This weekend, I was hit with a nasty upper respiratory infection. The usual–sore throat, cough, nasal congestion, fever, body aches. I spent most of Saturday and Sunday in bed, trying to recover in time for the start of the week. But by Sunday evening, I was no better, and unfortunately had to reschedule all of Monday’s patients.
I always feel guilty having to reschedule patients. They have often been waiting for their appointments, and have a number of issues that urgently need to be addressed. That being said, I don’t want to risk spreading an infection. In addition, I want to model good self care. When you are sick, it is important to honor your body’s need for rest.
I often tell my patients when they are ill, “Perhaps this is your body’s way of demanding the rest it needs.”
Why is it so hard for us to decelerate? What is it about rest that makes us feel guilty or self indulgent?
My life, and the lives of my patients, friends, and family, moves at a very hurried pace. We are on the go from the moment we rise until we put our head on the pillow. If we want time for self care or quiet, we either wake up earlier than usual, or stay up later.
Life in my home feels like a hamster wheel of rise, prepare breakfast/snack/lunches, wake kids up and get them to school, go to work, see patients, pick kids up, take them to activity of the day, come home, do homework and projects while fixing snacks and dinner, eat, play/read/talk, shower and brush teeth, get kids into bed, get a quick work out in, catch up on paperwork and emails, and get ourselves into bed–only to do it all again the next day.
It isn’t a bad routine. But it is full and fast and doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for illness or loss or stress. There is little opportunity to be still. Little opportunity to do nothing. Little time to reflect and question. It is a routine full of lots of doing, and not a whole lot of being–being alone, being together, being present.
Perhaps for some of us, this is the point. Sometimes we avoid reflecting and asking questions that perhaps would bring answers we don’t want to face. Perhaps staying busy allows us to avoid sitting with the full spectrum of our emotions, including sadness and fear. Maybe the rush fills a void that we can’t bear to face.
Maybe we have just forgotten how to do life any differently.
I think about my patients who try to keep up their usual pace while struggling with debilitating anxiety, depression, substance use, or trauma. Mental illness doesn’t cause a fever or cough. There is no cast on your leg eliciting concern and empathy. The symptoms of mental illness are behavioral and emotional. You may look perfectly normal to others, and to yourself in the mirror.
It becomes that much harder for my patients to justify their need for rest to themselves and society. My patients often push forward like a car with no gas, wondering why they aren’t getting anywhere. It is my job to give them permission to stop the car, get out, and give themselves the time they need for treatment and recovery.
In my ideal world, life wouldn’t feel this frantic for any of us. There would be time. Time to heal. Time to meditate, time to read, time to write, time to be with one another, time to love, time to notice, time to give and receive. Time to sleep peacefully and eat well. But time is time, a finite entity. I can’t create more of it.
What I can do is continue to be aware of how I choose to use it, and when and how I can make different choices for myself. I can try to be more present, thereby expanding my experience of any given moment.
I think this starts by us asking ourselves the question, “Why?” Do our answers reflect that we are using our time in a way that is consistent with our priorities? And if we can imagine ourselves at the end–will we look back and feel that we, all things considered, made the best use of the time we were gifted?
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to consider being mindful of how you use your time. Is there adequate opportunity for rest? Is there adequate opportunity to be present for yourself, others, and your life experiences?
With gratitude, Monisha