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To the 'Doers' Who Push Beyond Their Limits, From Someone Who Can't Anymore

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To the person who thinks their energy tank is bottomless,

This letter might be different to what you’re expecting to read. It’s not a plea for you to understand anything about me, it’s a plea for you to understand yourself. Your own body. I know you; I’ve been you. You live by the motto of “give everything 100 percent.” “Try your best” means give it all you’ve got and then a bit more. You are the master of pushing through.

I’m not here to tell you to change. Your tenacity and commitment are qualities to be proud of. All I am asking is that you take time to listen to that whisper in the back of your mind which is telling you to take a break, to fully refill that energy tank you are constantly draining. I’m certainly not saying you can give yourself a long-term illness by not prioritizing some r and r; that implies blame for something which is completely out of a person’s control. Indeed, that message is damaging, as it only induces guilt. But constantly pushing yourself beyond your human limits leads to stress, which I think everybody will agree is detrimental to general well-being in the long run.

We seem to think good health means we can always do anything we put our mind to; isn’t that what we have repeatedly been told? But what happens when you push that little bit too far, when you tune out all the whispers? Your body resorts to screams.

That scream will look different for every person. For most, it might be feeling overwhelmed and briefly losing composure — a well recognized sign that it’s time to take a breather. For those with pre-existing health conditions, it can be catastrophic. Nobody has an unlimited supply of energy. Every. Single. Person. No matter how young and fit, needs adequate sleep and rest. It’s non-negotiable. Ask any athlete and they will tell you that their training schedule factors in rest for their body and their mind.

Regrets are about as useful as kale and coconut oil as cure-alls for diseases, but one thing I have learned, and will always strive to remember (not always successfully), is the importance of acknowledging my body. Not to act on its every word, (if I did that, I’d never move a muscle), but to listen and try to find a balance between the taking and the giving.

I once believed I could beat my illness into submission with my grit and determination, that I would be “giving in” if I slowed down like my body was crying out for me to do. I learned that lesson the hard way, quite a few times. If I could go back and give any advice to myself, or someone else newly cohabiting with a chronic illness, it would be to please try and escape the boom and bust cycle. Your body won’t just get the message one day and go back to how it was; would you keep running on a broken leg in the hopes that it would speed up the healing process? (Well, if you’re anything like me, you’d probably give it a good go, but you get my point!)

Whatever your circumstances, if you take anything away from this letter let it be that pulling an all-nighter isn’t medal-worthy. Somebody’s worth as a person, or as an employee, shouldn’t be based on how much sleep or leisure time they are willing to sacrifice. Respecting your body should be encouraged. Energy runs out, and eventually, so does adrenaline; prioritizing time to recover and re-group is invaluable. Make time to stop and admire the scenery every now and then. Your body is your permanent mobile home, so keep up with the maintenance and watch the fuel gauge.

Signed, a fellow high-achiever, learning that rest is also productive

Getty image by fcscafeine.

Originally published: April 15, 2019
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