I’m writing this while lying (almost) flat on my back in bed. My hip problems have spiraled downward so much in the past couple of weeks that I was walking with a cane. Today I’m not walking at all. Instead, I’m resting.
What I’m learning from the experience and what I want to share with you is this:
“Rest” is NOT a four-letter word.
I finally was able to see an orthopedist yesterday and his assessment was this: over the past 5 months, because the left hip hurt I favored the left leg and little by little, walked more and more off balance. This interfered with the dynamics of the left leg, which created inflammation and pain in the leg joint. It also brought on spasms in the leg as the muscles got pulled out of their usual pattern and tried to correct themselves. By this past week I was using a cane because I could no longer put all my weight on my left leg, nor move it through the whole stroke of taking a step. I have become weaker on the left side of my body and the entire hip is drooping; it’s similar to what happens when people recover after a hip replacement.
Despite all this, I kept walking. I went slowly, with the cane. (Keep in mind, I live in NYC and don’t own a car.) On the day of my doctor appointment, I walked a block to the bus, walked 3 blocks from the bus to the doctor’s office, then walked another 15 blocks or so, running errands on the way home. I love walking. Walking is my everyday transportation. And walking is therapeutic, right? Not this time. By the time I got home I could barely take a step. Why hadn’t I taken a taxi to and from the doctor? What was I thinking?
Lying in bed last night, it suddenly hit me: “Don’t stop” is what got me here.
Back in December, sitting on the bed working on the book, if I had listened to the ache that started in my back and RESTED, I would not have strained the ligaments in my back. But, I didn’t stop.
From Christmas and into January, if I had listened to the growing ache in my back and RESTED, the ligaments could have healed. But, I didn’t stop. I took some ibuprofen and a hot bath, and skied.
In February, when the spasms started, did I stop and REST? No. I took some ibuprofen, got a chiropractic adjustment, took a hot bath, and skied. (To her credit, the chiropractor noticed that my legs were out of balance at that point.)
In March, when I woke up one morning and could barely move from the pain in the hip, did I stop and REST? No. I saw my doctor, insisted on X-rays, saw nothing wrong. Got a couple of chiropractic adjustments, took even more ibuprofen, and a week later, embarked on a month-long series of teaching engagements and quilt shows.
In April when I got home, I got sick and ended up in bed for a few days. I was forced to REST. But at that point the hip hurt so badly that just sneezing set up crippling spasms through my whole left side.
In May, now using a cane to walk, things reached to the point where I now find myself. But did I stop and REST? No, I found a another doctor and WALKED to see him!
Looking back, I can see now that if at the beginning I had simply stopped to REST for a few days to let the body do its healing work on that first little strain, all of this probably could have been avoided. I blame myself mostly, but in thinking about it I also realized that not one of the four doctors and three chiropractors I consulted ever suggested that I simply STOP AND REST.
So I’m saying it again:
“Rest” is not a four-letter word.
Have you allowed yourself to become so programmed to work, work, work that you have forgotten the value of rest? Do you sleep too little, play too little, relax too little? Do you have to do everything yourself/? Do you feel guilty if you haven’t worked yourself every day to exhaustion? Have you asked yourself why?
Experts tell us that rest is essential to our health and well-being. Are you listening? Do you even know what that means? I don’t think I did. Going so hard and so long was just “normal” for me (don’t even get me started on the why’s). I didn’t stop until I was forced to.
So I am writing to ask you this: Please learn to listen to your body — and your spirit — and give yourself the rest you need to stay well and feel whole. Take care of yourself.
Other people might not understand, they may resent you doing less, they might even call you lazy. Learn to say “no” graciously. Know that claiming sufficient rest in the short term means being there for the long term. (Brene Brown in The Power of Vulnerability talks about marking off “white days” on her calendar.)
Find people who will help care for you too. Learn to ask for help – even hire an assistant for a few hours or swap services with a friend. If you are working as way of numbing emotional pain, find help for that too.
The doctor prescribed physical therapy to re-strengthen my left side and regain my normal balance and body dynamics. “It will be a process,” he advised me. It took me 5 months to get here, it will take months of exercise — and REST– to get back. It was a hard way to learn this lesson, but in the end I will be stronger for it.
Wishing you well and rested!