My back is a barometer for my mental health. It used to go out all the time – when I was stressed with a deadline, or working too hard on a big proposal, or when I took on too much, or had a particularly crazy month. I remember giving my ex-husband a gift certificate for us to go rock climbing. His birthday was in October, but we couldn’t actually go climbing until February because I had chronic back trouble.
But it wasn’t just my back.
For a period of about four years, I saw doctors repeatedly (with no resolution) for a variety of health problems I just couldn’t shake. I had unexplained hives with no apparent allergies. My back went out regularly, making me immobile for days at a time. I had heavy, debilitating exhaustion and had to nap throughout the day just to function. I woke up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks. I fainted suddenly while on a subway car and spilled out the doors, face first, onto a concrete platform.
I was a mess.
I saw doctors, allergists, chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists, and a therapist. I did physiotherapy and rounds of blood work. Once, in desperation, I even travelled hundreds of miles to see a man who I can only describe as a witch doctor. No help. I experienced some temporary relief with some practitioners, but the same issues flared up again and again.
During the same four year period of chronic illness and injury, I made a radical and terrifying career change, went through a devastating divorce, sold the only home I ever owned, tried to force myself to finish a PhD I hated, lost almost all of my money, and had a personal identity crisis (as tends to happen when your life is falling apart at the seams).
I’m certain that this is not a coincidence.
Stress had basically obliterated my life. I realized there must be a lesson I hadn’t learned yet. Unless I wanted to see my life go up in flames again, I had to figure out what it was. And so I combed through the ashes of my former life to look for the lessons.
There were many.
Two of the biggest lessons I learned were:
- Stop pushing so goddamn hard.
- Listen to your body.
Why am I sharing all of this personal stuff with you? Because you don’t have to wait for your life to go up in flames before you learn the lessons. I did it the hard way. You don’t have to.
Thank goodness, right?!
It’s easy to rationalize decisions and actions and stuff you think you just have to do. But your body will call your bluff. Every time. It will shut down. It will scream, Bullshit! Enough! This is not okay. Stop.
Before it’s too late.