As I lay in bed, head under pillow, blocking out the light and trying to make myself pass out to escape the pain that started at the base of my neck and crawled over my skull to rest its claws in my eye sockets, I thought to myself "Crap. I'm never going to get this blog written." And so I decided to write about the things I was grateful for today. Rest! Rest, and drugs.
Now I'm not one to medicate, and I'm not one to rest. No, I sleep remarkably well, but I've come to realize that resting is more deliberate than sleep. Drug wise, I'm a little on the skeptical side. I like to treat causes, not symptoms... usually. But migraines are, I think in my case, stress related. What are the causes of stress? I dunno. So I tend to take vitamin C and ibuprofen for any ailment I have (I rarely ail... sturdy constitution, remember?)
I've been to the doctor exactly twice in the last 10 years. Once was to get a clean bill of health before I traveled overseas (I got it!) and the other time was three years ago, to figure out why my hip was hurting. It was hurting because I wore my tendons to shreds by exercising too much, too soon. Here's the thing; I tend to ignore all pain until I realize it's not your run of the mill muscle soreness. I've lost toenails this way. Please visualize. By the time I realized my hip had a problem, I was at the top of Nevada Falls and I was literally dragging my leg behind me because it "felt nice."
Exhibit B: I strained my Achilles tendon last spring because one day I decided that I wanted to start running. (I HATE running.) So when I went about it, I went full throttle, determined to will away any resistance (or interfering bodily tissue):
Day 1: 2 miles
Day 2: 4 miles
Day 3: 6 miles
Day 4: 8 miles
Day 5: slight pain, keep going anyway...
Day 6: extreme pain... keep going...
I kept at it like this for a couple weeks until I not only couldn't run, I couldn't walk. I didn't need a doctor to tell me that I was an idiot... but I did need my dad to tell me to elevate and ice. I also continued to go to work until my boss sent me home because I was hobbling like being a cripple was my job, and it looked pathetic.
Notice a pattern? Go hard, hurt self, ignore pain until it's too late. While training, this is the quote I used to repeat to myself continuously as I ran. It's by that old softie, General Patton: "
"If you are going to win any battle, you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do... the body is never tired if the mind is not tired."
I'm not tired, I'm just bored... I'm not tired, I'm just bored... I'm not tired, I'm just exhausted... I'm not tired, I just can't "walk." What? That is just with my workouts. When it came to working, I figured that any day not working was basically a day where I said "You know what? I'd really rather not have $200 today. I'll kick back on the couch and catch the Kevin Costner marathon. Oh, Waterworld! They didn't care about money, either! Yay!"
I frequently passed on social events and family activities to work. Family goes to Tahiti on vacation? I have to work. Girls night out? Hilary's night to work. Friends birthday party? I'll be there late, I have to get a massage. Just kidding, I have to work. It rarely mattered what the event was, I considered it a siren song, and work was the safety of my ship. It's so sad. Like an addiction. When I finally decided to quit my job and move to Redding, I knew I was supposed to come here in part to learn to rest. What that actually means is something I'm in the process of learning. However, I alluded to it in part when I mentioned my bout with the flu. Laying in bed for an entire day without moving was something that took concentration and effort on my part. I hated it. People kept telling me "You need to rest!" And I kid you not, the thought that kept coming to me was: "I'M ALREADY RESTING BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE A JOB! WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE I'M DOING?! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!?"
I clearly don't understand what it means to rest. But I was shocked to discover that in the five days that I was ill, the most marked improvement I observed in my recovery came within that single day where I lay in bed without moving and rested my head and my eyes and my mind.
When I was in England, I went to a chain coffee shop called Cafe Nero on a Thursday morning. I liked the vibe, and was trying to find out where the scene was, so I asked the barista what time they closed.
"Half past six."
"Oh, okay." That's ridiculous, I thought. Maybe because it was just a week day? Surely I'll have better luck on a Friday or Saturday. "Well what time do you close on the weekends?"
I actually thought she was joking. I had to think about it for a moment. What does this mean? They close earlier on weekends? What on earth do people DO? Where do they go? Do you have any idea how much money you'd make if you stayed open til eleven? Look at Starbucks for heavens sake! You folks are daft and irresponsible and clearly don't care about your finances... why on earth would you take a holiday every other Monday? Seriously, the Brits had more bank holidays in a month than I've seen here in the states in a year. What's the purpose of this ruthlessly contained approach to work? (I think that topic of the American Puritanical-Protestant work ethic vs. the European approach to work would make for really interesting study.)
Well, I learned that people go home to their families. They go on walks... loooong walks, and they go often. They make dinner, and they read, and they visit with family, watch a little television, and then they go to bed.
I thought this was terrible. But then I started to go for walks. And I came to love them. And when I came back stateside, I started to crave them. I would take off at sunset and go for a stroll, walking until it was well past dark-thirty, and get plenty of bizarre looks along the way... see, people in the States don't go for walks. Not as a society. Sure, there are people who walk, but it's usually those who live in the countryside, or people who are strapping on their Nikes and their wrist weights. That's walking with purpose. No, when you walk in Fresno, people assume that 1) you don't have a car 2) you're lost, or 3) you're homeless. It really shouldn't matter that people think I don't have a car (because once they realize I do, and they see my car, their opinion shifts very little); but it did. We don't have a society of leisurely strollers. Our walking is intentional and if you don't sweat, there's very little point.
Needless to say, my days of walking didn't last long. But I do miss it. I think it's something that I'd like to incorporate a little more into my life now. I can't tell if the nocturnal lifestyle of a server was the thing that ruined my ability to rest, or if it's the American way. I suspect both. I took a walk through my neighborhood the other day, just after a rain. The sky was grey, and overcast. There were birds singing from lofty branches, and I could see the fluorescent green of newly budding leaves as they were coaxed out of a winters sleep. The beauty of the brick and the wood and the smell of the wet pavement and the barely discernible floral scent that burrowed its way through the damp air made for a quixotic moment that seemed so fragile; the fleeting sounds of a car engine or a woman yelling at her husband to shut the damn garage door, those would pierce the elegant silence like a rock skipping along the surface of a pond. But they were all welcome sights and sounds... the sort of moments that you don't see and hear and breathe when you're driving, when you're attempting to shorten your trip from point A to point B, when you're hastening to close the gap.
As I lay in bed today, I was increasingly aware of my gratitude for the whole concept and practice of rest. I was grateful, yet again, that I didn't have work to go to, which I'd have to take a sick day for in order to beat back the crippling pain of this freakishly wicked migraine. We don't know how to rest in America. We know how to go to extremes... work hard, play hard, that's our motto! But there's the beauty of rest. You take a nap... you don't have to take a coma. You take a walk. You don't always have to run a marathon. Because I couldn't see the purpose of the resting, I failed to do it. In my mind, everything has to have a purpose behind it... rest because you're sick... rest because you hurt yourself, rest because it hurts not to. I hope one day to rest, just because. I'm still failing, but I'm also still learning.
I'm grateful for rest. And I'm still learning to be grateful for it, because often I still hate it. Sometimes you need a migraine or the flu to make you appreciate it. Oh, and I'm grateful for 800 mg tablets of ibuprofen, because that is the business.