Rest and healing

We live in a sleep deprived culture, and most of us do not get enough rest. However, in terms of healing, recovery, managing problems, dealing with the impact of stress on the body and supporting mental health, sleep and rest are essential. People who are ill or in distress tend to need more time to sleep and rest.

Where this gets complicated is if you are dealing with a long term chronic condition. How much rest is a good idea if healing and recovery aren’t going to happen? How much time do you devote to this kind of self care when it’s going to be an everyday issue, and how much do you push through? If you want some kind of life, to be able to work, maintain relationships and take care of your home then you can’t rest all the time, even if your body wants to.

If you rest all the time, you lose muscle tone. Your body becomes weaker and your stamina deteriorates. Most chronic conditions will wear you out and exhaust you, but if you don’t put up a fight to maintain what body strength and stamina you can, you have less to start with each day. People who are largely well will tell you not to exercise when already in pain, but if you are always in pain and it doesn’t go away, when do you exercise? How do you maintain heart health? How much do you push and when do you rest?

There are probably  no experts to consult. It’s possible they exist, but they need to be experts in both your specific condition, and in fitness and wellbeing. Most people working professionally in health and wellness are likely to know less than you do about what might work for your body. They may also think they know more than you do. I have, for example, had to explain to several yoga teachers why yoga is a very bad idea for hypermobile people.  My Tai Chi teacher had not knowingly taught a hypermobile person before and while he was brilliant and supportive, it was a process figuring out what to do with me, and he was not initially able to advise me. Equally, I’ve had health professionals tell me to get more exercise for my mental health with no scope for even having a conversation about how to handle body pain around that.

There are no easy answers here. I’ve written this not to offer answers, but to flag up the shape of the issues. For the person struggling with their body and often surrounded by contradictory and unhelpful advice it can be difficult to trust that you may be the most capable expert where your body is concerned. It may also be an awful discovery, but the odds are there is no one better informed about your body and energy levels and how to manage it than you are. Any advice you get may be valuable, but needs understanding on those terms.

For people who do not live with ongoing pain and fatigue, the issue is of recognising what you might not know. People who are largely well don’t always respond well to invisible illness in others. What you think a person can do and what they can do are not the same things. What a person could do one day isn’t a reliable measure of what they can always do. It takes time and patience to truly support someone with ongoing pain and fatigue issues. Don’t be the person who makes that stuff harder by insisting that you know better, when you might not.

Also don’t be the person who tells someone they must rest and heal and cannot do the things until they are properly well. Some of us will never be properly well, and the decision as to what it is worth hurting for, should be a personal one, and not for anyone else to dictate.

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

15 responses to “Rest and healing

  • writergrrlrobin

    My grandmother always said “When you’re sleeping, you’re healing.” When I told my GP that my back pain (old car accident injury) was becoming debilitating, he asked “Are you doing any back exercises?”
    I felt hat his question was foolish. At the same time, I felt stuck between sleeping and healing and activity. And then there was the inferred fat shaming. And the asthma. The fact that he knows I cannot physically do what he’s asking is humiliating. Why does he ask such things? What back exercises? I walk out of his medical practice feeling frustrated and hopeless every six months. I just want him to help me become the real me again, but that’s never going to happen.

  • juliebond

    The worst people to try and deal with are the ones who tell you what you ‘should’ be doing, and so pile on the guilt on top of the pain.

  • Donnalee of Kingston NY

    I spend a lot of time in bed reading or sleeping, and tend to rock back and forth in any way that feels okay while I am lying or sitting there, to keep some core strength and muscle and circulation. Some days it is not possible or safe-feeling so I don’t do it, and sometimes I find fun rhythms and just rock while I am reading paperbacks or after I wake up. Anything will do–wiggle legs or feet or torso or whatever is not in serious harmful pain–there is a level of pain that is yeah okay, and a level that is ‘this will cause harm’, so I avoid the harm. When I am in front of the computer I stand on a stack of carpet squares and again do any kind of twisting or rocking or shuffling or clapping hands over my head or swaying in place to keep *something* happening with least chance of harm. It all tends to be the lowest of low-impact because I’m no fool. Good luck to those having these issues–I hope you all find what works for you.

  • honorthegodsblog

    This is a very encouraging post!

    My primary care physician sent me to an arthritis “specialist” who told me to lift weights 3-4 times a week, walk every day, do yoga every day, and get custom arch supports. I have no energy, can’t sleep, and am in so much pain every day that I can barely do the basics of home care – so that office visit was a complete waste of time.

    Since I currently have the freedom not to do things, I’m giving myself permission not to do things.

    Worth a try.

    Thank you!

  • Yvonne Aburrow

    Yoga caused me to have back pain (and I never want to hear the phrase downward dog ever again). There are yoga teachers who are careful and consensual and disability friendly and there’s a group of them who share ideas. But you have to be picky. Check out the work of Theo Wildcroft.

    For me, Tai Chi is a lot better (but even there, it’s vital to find a compassionate teacher who understands that certain positions may not be suitable for certain bodies and conditions).

    • Nimue Brown

      Theo is not as good as she says she is, and in the time she was in my life did a great many things that made me really uncomfortable around body issues.

      • Yvonne Aburrow

        Oh. I’ve never attended one of her classes.

      • Nimue Brown

        Neither have I, but she subjected me in person to a lecture on how I should go to weight watchers and she put me under a lot of pressure to learn yoga, and brought in a thing so that everyone was supposed to do yoga during the morning meetings at druid camp, during which I learned just how unsafe some of those things were for my body, and how awkward it is being obliged not to participate in something everyone is supposed to be doing..

      • Yvonne Aburrow

        Oh dear — I don’t think anything should be compulsory at weekend events unless it’s some sort of health and safety training. Much less something that can cause harm (which includes mindfulness and yoga). And lecturing people about their weight, hard nope.

        I don’t know how recent your experience was, but hope that it was a good while ago and that she’s changed, because it sounds inconsistent with the way she described her ethics.

        I’m also uncomfortable discussing this publicly, as she’s not here to defend herself.

      • Nimue Brown

        After she spent time on Facebook trying to get me fired from my day job, I stopped being as sensitive to the ethics of letting her defend herself as I might be. It was a few years ago and she may be better now, but my experience of her is that what she says about taking care of people and what she does in practice are different to the point of posing a hazard to others.

      • Nimue Brown

        ‘Eek’ is a most excellent analysis 🙂

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