of coping with the necessity of rest was to shift my brain into way high gear. I would always make huge amounts of food right at the beginning of breaks so that I didn't have to break the brain focus by cooking, and I'd always have a huge/hugely detailed to-do list planned out in advance, and then I would literally just hang out by myself in my room and concentrate. (Also, nap.) The idea was that I'd be so distracted that I'd forget about my body for a few days, in which time it would get sick and start recovering, and then whenever I began to resurface from the depths of my headspace, my body would be far enough along the get-well path that I could start doing handstands and visiting friends and whatnot. (Key to this plan, I should mention, was putting fun things on the to-do list alongside the paperwork and email-answering and scholarship applications. I usually read a few books for fun and wrote letters, too. You have to be well and truly submerged for this method to work.)
…true rest, though? I have no idea. Good luck. Get well soon! ♥
Posted by: Ida on July 26, 2014 12:33 AM
Oh yeah also I SEE YOU DOING THAT SLACKLINE YOGA I SEE YOU and I love it. And you. Yes.
Posted by: Ida on July 26, 2014 12:36 AM
I know this feel. I know it so well.
I started to get a sinus cold during my finals week and I basically had to push through so I could finish my work. Then there was the world cup final so I HAD to stay out late and drink two liters of beer (...). Then all my friends were leaving so I HAD to hang out with them whenever I could (this time without beer because I figured I had to be a little gentler on my body). Then I had a friend come to visit me in Munich... and I completely lost my voice. Let me emphasize that I am a singer and I NEVER lose my voice, which is nigh unheard of. I hadn't even had a tickle in my throat for years because I am so careful about my voice, but for five days I basically couldn't talk and I had sinus pain that sounds pretty similar to yours. It was so awful and I only started to get better once I got medicine AND I started to rest. I sort of thought I had already learned this lesson in high school when I got mono and had it way longer than I should've because I insisted on going to school every day (WHY PAST SELF WHY) but apparently not.
That being said, my general advice in this regard is that you (not you specifically, like people generally) need to listen to your body. If you're experiencing an above-average amount of pain or a different kind of pain from normal, your body telling you to fix something and you need to react accordingly. Obviously this advice is easier to give than to follow, but something that's helped me to do that is to write in a journal every day. When I look back at my entries it's really easy to see how my physical state influences my mental state and that's been pretty instrumental in my trying to eat better/get outside more/let myself rest. (This comment is getting very long and starting to sound like a blog post? Should this turn into a blog post?)
Anyway, great post. Hopefully you find some rest before heading back to Oberlin.
Posted by: Emily on August 1, 2014 1:42 PM
(Yes, Emily. Blog post, please :D)
So, rest. This is a thing I was 100 kinds of terrible at when I was in school, and what it meant was that anytime I had a break, I was sick. My immune system isn't the greatest, I was in a co-op (hi, all my friends in very close proximity all the time), and I pushed harder on the weekends than during the week (don't get me started on summers) and I didn't really know how to back off from it. But unlike Ida, I failed to schedule breaks as downtime and just kept doing, so I'm pretty sure I was perpetually sick in some form or another for most of college. (I think my saving grace was that unlike you and Ida, my pushes were mostly mental rather than physical and mental. If my body caved in, I don't really know how I would have dealt with it.) To me, not being occupied meant that I wasn't fulfilling *something* was expecting of myself.
Now that I'm some kind of Big Kid, I'm learning stuff (or maybe I'm just much better at listening). I have a better day when I bike or walk to work than when I drive. It's a good amount of brain time in the morning and afternoon, and it's taking a bit of time to do something I'm going to have to do at a different pace. I have my own rituals when I get home, too, and I try and stick to them (like not a lot of computer time unless I've explicitly decided it's a computer night). I cook a lot for myself, partially cause the process is really mind-unwinding for me, but also because my body is happier when I put the combo of things that fuels me in the right way.
What does rest look like for me? It's listening to my body, but it's almost as much about listening to my brain. If it's buzzing, knowing the difference between needing to get something out (writing) and needing to settle it (distract it) is important to me. Sometimes the answer is creative activities, but sometimes that's the opposite of what I need and ridiculous TV shows are actually the solution. I'm also over feeling guilty about going to bed early when I still have things to do, because I'll be fresh and more able to do it in the morning. I try and have a balance of times with other humans that aren't tied to work -- dinners, movie nights, just hanging out and enjoying times -- but also feel okay taking a night in because I need it.
Listening to yourself is hard, but I think it's the first step that most of us can undertake starting today.
Posted by: Ma'ayan on August 1, 2014 2:48 PM
I second Ma'ayan. Self care is so crucial, and Oberlin self care stories are so helpful. Blog post please!
But yeah, Emily, I started keeping track of my physical state in a journal sometime last year, and it was instrumental to me believing that patterns of pain were patterns and worth paying attention to. Journals are suuuper useful. Because I'm okay at listening to my body in the moment, but listening to it over time is something I'm still working on.
Posted by: Ida on August 6, 2014 7:32 PM
Thank you Emily, Ma'ayan, and Ida for the pearls of wisdom! We're all trying to do our best.
(And Ida--I've been told that standing on my head with a sinus cold is a stupid thing to do. That's probably true. Unfortunately, I'm having a very difficult time this summer keeping myself right-side-up).
Posted by: Andrea on August 7, 2014 3:31 PM
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