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.