I took August off from my job as Community Leader for HealthCentral.com’s RA site and a few other things. This cut my workload in half and I discovered something revolutionary.
I work too hard.
Now, before you experience ocular whiplash from rolling your eyes too hard — because this factoid has been in the obvious to everyone who knows me for some time — let me explain.
You start doing something, then you add a little something else, a few hours more over here and gradually, it becomes a very large hill of stuff. But you don’t notice, because the increase has been incremental, every task sneaking in quietly and entirely doable. And because it has moved slowly, you don’t notice how bad it was until you stop. It’s like the story that claims if you put a live frog in water and very gradually heat it up, the frog won’t jump out because it won’t notice that the water’s starting to boil.
I was that frog.
Taking a month off from being in hot water brought home how close to boiling my life had become. I found out that I like not being exhausted all the time. I talked to my friends and family in depth and realized how very much I’d missed them. And I discovered that the really high pain levels I’d been living with for months was the combination of an RA and fibro flare caused by stress. Thirty-three days of having the mental and physical space to do what I needed left me relaxed, happy, awake and no longer needing a higher than normal dose of Humira and painkillers to manage my RA.
We hear that inflammatory arthritis is affected by stress, but how many of us accommodate that part of the disease? Between work and community involvement, taking care of loved ones and staying on top of the chores of daily life, how much time do you have to take care of yourself in a day? And how much of that is spent on medical appointments and other aspects of managing your chronic illness?
No wonder we hurt so much.
Living well with a chronic illness requires you to listen closely to your body’s messages so you know when to stop. Living well means paying attention to your physical and emotional needs, which help to prevent flares. But in our busy lives, how many of us make time for that? As we zoom through the tasks of the day, we move so quickly that we can’t hear what is most important. We ignore the one thing that, if we pay attention to it and accommodate it, will help us do everything else.
As I reflected on my month off, I was reminded of a line from Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “life is made up of moments. The faster you move, the more you miss.” This is something that is essential for everyone – we can all benefit from slowing down and living more in the present. But it is especially relevant when you live with a chronic illness. Slowing down and paying attention in the moment, as you do in mindfulness practice, allows you to tune into the messages from your body, your mind and your soul. Slowing down gives you the space to check if the water’s getting too hot.
By the time you read this, I’ll be back to my regular schedule and my challenge will be to practice what I’ve learned in August. Feel free to hold me to it.