Permission to Rest More

I slept this week. Every chance I got, I curled up under my warm blankets in my comfortable, old fashioned iron bed and willed myself to dream. Dishes piled up, laundry didn’t get done, and writing ceased. Instead, I snored.

After weeks of illness, the holidays, my daughter out of school and interacting with lots of people, my cold turned into a sinus infection. My doctor prescribed antibiotics and I reluctantly filled the prescription. But rather than taking one when I got home, I set the bottle of pills on my bedside table and took a nap. When I woke up, I asked, “What if I gave myself an entire week to sleep as much as I want? Will I get better on my own?” Deciding to find out, I set the meds aside. For one full week, I would drink tea and sleep.

Instantly I felt guilty. Shouldn’t I just take the meds and get better? I had a thousand things to do and a book to write and Christmas decorations all over my house. If I took antibiotics I’d probably be better in two days instead of a week. Giving a week to rest is an indulgence I couldn’t afford.

Or could I? My daughter went back to school, and although it’s true I work hard as her caregiver, there were several hours each day I could spend in bed. Besides, my body ached with fatigue and my lungs burned from coughing. My head pounded. Whether I wanted to accept it or not, I was sick and needed rest. Why not rest fully?

Grabbing my iPad, I climbed back into bed and watched Poirot Murder Mysteries on Netflix.

A funny thing happened over five days. Not only did my cough slowly improve and the pressure in my head subside, but my stress diminished. My cuticles healed because I wasn’t biting them so much. My eyes weren’t so dry from staring at a computer screen all day. When the phone rang, I didn’t jump and when my daughter needed me I had more patience. Not only did my body need rest to recover from illness, my body seemed to need rest to recover from 2015.

My head feels better now, but I might have an infection. I’ll give it time. From what I’ve read, antibiotics only cure sinus infections about half the time, so resting may be just as effective. But rather than killing off all the bacteria in my body and starting over, I gave my body a chance to kill bad bugs on its own. We’ll see if I still need antibiotics.

Rest is a luxury we can all use. I know I’m lucky to have the time; not everyone can ignore their work for a week. Realizing this, I don’t take rest for granted. It is a gift my daughter has given me. It’s challenging caring for a person with disabilities, but there are hidden gems in the work.

Next week I’ll jump back into my regular schedule of teaching, writing, running my press and managing the chaos. I’ll battle Social Security to make sure my girl has everything she needs. But right now, I’m going back to bed with a good book. Ahhhhh, heaven.

Forget “permission” to rest, I’m being forced to rest.

diagram of shoulder impingement from orthogate.com

Four weeks ago, I had shoulder surgery; no rotator-cuff tears, thank goodness, so I’m healing fast. I was trying to rest before the surgery, but my idea of rest was organizing 8 months of paperwork and staying up late editing manuscripts. Then came my surgery and suddenly, I was slammed hard into bed, wacked-out on pain meds with my shoulder in an ice machine. My body demanded rest, or else! So I lay there and slept.

Four days later, I was out of that bed and working my butt off in PT, pushing the limits of pain. “What pain is bad pain?” I asked.

“Let the pain be your guide,” my PT said.

“It always hurts, so when do you know to stop?”

“If you feel a sharp, jabbing pain, stop.”

Oh, that kind of pain, I thought. But if I push through it just a bit, I can get past that being-stabbed-with-a-stiletto-blade-pain and stretch further and get well faster. How else will I get strong again?

Which is how I ended up back in bed with my ice machine, crying like a ten year old girl with a broken arm. “But I need to get better! I hate being so weak! I hate asking for help! I want to do it myself!”

For some insane reason, I was forcing a year’s worth of PT into 3 weeks, thinking that if I worked harder and ignored the pain, I’d be back to normal faster than anyone ever has been before. I am that psycho in spin class who will work so hard she throws up just to prove that she’s the fastest person on a stationary bike.

Yes, I’m an idiot.

My body is forcing me to rest. “Relax”, it says, “Lounge. Listen to the pain, and slowly do your exercises. Give it three months before you push it so hard. Or else!”

Or else what? I ask my defiant body.

“Or else I will shove you back into that bed where you won’t be able to do anything but watch reruns of General Hospital and beg for mercy.”

Ok, ok… I’ll listen. I promise.

When the body commands, the ego must obey.

I know I’m not the only person who pushes herself so hard (I’ve seen you other crazy people at the gym). How do you make peace with an injury, or your physical limitations? How do you care for yourself? What does your body do if you don’t?

Permission to Rest

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to rest? I mean lie on the couch with a good book kind of rest. Or take a leisurely walk with no particular destination in mind, without the dog, kind of rest. If you’re a parent, the “slow days of summer” is a myth, one you wish you had the time and money to live in. But now the kids are back in school, the days are still hot, the sun still bright, and the garden is bursting with produce. Before you roll up your sleeves to vacuum the last of the sand out of the mini-van, think about what rest means to you.

For me, rest is stopping all outgoing energy, including creative energy. Trying to care for my daughter while writing two books and editing another, running Medusa’s Muse, and marketing books, all while injured, was crazy making. I resented my daughter at home all the time, resented the heat that kept us in the house most of the time, resented the hours spent trying to manage the everyday chaos of home and family. My lap top sat idle, my stress load increased, and my sense of claustrophobia got so bad I started throwing out every book and knick-knack in my bedroom (throwing out books? unheard of!).

While grabbing one precious hour of writing time at the cafe, I opened my lap top and heard a loud “crack”. The hinge on my computer had snapped. Carefully I tried propping the screen up, but it kept slipping backwards. I wanted to cry. My husband, a computer tech, examined it and pronounced it unfixable. My most important tool and toy had just died.

Without money to buy a new laptop, I was forced to stop working. No more editing or blogging or revisions for me. But a funny thing happened while I was being depressed, I also felt a surprising sense of relief. Writing was impossible for several weeks, so during that time I found art projects to do with my daughter, read one of the books I’d been longing to start but had “no time,” and nurtured my pumpkin patch. My heart rate slowed and the tension in my neck relaxed. All of my self-imposed deadlines fell away.

Once I had the cash, I bought a new laptop. My daughter started the 12th grade. My days were still busy, but I had the ability to concentrate on writing again. Claustrophobia was replaced with an opened mind filled with fresh ideas.

We artists spend all of our energy on our art; even when we’re taking care of our children or working at our jobs, more than half of our brain power is spent imagining new ways to create. Rest for me is not simply about relaxing my body, I also need to relax my mind and let go of the need to keep writing. The world will not end if I’m unable to write a new play by Christmas. At least I hope not.

And I gotta say, I am madly in love with my new MacBook Air.