Our culture often celebrates those with overflowing schedules. We are addicted to the caffeine-fueled, GO GO GO mentality, bowing down to busy-ness, impressive resumes, and those superhuman individuals that seem to always get things done.
See more. Buy more. Work more. Travel more. Detox more.
More movement. More juice. MORE GREENS! More yoga! More meditation!
Everything in moderation, except for doing more. More is better, more is great. Just keep going!
I raise my finger and look the other way, pleading guilty, as someone that bought into this damaging idea because I felt it was the only way to survive. It was all I knew! As a (partially) recovered over-achiever and do-er, I ignored the cues to slow down, to do less, and BE more, because I actually thought that by doing more, I’d feel better.
Maybe I’d feel happier, more energized.
Maybe my symptoms would go away. Maybe I’d finally get paid for a job that I enjoyed waking up for.
I kept pushing. Waking up early to run when I was exhausted and my legs felt wobbly. Popping caffeine pills to finish my papers in college. Sipping coffee and pu-erh tea to make it through the work day, often driving home in a pile of tears as I felt the heaviness of my body and the dense dread for each coming day.
I can’t say when things started to transform. Year after year I felt irritated with my body as the fatigue and related issues grew increasingly intense, too intense to just keep muscling through.
As funny as it feels to admit now, there were days of even forcing yoga through exhaustion (it’s supposed to be relaxing, right?) because I couldn’t bear the idea of just sitting, of having to feel how sick and how tired my body had become over the years. I’ll at least stretch, I’d tell myself, trying to ignore how awful even gentle movement felt.
Last year, I was lucky enough to step away from my full-time job to finally start addressing the symptoms that had intensified after college.
But funnily enough, it took about four months after quitting my job for me to actually slow down, and even then, (even now, if I’m fully honest), I fought it. I didn’t want to rest. I wanted to be like all the other twenty-something year olds that managed to work their jobs, get to the gym, walk their dog, go out for cocktails and taco-Tuesdays with friends, and still wake-up ready for work the next day. No big deal, right?
Well, I didn’t give in because I wanted to: my body (wisely) refused to continue onwards at the speed I had set.
When I dropped to 79 pounds and was surviving off of the lab-made Elemental Formula and IV vitamins due to my gut dysfunction, it finally slapped me across the face like a low hanging tree branch: my body had been working OVERTIME. It was busy mitigating viruses & parasites, managing chronic insomnia and stress, trying to function with severe nutritional imbalances from years of leaky gut, working around genetic SNPs, and trying desperately to repair my bones and gut lining with limited resources.
My body, who I now refer to as Jean-Philippe the tiger, was begging for rest. It had been for years. For about 11 years straight, in fact, it whispered and then finally started howling. I didn’t want to listen to the warning signs, so I covered my ears and added more to my schedule.
I thought that by pushing harder, squatting heavier, slamming the 32 oz. morning celery juice (which I thoroughly enjoyed, admittedly), drinking more coffee, and meditating, I would eventually snap out of it and healthy, vibrant, and creative adult life would just start flowing in the way I hoped it could.
As much as I struggled to comprehend at the time, I now can see with extreme clarity that my body wanted to take care of me all along. It desperately wanted to heal, which first required doing LESS. Years of fighting the cues clearly hadn’t made me stronger or happier, so eventually I decided to try the opposite, more passive, more Pooh-like, perhaps most logical approach of doing less.
Just this year, I started repeating “rest will make me stronger,” and noticing what came up when I actually tuned into that idea.
I would ask my body, “what do you need, in this moment?” and oftentimes, as much as my brain wanted to go for a walk or even throw in a load of laundry and check off my to-do list, what I truly needed was a nap. Lots of naps.
For months, I started paying close attention to how I was actually feeling. I’d be lying if I told you I was okay with how I felt, because most of the time, I didn’t want to believe that I truly felt so horrendously toxic and so utterly depleted.
Yet, when I started moving from a place of honoring my body for what it was managing, of being proud of how hard its fought, I started listening to it’s cues.
And guess what? Life started to feel easier.
Naps started to feel luxurious.
Sitting on the floor felt divine.
Slow walks while the crows flew overhead felt dreamy, magical.
Resting under a tree instead of going for the hike we planned actually felt quite lovely and serene. I felt like a rebel, breaking the rules and doing life on my own terms.
Reading by the fire instead of meeting up with friends felt calming, nourishing, and actually allowed access to that feeling of calm satisfaction I had been chasing for years.
Ironically and often against our initial desire, chronic illness can be a teacher, a gift. It has a very direct way of showing you exactly where you can soften into the subtleties of life and in that, find healing. The only catch is that you have to listen to the teachings and follow them, which first requires slowing down and doing less so that you can actually hear the whispers. It requires resting, even when you may not want to. Instead of pushing on at an unsustainable pace, illness forces you to reevaluate the faulty ways in which we’ve grown so accustomed to functioning.
By learning to say yes to doing less, a satisfying ease in life tinted my new lens of perception. I welcomed this drastic shift and now cherish its company and guidance. It shows up as a calm, more loving voice, directing me towards the most gentle and kind actions throughout the day. When I choose to act or even think in ways that feel the most tender–and I actually feel better for having done so–that’s how I know I’m healing. Even while rushing to an appointment or hurrying up to finish the grocery shopping, adopting a mindset of rest, of ease, slows down the release of stress hormones and signals to my body that it’s safe: you can rest, Jean-Philippe.
The more I research and understand adrenal fatigue as a result of chronic stress and the full-body ramifications when the body is launched into survival mode, the more I realized how–in innocence!–I had harmed myself by pushing through the fatigue year after year after year. The body wisely shuts down functions deemed secondary to survival (digestion & metabolism, repair, hormone production, cellular respiration, etc), in order to prioritize staying alive, resulting in very low energy, decreased immune function, and eventually, a worsening of symptoms.
Like hammering a rose to open up its petals, I tried to force my way to health, and in the process, made things much worse.
Especially interesting, (warranting an entire post, eventually) is the effect of stress on gut, and therefore our immunity and mental health. Research shows that not only does stress shift our microbiome for the worse (therefore increasing inflammation, hurting digestion, impacting our neurotransmitters, moods and sleep), but it also increases the permeability of the gut (also warranting another post, stay tuned), setting the body up for a host of conditions related to autoimmunity, infections, and an overall decline in health.
By choosing to rest, especially in the quality of our thoughts and the lens in which we perceive the world through, we allow the chemistry of our bodies to shift in our favor. By minimizing unnecessary psychological and therefore physiological stress, the body can start to heal the systems that need it most. In fact, healing requires being in a parasympathetic state. We are either fighting-flighting-and-freezing (and more recently researched, arresting and folding) OR resting and digesting. Due to biological efficiency, these opposing states cannot happen simultaneously.
So, while it may not be easy, while the (recovering) go-getter inside of me and perhaps the type A-personality in you might still squirm and complain and compare and cling to the idea of how a body should function or how a life should look, we can deliberately and earnestly choose to rest.
I choose to honor my body, the tired tiger, and listen to what it needs. I choose to slow down to smell the roses that bloom on their own clock, instead of smacking them with hammers to open up, god dammit! I choose to curl up by the fire with a small cup of rooibos and a thick blanket, reading some Pema Chodron to celebrate the ease in my life instead of rushing out the door to do more. When I shift from being disappointed by my body to being proud and wanting to take care of it, I am filled with space and options. I find gaps to soak up how good it feels to stop, to feel, to no longer give in to the pressure to constantly rush and check off my to-do list.
I do less and I rest.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog should not be used to treat or diagnose disease or health problems and is provided for your edification and delight only.