Resting Free From Shame

restI can think of few things more shameful in our current society and culture than taking time to rest more than people think is necessary.

Certainly this means you are lazy, entitled, and weak. I am so tired of this message. I am so tired of feelings of shame creeping up when I tell my doctors how much rest I need and when I tell those around me how I spend my days.

This week I started thinking of the past few years and my own story of chronic pain. I started to think about the messages that I have received along the way, often so conflicting. Messages that make me wonder, what is right? What is true.

The topic of rest is one such area.

When you have chronic pain, there seem to be two camps. There are those who support adequate rest and those who push caution against the danger of too much rest. Those who see rest as a danger will often word their message in ways such as this:

“You will be in pain regardless of what you do, so you might as well be doing something you enjoy.”

“If you stop and rest, your body will decondition, and you will never make progress. Stopping is never the answer.”

“You just need to keep up with the physical therapy for long enough and you will start seeing improvement. Pain now for gain in the future.”

“Live your life now, because you can’t get time back. There is no time like the present to pursue your dreams and passions.”

I know that each individual with chronic pain is unique. Our pain has unique features and responds to rest and activity in different ways. I understand where these messages are coming from, and I believe all of them hold grains of truth. However, when these messages are taken at face value without considering the additional importance of rest, we are leading our fellow chronic pain fighters down the wrong path.

I look back at the past year, see the progress I have made, and I know for sure that I never would have made that progress if I had not made rest a top priority. I also know for sure that I would not have tumbled into such a deep pit of pain in the first place if I had recognized my limitations instead of trying to live the same life I had always lived.

Why did I fail to recognize my limitations? I believe partly because the message I received was that I shouldn’t let a little back pain stop me in life. The message was that the best way to get better was to keep up my normal activity level or I would decondition.

Deconditioning is real, but so is pushing yourself into major setbacks because of a failure to recognize the truth about our bodies. And the truth about our bodies is that they are not normal; they are not like healthy bodies. They need extra rest, care, and attention.

Even now when I go into the doctor’s office, I feel ashamed to let my doctor know how much time I spend lying down on the couch. I feel ashamed to tell my physical therapist that even though I am making progress, I still spend huge portions of the day resting. It feels shameful because I honestly think they wonder why I don’t push through. I think they wonder why I am being “lazy” and not taking charge of my health.

But, this is what I know about my body. I know that my body only comes out of setbacks when I rest, rest, rest. I know that my body only stays out of flares when I rest way more than I think I need to. I know that I have never made progress by pushing myself until I drop. This only pushes me further into a pit of pain until I take the time to rest and then slowly, bit by bit, add activity in over time.

And perhaps your body is the same. And if that is the case, then there is no shame in that. There is no shame in resting. There is no shame in taking breaks. There is no shame in stopping, quitting jobs, asking for help, skipping church, and cancelling on plans.

Your body needs rest. It craves rest. It can only function to the best of its limited ability when you rest. Today I am listening to my body and refusing to be shamed by a culture of busyness. This week, this month, this year, I am refusing to be shamed by those who wonder why I don’t do more or look at me and question when I talk about the emptiness of my days.

I hope you will join me.

9 responses

  1. I love this post!
    There is so much pressure on everyone, healthy or ill, young or old, short or tall, man or woman, to be busy, to accomplish, to produce… People take pride in managing with five or six hours of sleep. And then feel guilty or negligent or embarrassed if they take a nap on the weekend. That is not a healthy attitude!
    Embrace rest! Bring back the afternoon nap!

    • Yes so true that it is not just guilt and shame piled up on people with chronic pain/illness, but on people of all kinds. I’m all for the afternoon nap!

  2. Thanks for another thoughtful post, covering an important topic from all angles. In my experience, learning how to really and truly rest has shown me many valuable things, and given me time to contemplate, that I never would have found otherwise. It is good to be able to find the brake pedal and come in for enough pit stops on the motor speedway that seems to define people’s life pattern these days. And yes, no guilt or shame! Just savor the resting time and the refreshment and relief it can bring!

  3. When I first read this yesterday afternoon, I’d just gotten up from a nap… with guilt and battling the oh-so-constant inner dialogue of “Did I sleep too much? -But my body is such a wreck these days I crash all the time unless I plan rests. -Yes, but other people with chronic fatigue can do more. You used to do more before Xmas. -Yes, but most have very different levels of functioning and I overdid it and now I’m paying for it…” You know the drill I’m sure.

    Then I picked up my phone and saw your blog. It was like a breeze of fresh air to my mind layered with that stupid guilt that makes me forget that I need rest because I was a soldier once that I worked 8 to 12 hours a day, I was top of the class out of my own efforts, I battled my increasing pain and fatigue by sacrificing personal needs and life so that I could keep working (not the other way around), I gave my all for my students at school while some other teachers were just happy to do the strict minimum in their union jobs, I never left a needy friend behind…

    I did it all and then I fell only to find myself faced with guilt: by my perfectionist mind that had driven me so hard these years to keep going with an obviously flawed body, by society for being so tough on handicapped people and not understanding that our bodies won’t always miraculously heal no matter the amount of exercise or pills we throw at it (actually that makes it much worse for a lot of us), by ‘friends’ who can’t accept reality and that there is no cure or they there is something we haven’t tried or think we want to live like that and should consult (if they think that, they need to consult, not us!), or many family members who refuse to accommodate you anymore because “you’ve had long enough to get better now” and make you feel guilty for ruining family traditions. And I’m not even talking about doctors who all have different opinions depending on how updated and/or passionate they are in their fields.

    Like soldiers giving their all for their countries, getting injured, coming back home and being shunned and forgotten, then pointed at with shame for not being able to be a soldier anymore and defend the country. How does that make sense?!

    Yes indeed, I’ll join you in that nap. I did not nap from 6-month old to age 18, I was go-go-go from the time I was a baby. It made me nauseous to literally learn how to nap. Now it makes me sick to feel guilt over going to bed when I am literally dizzy and barely holding myself up. You are right. It makes no sense and we have so much to keep our energy for already (pain, fatigue, headaches, etc). There is no space for guilt. Easier said than done but at least knowing is important.

    • Claudia, I can’t totally relate wth that inward battle of telling myself, But, But…you used to be able to, etc… That is exactly how it goes for me as well. Thank you for sharing your experience with guilt. I know that I can relate and that many others will be able to as well.

      You are right that resting and not feeling guilty is easier said than done, but hopefully we can start with the knowledge and then move towards actually practicing it. I hope your week is going ok, and that you are having some low pain and low symptom days. <3

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