I had an epiphany yesterday about healing and recovery, and of course one of my first thoughts was to share it with you. But providing a little context will help with my overall explanation of the very big hint I have provided in the diary title.
As you have noticed, I hope, there was a major demonstration in Washington DC yesterday against the Keystone XL pipeline. I was itching to go be a part of the group on site, and I began scheming how I might get there, whether by driving myself (9-10 hours in the best of conditions) or by getting a seat on a bus. The bus was appealing in some ways because then I wouldn’t have to drive there and back by myself, though a carpool might have been feasible. But the prospect of trying to sleep on a bus was frankly not too pleasant, especially considering the care I have to take not to wind up with a DVT given the medication I am taking. That’s also a concern for now with driving, for that matter, and something that would make a long day’s drive become a two-day’s drive even if I weren’t the only driver.
Not long after I heard about the date of the rally, however, my plans were thwarted because I learned that the event conflicted with a family gathering—also out of town, but significantly closer—and one that I could not comfortably forgo for the sake of a political demonstration. Thus it was a real blessing to be invited to take part in the Forward on Climate Blogathon this week, which gave me the opportunity to learn a whole lot and perhaps contribute a little something to the event’s success.
Unfortunately for any travel plans I came down with a bad cold two weeks ago, and as last weekend approached I was not well enough to go anywhere. I did feel a little sorry for myself, and a bit disappointed, but I knew it wouldn’t be considerate of me to expose my family members in another state to my germs, especially the pregnant relative who was the guest of honor at the party. So I figured that I would use the unexpected time available to me to catch up on household chores and projects, however optimistic that ambition might be.
I put together a little to-do list for myself for the weekend. OK, it wasn’t a little list, it was a long list, including tasks that I had successfully postponed for several months already. (Here I am going to claim the fifth and decline to provide details.) But I figured that with the unexpected time at home, I could make some good progress on the backlog. Oh, and to the list of longstanding items, I added three tasks specifically related to treating my cold: drinking copious quantities of hot spiced tea; steaming my sinuses with a therapeutic oil in the water; doing some yoga, specifically the savasana (corpse) pose, which is a wonderful posture for rest and recovery.
I guess I made some progress on my to-do list. A few items are now off the list, though frankly not many and of course not as many as I had hoped! But do you know, even with all the “open” time I had available, I did not and apparently could not squeeze in the time to do any one of the three self-care items on my list. How hard are they, really? Not hard at all. And yet there they were, at the bottom of my list judging from all the attention I gave them.
Until yesterday afternoon, when I finally figured I should give the steaming a try. I heated some water, set up my little crock pot, added the oil to the hot water, sat down with my head over the steaming, fragrant water, and inhaled deeply. And that’s when I had my epiphany.
I don’t habitually rest. Yes, I sleep, and pretty well for the most part. But rest? Not so much. I always have to be doing SOMETHING if I’m not asleep. Chores; errands; reading; exercise; family interactions; online reading or communication (not listed in priority order, and often more than one at a time). The corollary to this realization is that it feels great to rest, and that I should do more of it every chance I get. Or, more honestly, I should make sure I create regular chances for myself to rest. I'll aim for 15-20 minutes to start and then see if I can add to that time as I establish the habit.
Now, several teachers and caregivers have been exhorting me to rest for many months, asserting that rest is a different physiological state from sleep (which I am quite willing to believe) and that it serves a highly beneficial role in healing. I knew and accepted this early on, but I have forgotten it over time.
I used to rest slightly more regularly when I went to a weekly meditation session, and when I had acupuncture and yoga weekly instead of every-other-week. During each of those experiences, I could feel my body’s excitement about the prospect of rest, if that’s not too paradoxical. (Whoo-hoo! The chance to do nothing! My body rejoiced, and said to itself that we’d better enjoy it while it lasts.) Earlier still, when I was in the middle of chemo and then coming out of it, I had no choice but to sit quietly for an hour or so, often with my cat on my lap, almost every afternoon. As my health rebounded and my energy returned, so did my activity level, and rest became a lower priority again. For a variety of reasons mostly out of my control, my routine changed a couple of months ago, and again the biggest loss to me was time to rest.
My short but enlightening respite over the steam pot yesterday reminded me that as much as I enjoy my ability to get out and about, and as much as I appreciate being able to increase my strength and endurance at the gym, I will do better all the same if I just STOP at some point, every day, to sit quietly and rest. Not reading; not being online; not sleeping; not thinking of what else I need to do next. (I see it as different from meditation since there’s no focused practice or mantra, though meditation has similar promise in this regard as well as in others.)
It’s a big and difficult lesson for me. Even though I am not working for pay right now, which is generally a great boon to me, I feel a major sense of responsibility in many areas: I feel always pressed to do more for my family, to do more around the house, to take part in more activism. Tonight, for example, I’m doing dual-duty on DKos diaries, since I have a looming deadline with respect to the Motor City Kossacks. And there is one other diary I must post this week on another matter, as well as significant correspondence in several areas unrelated to DKos that awaits my attention….
For a while I have lamented the apparent loss of my ability to multi-task with any competency. I know, the idea that people do it at all is allegedly illusory. But I think we all are familiar with the possibility—the necessity, usually—of juggling several tasks simultaneously. I don’t do that at all as well now as I once did. I blame chemo brain most of the time. But maybe the more valuable lesson to draw instead is that of valuing the ability--the opportunity--to focus on one task at a time, including the vital task of doing nothing. Of taking a break. Of letting myself rest.
So what do you think about resting? Do you do it regularly? What does it entail for you? How can you tell you are short on rest? How can you incorporate more time to rest into your daily routine? It’s OK if you tell me you think I am full of it, and that you’ll only be willing to rest when you’re dead. I am sincerely curious—so the floor is now open.
Monday Night Cancer Club is a Daily Kos group focused on dealing with cancer, primarily for cancer survivors and caregivers, though clinicians, researchers, and others with a special interest are also welcome. Volunteer diarists post Monday evenings between 7-8 PM ET on topics related to living with cancer, which is very broadly defined to include physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive aspects. Mindful of the controversies endemic to cancer prevention and treatment, we ask that both diarists and commenters keep an open mind regarding strategies for surviving cancer, whether based in traditional, Eastern, Western, allopathic or other medical practices. This is a club no one wants to join, in truth, and compassion will help us make it through the challenge together.