The Mighty Logo

What My Therapist Told Me When I Thought My Illness Was Making Me Fall Behind

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I’ve never been good at rest. Maybe it’s the Northern Virginia mindset drilled into me, but productivity always comes first. So the idea of taking an entire summer just to nurse my sad little body back to health was a devastating one.

OK. I know that an entire summer of doing nothing might sound like the dream – but hear me out.

I have incredible friends. Like seriously talented, amazing people. I imagine this is what it would feel like to be an ordinary person who hangs out with the Avengers. Oh, you’re going out to save New York? Cool cool, I’m going to chill here and watch some Netflix.

A laundry list of the incredible things the people I love did this summer:

1. Fashion internship in New York City

2. Internship with an art gallery and world changing ministry.

3. Scientific research.

4. Actual internship with the Ecuadorian government.

5. Hospital internship and full-time waitressing.

6. Research opportunity at Oxford.

I could go on, but I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging too much. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a jealousy thing. These are all amazing people doing amazing things and I couldn’t be more proud, but I can’t help but feel like the odd man out. No internships, no job, no incredible world traveling. Heck, I can barely stay awake for more than a few hours. Self-care and rest all seem like an incredible idea until you realize that there are only 24 hours in the day, and something’s got to give.

On some level I know that my health should come first. My parents spent the first month of summer trying to take the pressure of productivity off my shoulders. Summer was going to be a time of rest. A time to heal.

OK, awesome, summer will be a time of rest. And I am going to rest so well you won’t even believe it. By the time I’m done resting I’m going to be a completely new person, maybe even healed. I have a lot of resting to get done, I better make a Pinterest page on the best ways to rest.

I was terrible at taking a break. Rest and self-care became a new goal to work towards and stress about. And no matter how hard I tried, I never did good enough. I didn’t exercise as much as I should, I barely made any art, I only did yoga once. I did my best to drink water, but my skin still isn’t clear – and my cuticles are a mess. Being the best at resting became my new stressor, a cause of constant anxiety. If that isn’t irony, I don’t know what is.
I relayed all of my worries about falling behind my peers to my therapist, who interrupted me to shoot her hand up.

“Wait, wait, wait,” she said, “Is there a race?”

“What?” I responded, completely confused.“Is there some sort of life race I don’t know about?”

Realization dawned on me as I realized where this was headed.

“Why do you need to do anything this summer? There’s not a right way to do life. There’s no formula for the correct way to live. Who cares what other people are doing, focus on taking care of yourself, everything else will fall into place.”

As silly as it sounds, all of this didn’t occur to me until right that second. I was literally the only one putting pressure on myself. I just finished my freshman year, no one expects me to launch myself into a professional job.

And even if they did, who cares?

There’s a Georgia O’Keefe quote I saw on Twitter the other day that I absolutely adore. It goes, “I have done nothing all summer but wait for myself to be myself again.” I love the word “wait.” Not pushing and working hard, but instead waiting patiently for my body to heal. And that’s what I’ve been doing, or at least trying to.

Don’t get me wrong; this definitely isn’t something I’ve completely come to terms with yet. I’ve had to endure an entire summer of people asking me what I’m doing. I know what they expect me to say: I’m working, I have an internship, or I’m solving world hunger. But how do I explain to someone that I am learning to love this body that will not love me back? How do I put into a polite paragraph that I’m doing my best to spend the summer waiting to feel like myself again? If you know the answer, by all means, please shoot me an email. But as of now, I still respond with an awkward, vague, “Oh I’m taking a summer class and focusing on my health.”

As the summer comes to an end, I’m doing my best not to look back on these few months as a failure. I’m doing my best not to give into the guilt and the shame that my brain so desperately wants me to feel. I’m learning to forgive my body for its limitations, and be thankful for the way that it still takes care of me. And above all, I’m learning how to rest.

Getty Image by Farknot_Architect

Originally published: August 28, 2018
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