Rest is For Rebels
Take It Easy
I am in a weird place with my relationship to DOING right now. I am gently gently finding my way around this new normal of my life. Those of you following my journey on social media over the past few years will know that chronic pain and chronic illness have been a huge part of my day to day reality for a number of years. For as long as I have been running this business my daily activities have been dictated by the pain I live with. Since my hysterectomy and endometriosis excision surgery in the summer my most painful and limiting symptoms of some of my conditions have been hugely relieved. I still experience pain daily but it is manageable with pacing. I no longer feel as if each day and the tasks within it are a mountain to climb.
I am finding myself able to do some simple things that I haven’t for a long time - clean my own house, walk the school run AND cook a dinner for the family everyday, crouch down to empty the washing machine. Now I am no Mrs Hinch, I don’t get any kick out of cleaning the toilet, but I am finding a gentle and simple delight in being able to do these tasks without asking for help, or just having to leave them undone.
I feel so very strange writing about it, as if drawing attention to this kind of healing will somehow break the spell. It is a tentative life I feel I am living right now, but not through fear.. But perhaps through gratitude? I am still finding my feet. The best I can describe is that I have had a giant ‘reset’ in my body, and I so dearly wish to protect it by honouring the needs of my body- and spirit- right now.
This time and space feels like a gift. The past couple of years have been incredibly hard both in my body and in the same circumstances of all of us families of school aged children, in insecure work with no furlough, throughout the relentless trauma of the pandemic. I am not the only one right now still coming to terms with the grief and upheaval of the last 18 months- but that is for another blog post I think.
Rest is for Rebels?
Now I have been banging on about how Rest is For Rebels, on social media, on t-shirts, on badges, since my first surgery in 2018. I have been on this journey of learning how to rest -intentionally- since my life was turned upside down back then. And I am discovering in this season that this learning is lifelong. Over the past few years I made a pretty good go of learning how to rest so I can DO more. I certainly learnt that if I wanted to be in any way ‘productive’ I had to honor my body’s need for rest. What this actually looked like was doing as little as possible physically so I could work myself relentlessly while sitting still.
Because it was easy to tell myself that I was doing the right thing by working through pain by taking my laptop to bed. Or by continually overriding my need for rest, for stillness, because the activity was worth the day or two in bed afterwards. And then resting my physical body only.
I listened to a podcast, Everything Happens from Kate Bowler. She was interviewing Bessel Van der Kolk, the writer of The Body Keeps The Score . Kate spoke about after the trauma of cancer and cancer treatment she needed to come back to her body . That resonated so deeply with me.
It makes perfect sense that everything would become an intellectual activity in a life of chronic pain . But when Dr Bessel said something like `` when you cut off the body you avoid the pain but you also avoid the pleasure” and that dropped hard into me. Because that is where I have been living.
I am not in pain right now. I don’t feel sick. I have more options than just spending the days sat at my desk or curled up in bed. So much of my current situation has been built up from necessity. To do whatever I could do in whatever way I could in order to make enough of a living.
In my understandable desire to be out of my body I have not learnt how to fully pace my being.
Chronic pain and Escapism
I have read that it is common for people living in severe chronic pain to lose themselves in continual mental stimulation. It’s possibly one of the only escapes we have? As much as I had been trial and erroring my way through learning to pace my body, it had never occurred to me that I needed to learn how to pace my brain? Constant stimulation is so readily available to us now. I often find myself over-stimulated and exhausted after allowing myself to scroll social media instead of going to sleep. My collection of lovely glowing devices means I never have to really really BE with myself. Between the phone, the kindle, streaming the radio, or a podcast or a film or a rolling news or Animal Crossing I have many many methods of escape.
And you know what? There are certainly worse ways to numb yourself. But none of this really addresses the deep need for more than just physical rest. Resting my body while bingeing podcasts about running a creative business is not rest! No wonder, despite getting the physical rest my body required - especially during the pandemic when I had no choice but to stay home- I have been still trapped in a cycle of over stimulation, burn out and then numbing procrastinations. Noticing this has been so useful. But how exactly can I learn to pace my being in the way that my body and mind desires? Clue- it's not noping out of life in bed scrolling social media and trying my very best to escape.
Things I am finding so helpful
Here are some things that I have been trying that I have found so helpful, as in they are actually helping me to Take it Easy and rest in a way that brings connection to my body and helps me to be present.
- Cold water swimming- I call it swimming but it's really just bobbing around in the sea. This feels like a total nervous system reset (that’s not far off what it is) I have been trying to do this once or twice a week and I have certainly felt the difference on the weeks where I have missed my chance. As the winter draws on I really hope I can keep this up. Or else I will have to swap to a cold shower?
- Fat Life Drawing - these online sessions have been the absolute highlight of my week the last few months. Life drawing demands that you are fully present in the moment, just really looking and noticing. The online nature of this means that all comparison demons are kept at bay, I don’t feel observed while I draw. It also means I am able to do this in the total comfort of my home so it costs very little energy. I ADORE it and I have definitely felt the impact on my mental health of really taking this time. Also, Fat life Drawing is such a welcoming and inclusive community, it’s so special. I want to do it every day!
- This really simple body check that a therapist showed me. So often my mind is absolutely racing, I feel the metaphor “ having hundreds of browser tabs open’ was actually written for me. I learnt some really useful breathing exercises while I was training as a hypnobirthing teacher, but I have noticed that I more often use them to override my nervous system instead of working with it. Taking a few moments to really explore how I am feeling (the SHAME of being in my 40s and never doing this before? ) in each part of my body in turn has been revelatory. A very simple example of how this is changing my life, is that I have discovered that I don’t actually like sitting at my desk all day and getting up and doing something that is not a screen actually increases rather than decreases my energy.
- Writing every day. I admit I haven't read much more than the first couple of chapters, but I committed this summer to writing the ‘morning pages’ as described in Julia Cameron's the Artist’s way. The postmodern fine art graduate Katy of 12 years ago would be scornfully laughing , but this book’s spiritual leanings suit me very well right now. The morning pages have been happening and I have found that this step alone is making me feel more connected to my self, and have more creative energy and ideas than I have had for a long time. It feels like a luxury making time to just write out a big ol brain dump everyday, with a bulging inbox and a million things and people that demand my attention, but its fast becoming a necessity. It slows me down and my whole day benefits from it. I feel a bit untethered if I miss too many days in a row. Maybe I will return to this book and look at the rest of Julia’s exercises.
I’m not saying I get this right all the time. Yesterday I was overtired from a busy weekend and spent quite a lot of the day sat at my desk failing to either work OR rest, overriding my body’s demands for rest out of the desire to ‘not waste my childcare’ - when I would have done much better to honour the request of my body for a hot bath and a nap. But. I am getting there.
I don’t know whether I will stay in this reduced pain forever. I hope so! It might be years, it may only be months. Endometriosis is a brutal condition and although I have a good chance of not growing any more lesions now I don’t have ovaries, it’s not guaranteed and there are plenty of women out there who’s radical hysterectomies were not a permanent end to their misery. But for now I am fully embracing this opportunity that I have been gifted to really take it easy and learn how to be in my body AND mind,
As I am finding ways to feel more settled in the moment, more ways to be myself, more ways to pace my body and my brain, I am finding it less necessary to escape. I am somehow simultaneously doing more AND doing less?
I’d love to know your experiences of slowing down and how it’s changing you?