Have you struggled to tend to the needs of patients, children, clients, or elders while you were going through your own big or small health crisis? I share these inquiries with you today in honor of all the caregivers contending with illness or pain, whether there’s cancer, autoimmune disease, recovery from an acute health emergency, long or short covid, or the many other viruses and bacteria we experience living in a body.
Our bodies are always talking to us, and those of us with particularly sensitive nervous systems are privy to a whole lot of conversation. Listening to the body, like learning any new language, requires some persistence and patience. One message that’s often loud and clear though is “slow down and rest”. Sometimes the rest we need is much deeper than a temporary pause, and it questions the very pacing and choices of our lives. We might ask, “What is this illness slowing me down from, and what is it asking me to change?” We may not like the answers to these questions, but we can still tell the truth to ourselves and take some time before choosing what to do about it.
My new favorite word: Divest
Some humans could use a little more empathy, but many kind caregivers are actually learning to divest. Divest from caring quite so much, divest from being so acutely tuned in to other people, divest from the stories we tell ourselves about how we’re not doing enough. And let’s not forget divesting from standards that are too high to maintain when we’re ill. In divesting, we might ask, “What can I not do? What can be postponed? What could someone else do?”
Asking the now
Have you ever gotten overwhelmed by the multitude of supplements you should be taking, practices and exercises you should be doing, and all the doctors and healers you should make appointments with? That overwhelm matters for your well-being too. Taking a slow breath, we remember that the body asks for what it needs in the now-time. Can responding to that one need be enough, just for this moment? What would it feel like to trust in taking one step at a time?
Compassion is not complete if it doesn’t include you
Being sick can make us cranky, fearful, zoned out, and despairing. It’s ok to be angry; it’s ok to grieve. Sometimes rather than a pep talk, we just need someone to say, “Sweetie, that totally sucks. It’s so hard. I love you.” That someone might need to be you–whether or not you’re near people who care. No one is going to know just what you’re going through like you do, and the voice of your caring heart needs more airtime than any inner critic.
Illness making you matter
If you’ve been centering your life around other people and giving less to your own body and spirit than you do for everyone else, illness may be asking, “What about you?” We can’t just keep grasping at crumbs and expect that to be sustenance for caregiving. It’s OK to be high maintenance, to need a lot of emotional and physical self-care in order to continue to be of service to others. It’s also OK to dream your own dreams sometimes. You exist here too, and if there’s one person you are most responsible for, it’s you.
Wishing you gentle loving kindness, tons of patience, outrageously vibrant health, and a whole lot of letting yourself off the hook.
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More encouragement for rest:
Rest is Resistance book by Tricia Hersey
Podcast interview on Time Management for Mortals
Beautiful Chorus song we’ll be resting or moving to in the women’s circles this week