Tough it out or take a rest…

or why do we have to choose.

I don’t know too many people who are really good at self-care. Maybe it’s that famed Puritan work-ethic, but it doesn’t seem to me that the lack of ability around self-care, or the tendency to push through the pain are either limited to populations influenced by that particular philosophy. And I speak here mostly of Americans because I do know that there are other countries who on the whole have a bit of a better attitude about caring for the self than we, but it does seem like once you settle here in the US there is a desire to at least look tough when it comes to health and wellness.

We have cowboys and football, highlight reels of athletes who have overcome debilitating physical injury to get back out there, CEOs who rise before dawn to run miles and never take a day off, cross-fit that encourages the destruction of the body in order to build it back stronger, and various and sundry drugs to keep you feeling functional even when you should really be home in bed. And why? Why are these the things that we revere, why is it bad to acknowledge the need for rest, for care, for rejuvenation? I ask this from bed where I had to lie down because the post-acupuncture pain that is trying to relieve the pain that has been in my head and shoulder for 8 weeks was so severe that I thought I was going to throw-up. I was tough enough to get myself home, but I also hope I am getting smart enough to know when I need to rest so that I can get up and really function tomorrow.

There is a quote I love that I heard in a radio interview with an NFL quarterback, he had heard it long ago from a pop-warner coach, and I suppose it is standard fare in a sport like football: “Are you hurt, or are you hurting?” Great question on many levels I think, and I use it not just for physical ailments but for emotional ones as well. Sometimes the answer is both of course. But sometimes it is just one or the other and in our quest for always being the toughest I think we have forgotten that this a question and there should be time for an answer and a response.

I live in a household of people with high pain thresholds. That’s not a pride thing, and it is not a judgment if you don’t have a big tolerance for pain, it’s just a thing. The truth is it can often be a bad thing because you don’t always pay attention to the possibility of there being a hurt, you just push through the hurting a figure it will work itself out. That’s my bad habit and it historically has not always served me well. Yes I made it through four days of camping with no running water and pit-toilets with eColi, but I was gravely ill and there have been some long-term consequences because I did not go get treatment. No that was not a pulled muscle from yoga, it was pneumonia and I should have gone to a doctor when the pain kept getting worse over the course of three weeks. When my son was four and fell through a staircase all he said was, “my tummy hurts.” The ER doctor wrote in the notes that we were “hysterical parents” until he cam racing down the hallway to tell us he ordered a life-flight because the baby’s kidney was fractured.

So the thing is that eight weeks ago I dropped my daughter off at college, and then three weeks later the aforementioned baby started high school. All summer I had been feeling a little funny. Tweaky things here and there physically and emotionally. But I was busy and thought everything was fine because I really did feel good about everything that was going on. I wasn’t hurting and I wasn’t hurt. And then when I got off the plane from dropping her off I was hurting, quite a lot, but I thought to myself, ” well this is emotional stuff and I have tools to process this so I’m fine.” But there was a hurt a couldn’t quite see until it made it so I couldn’t turn my head, or sleep, or drive, or anything. I should have anticipated the possibility of injury earlier in the season and taken the time to prepare, that would have been good self-care. And then when I was hurt I should have acknowledged the problem and take the time off I needed to rehab. I’m learning, slowly. It’s okay to be hurt and it’s okay when your hurting, and it’s okay to take care of yourself in both places – that takes toughness, determination, and grit too.

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