For some people, the biggest obstacle on their health journey is ditching fast food, or finding the motivation to exercise, or learning to like vegetables. For me, it was learning how to be still.
When I was really struggling with my eating disorder, and before, when I was crippled by anxiety, I found it extremely difficult to not move. I would pace back and forth in my room at three or four in the morning, walk laps around campus during breaks, and refuse to sit down for extended periods of time. It wasn’t because I was trying to burn calories, or I was obsessively avoiding the negative effects of being sedentary: I literally couldn’t contain my nervous energy for long enough to slow down. Being still felt like I was going to burst out of my skin, and moving was the only thing that kept my mind at bay.
At the height of my struggle with anxiety and anorexia, I couldn’t sleep. I would wake up long before the sun, and pass out for a few hours in the early evening, only to wake back up eager to find something to keep myself occupied and distracted from whatever “problems” my anxiety had manifested in my mind. Imagine the sleeplessness you get the night before a big test, or a scary job interview, and then imagine that feeling for days or weeks on end. I didn’t even feel tired: I was almost manic.
Right before I was hospitalized, this dissipated. My body was so worn down that even the powers of mental illness couldn’t will me the energy to spare. But once I started healing again, I started sleeping less and less, waking up earlier and earlier, keeping myself busier and busier. I justified it by saying I was a busy student: I had to get up early to do work before school, right? And then I’d pace nervously at school, reading flashcards or books, avoiding conversation so I could “get stuff done”.
What was really happening was I subconsciously afraid that if I sat still, my fears would catch up with me. I thought that if I kept going, going, going, I’d stay one step ahead of the things that scared me. But what really happened was that I burned out: waking up at 3:00 AM every day and buzzing around incessently simply isn’t healthy or sustainable. So one day this summer, I woke up before dawn with an extreme pain in my neck and back. The pain was so intense I literally couldn’t do anything for a few hours but cry and lay still. When I tried to drive to work, my tire on my car burst. The whole world was telling me to slow the fuck down.
I glorified the hustle and bustle of my life. I thought I worked harder, was more dedicated, more responsible than anyone else. I liked being awake when the world was asleep. I liked feeling productive.
But I was isolating myself. I was stuck in a cycle of “go go go” that I couldn’t escape. I wasn’t being dedicated, I was being compulsive. I was trying to outrun my fears instead of facing and understand standing them. I was passing up time with friends and family to “get stuff done”, and at that point, was it worth it? I regret to this day that I didn’t fully immerse myself in teacher training until the very end: I’m deeply saddened when I remember studying flashcards during our breaks and doing math homework instead of starting conversations. I felt lonely, but it was an atmosphere I created by sending the signals out to everyone that I was “too busy”.
You know how they say to look straight ahead on a busy street and look like you’re in a rush so people will get out of your way? I sent those signals out everywhere I went.
After my injury, I took the hint. I wanted to slow down and feel life. I went to yin, took a break from intense and sweaty vinyasa. I meditated instead of my long walks. I forced myself to lay in bed in the mornings, until eventually, I could sleep until 5:00…even 6:30 on weekends. I stopped getting to work two hours early. I started listening more than I spoke. I took the time to absorb the world around me.
I have no doubt that I was stress addicted. I liked feeling important and busy. I liked the hustle.
But life is about balance. About slowing down sometimes and taking care of myself so I can take care of others. An empty cup does no good for anyone. Resting does not mean lazy.
I can sleep now. I’m better for it.