The Mighty Logo

In Life With Chronic Illness, Your Best Is Allowed to Include Rest

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Oh, how I wish I could go back in time to my younger self and program this permission slip into her subconscious. Living in a reality that placed such an emphasis on go-go-go and do-do-do, it has taken me a long time to warm up to the concept that rest might be both productive and necessary.

When my world was flipped upside down in my early 20s by chronic health issues, my reaction to all of the new “forced rest” my body needed was not very loving. 

I labeled days that required large blocks of rest as “bad.” I resisted and resented them with all my might. It was limiting and disheartening to suddenly have to spend so much time doing “nothing” to have the energy or physical stamina to do “anything.” I spent years begrudgingly “resting” when my body physically demanded it, but I kept my mind busy with bitterness about my situation.

Thoughts of, “I wish I could be doing XYZ,” “This isn’t how my 20s are supposed to look,” “I should be doing ABC,” “Someone my age shouldn’t need this much rest,” “I’m more limited than my grandparents in the activities I can do,” swirled around within my stillness, fueling frustration and impatience inside of an already physically challenging situation.

For a long time, I defined “doing my best” while living with chronic illness as pushing forward through as many symptoms as possible — to meet the expectations of family and friends, work, school, and myself — until I physically could not push any longer.

This meant that that the “rest” I was engaging in came almost exclusively when I was physically and emotionally demolished. Despite this vicious cycle of pushing myself until utter burnout, “resting” and repeating — I felt like despite how unsustainable it might be, I was missing out on so much; that I had an obligation (both to myself and others) to continue fighting to this point as often as possible.

My attitude toward the physical limitations I experienced as a result of my chronic conditions was steeped in spitefulness. My mind was constantly entangled in an inner dialogue that told my symptoms, “You might hold me back, but I’m going to fight through you as long as I can. I’ll keep going through your alarm bells and grit through your warning signs — because I am a person who does their best, and my best is pushing onward until I’m forced to stop.”

Typing those words makes my heart ache with tenderness for the version of myself who was so lost, so scared and so terrified that any hint of being OK with slowing down meant giving up. My past self was so caught up with criticism and resistance that she completely abandoned prioritizing or protecting her emotional well-being, joy, boundaries, or needs.

Today, I have built an entirely new relationship with the concept of rest.

First, I don’t see rest as a “weak” choice. I view it as quite the opposite. It is the act of courageously claiming my own well-being and self-care.

Every single human being needs periods of rest to thrive. As someone who experiences daily chronic pain, my body needs even more rest than average to manage that pain. I have not only permitted myself to honor that part of my being, but have also taken it a step further. Alongside endeavoring to embrace rest, I also celebrate each time I can infuse it with my own kindness.

Another major shift has been learning to rest my mind at the same time I am resting my body. The mind-body connection is extremely powerful, and in the past, I’ve spent many hours physically at “rest” while my thoughts soaked in guilt or simmered in anger — both of which often left me feeling even more exhausted and depleted.

I have come to appreciate that a regular practice of self-compassion is integral to restorative rest. Self-compassion has been one of the most transformative gateways I’ve walked through in my life, particularly since working to honor my one-of-a-kind soul and its unique circumstances and needs.

Gradually, I have adopted wellness practices that support rest as part of my daily routines. Today, when I head into my room to rest, I begin with an emotional check-in to find out what I need to do or hear from myself so that I can allow my mind to find a place of rest while I am giving my physical body some downtime.

Some days I need to cry, some days I need to journal feelings of frustration, some days I need to listen to a guided meditation to shift my headspace and some days I need to put on my stretching flow playlist and move my body with coordinated deep breathing to release tension and angst.

Whatever it is I need to do so that I can welcome rest with acceptance and a supportive mindset, I try to embrace it. Learning what this looks like for me is a continually evolving process. It changes daily based on how I am feeling and the different resources I come across. But, with a steady intention to understand more fully what my mind and body need at any particular moment to relax into rest, I continue to build a toolbox filled with many ways to enhance my “rest time.”

I know that at the root of each strategy lies one simple, fundamental truth; the more compassion I can bring to my time of rest, the more I “super boost” its potential effect on my entire being — mind, body, and soul.

I have allowed myself to redefine “doing my best” as something that includes rest.

I suggest you go back and read the above sentence again, I know sometimes I need to hear things multiple times to let them sink in. Doing my best includes rest. This idea was revelatory to me. Not only could I grow to approach rest-time with an attitude of kindness and courage — but I could also choose to embrace rest as a manifestation of me doing my best.

I have always been a person who gets deep satisfaction from “doing my best.” I deeply value knowing that I’ve put my best foot forward, whether it’s working on a project or simply practicing kindness in a passing interaction.

When I began to consider all of the ways that rest contributes to my ability to perform at my best — it became easier to release the bitterness I carried for so long related to living inside a body, and being a sensitive soul, who needs so much rest.

Rest allows me to show up with more presence for the people I love and care about. Rest allows me to give my body space and time to recover from pain flare episodes that leave my insides and emotions feeling like scorched, smoky earth. Rest allows me to get to know myself on a deeper level, to get quiet, and get in touch with what my values are and where I want to spend my precious, limited energy.

At the end of the day, I know now that rest is incredibly productive, even when it feels quite the opposite.

I hope these words can inspire you to introduce kindness, patience and compassion, acceptance, and celebration into your own rest routines too.

Originally published: May 17, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home