Rest, action and illness

When ‘normal’ people are ill or tired, they rest. What do you do if ill and/or exhausted are your normal condition? I go round this one a lot, and while I’m not able to offer definitive answers, I think there’s mileage to be had in framing the questions and possible answers.

Rest helps us recover faster from illness. Not resting when ill not only slows recovery, but also undermines mental health.

However, being physically active helps move the blood and lymph fluids about, which can also help. Too much inaction leaves us with weakened muscles, reduced stamina, less healthy hearts. Not moving much can also make mental health issues worse. Physical activity is encouraged as an answer to depression and anxiety. Being as fit as you can be helps you stay resilient.

Except if you always hurt and you never have much energy, being active is hard. It isn’t easy to tell if a sudden loss of energy is because you have energy issues, or because you are coming down with some simple ailment like the flu. If you are used to pushing to get things done it can be hard to work out when not pushing is the better answer.

Depression causes loss of energy. Depression is a common consequence of living with long term pain and illness. It isn’t easy to separate the heavy lethargy of depression from the physical experiences you may be having.

It is easy to get into unhelpful cycles. If you push all the time to keep going, you learn to ignore what your body tells you. You become alienated from your body and fight against it continually. You don’t notice when things go wrong that need some response other than pushing harder. This puts you at risk. Perhaps in the end you run out of the will to keep pushing yourself onwards all the time. That can be very hard to recover from.

If you rest too much, you lose, or do not develop physical strength, stamina and co-ordination. Depression may increase. Increasing your feelings of lethargy. You feel powerless, you may feel increasingly intimidated by the idea of trying to do anything. You may just keep spiralling down in this way until you aren’t really living your life at all.

There’s no simple solution to this that I can see. Listening to your body is good and so is trusting your body, but depression and exhaustion don’t make you into a good listener. Often the opposite. Other people will have advice for you, maybe some of them will think they know what you need better than you know. Sometimes they may be right, but not always. Other people will have magic cures and absolute certainties for things that will change everything – but your body is unique and what worked for one person is not guaranteed to work for you.

There are no simple answers. Keep questioning. Keep trying things. Don’t give up on yourself. You may never be able to get so that your body works in the way a normal body is assumed to work, but that’s not the only good outcome available. You can find combinations that serve you best, and that improve your quality of life and you can do it on your own terms.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Rest, action and illness

  • Ziixxxitria

    So much of my life has been oriented around figuring out what my body needs at different times to avoid the worst of chronic pain or to keep going through anxiety and depression. I find that my quality of life has steadily increased as I get better at listening, but also as I get better at.. accepting? I don’t beat myself up as much anymore for not being able to do the same things as most people can do.

    At first it was easier to learn to accept myself for the physical limitations because they are so obviously medical and unavoidable, just manageable. Mental/emotional difficulties have been harder, and always felt more damning when I was growing up.

    It’s only in the last couple years that I’ve been better about accepting that depression and anxiety are part of my life as well–that isn’t to say that I just give in to them, but I don’t get as upset at myself for experiencing those things. I’ve learned to stop viewing them as a terrible weakness that I’m terrible for having (definitely hard to do when those states make negative thoughts so much easier!). Listening to my body and also my mind for cues about what I need and developing more compassion for myself (to the same level that I automatically feel for others) are probably the most valuable skills I’ve worked on in life.

    I appreciate all the posts you have about living through illness and depression and so on. It’s nice to find advice but also know I’m not the only one struggling.

  • Jen - Liminal Luminous

    Yikes, been around this cycle numerous times. I took part in a pain management programme and found it so useful. I went from only being able to shuffle to walking 5k quite easily. 5 lengths in the pool with a lot of resting to 40 mins flat out.

    None the less, I still need to rest a lot more than I want to. Or care to admit. I need more sleep that the average person. Walking and swimming and yoga are vital parts of my self care and energy management, but they require a huge amount of energy to do, but they help my mental health.

    It is a very difficult balancing act and one I frequently get wrong. And so I go back around again. and again.

  • Donnalee

    It can be such a hard issue–if I don’t get enough water in a day, I get perceptibly ill with respiratory stuff and fortunately refilling with water takes it away. However, the cold weather and stress in many forms make me have much more boobytrapped: coldish drinking water can trigger choking which has semikilled me a few times, and stimuli processing (being out at a place with folks and sounds etc.) makes me avoid food and water as simply more stimuli to process. I’m a little worn out and my brain often ditches the processes it considers optional in order to focus on the surviving thing–vision, talking, walking–so we have a travel wheelchair in the car in case I tank in public. It is so tedious in many ways to not somehow simply be able to will myself to be better, and I fall into the trap of thinking of myself as a bum or lazy, and then am shocked by seriously physical sympotms that I cannot control, like convulsions. Oh well–we all do our best. It is strange to me that to others I probably just look lazy and crummy in casual sweatpants etc., but in reality I have life-threatening stuff that comes up way too often from having gotten cooked ten years back, so fashion and beauty and impressing others never occurs to me as practical and viable to do although I abstractly know it matters to others and that sure I’d like to feel and look great sometimes–

    • Nimue Brown

      Dear Gods that a rough combination to try and hold in balance. Thank you for talking about it.

      • Donnalee

        Thanks–I don’t want to make it an ‘organ recital’–isn’t that a great phrase? I got it from a pagan buddy. I did want to mention it since maybe it will help folks with similar situations to know they are not alone. Still, I do fine sometimes, and am trying. Doing tarot readings actually helps me, since it helps the energy to flow literally more freely. I am in the phase now where the watch I used to wear on my arm got thrashed during convulsions in November so it doesn’t work on me AND YET it works fine on the nightstand or in a jacket pocket. I just toasted my elderly laptop to the point it shows some system screen from the 1990s about ‘startup repair’ and visuals I have not seen since then, so I am using someone else’s today. Science and life and strange all go together–ahaha!

  • Readerbythesea

    It’s taken me years but I’ve had to learn to become self assertive in order to manage my physical and mental health. I try not to waste limited energy on negative people, I don’t argue my point, i put my case and leave.
    I try to connect with nature as much as possible although when it’s winter it’s hard. I find Accupuncture helps with pain more than painkillers for me but this always has to be balanced with the expense. And that’s the thing everything is a compromise, everything has to be estimated, juggled and balanced which takes so much energy so sometimes you have to go back a little in order to continue forward. It is a comfort though to realize I’m not alone in this and I’m probably a much better person spiritually than I would have been otherwise. Hopefully!
    Thanks Nimrue for your blog😊

    • Nimue Brown

      thank you. I’m just starting to explore in earnest how to deal with the energy thefts, and how to step away when things aren’t good for me. There is much to learn.

    • Jen - Liminal Luminous

      yes! It is a case of learning to be self assertive, but even that requires energy to do doesn’t it? But I’m getting much better at this and recognising before it becomes a major issue that things are not right for me. And it’s ok that they are not right for me, just because they are for other people, doesn’t mean it is for me. Difficult…

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