I’ve spent most of my life ignoring what my body is telling me.
Because I’ve spent most of my life loathing it, distrusting it, wanting to change it.
Ignoring the aches and pains.
Ignoring the lethargy and weariness.
Ignoring the longings and misgivings.
Working more so I was too busy to acknowledge them. Exercising more in the hopes they would fade away as I pushed harder. Eating more to fill the void. Eating less to create less of me. Anything other than stopping. Anything other than being still. Anything other than acknowledging and listening. To my—to its—detriment.
Not listening to my body has caused me to be both overweight and underweight. Starving and gluttonous. Overworked and unsatisfied. Busy and bored. Worried and indifferent. Depressed and numb. Wandering through life with a broken compass and no north star.
I have been hard on myself my entire life. A result, I think, of never being told I was okay just as I was. Of someone always telling me I needed to be better, or different, in how I look or act or think. Of me internalizing that message and forbidding myself to slow down until I achieved “better” or “different,” not really knowing what that was.
However, over the last year, I’ve noticed a change.
Perhaps it is an inevitable side effect of living through a pandemic, losing my father in the process.
Perhaps it is the result—over the last four and a half years—of numerous career changes, unemployment, marriage strain, and general life uncertainty. No doubt these all play a role.
But I think it’s more.
I think it’s over four decades of not listening to what my mind, body, and soul have tried to tell me I needed. Of turning my back, brushing it away with a wave of my hand, believing I knew better. That I could shush the voices in my head, the ache in my heart, the emptiness in my soul. When, in truth, I knew nothing other than how to forge ahead and not feel. Or to feel too much. To not stop moving so as to not have to sit and breathe and acknowledge how my body was suffering. It was too hard, too painful. And I did not know how to heal it.
When I was young, I would frequently have what I would call a half-waking vision more than a dream. It occurred in that space between sleep and awake. It was as if I was surrounded by walls and a floor and a ceiling that had no pattern, no color, yet was closing in on me, pulsing in and out, trying to smother me. It terrified me yet I couldn’t scream; I couldn’t call out for help. I was all alone. And so, afraid to be still and sucked back into this void, I kept moving and tried to shut my mind down.
Something has changed. I have begun to find it more difficult to simply push on and ignore the pain and the longing and the need to slow down and find meaning in my actions. There have been more mornings when I wake up and feel different. When I feel an urgent need to be gentle. Gentle with myself. Gentle with my thoughts. Gentle with my body. Gentle with my actions. Gentle with my choices. Gentle with others.
I suddenly know I need to allow myself to sit. To breathe. To be quiet and listen. To move more slowly or not at all. To run if I felt like running, dance if I felt like dancing, or sit with my dog and a book if that’s what my body tells me I need.
I somehow know with an undeniable certainty I can no longer continue this relentless trudge toward a yet unknown goal other than to never stop moving because I don’t know what to do with myself when I have too much time and space to think. I’ve never really known how to be still but know I must learn. Over my life, the thoughts and emotions have been too much—a constant barrage of hail pelting my body and mind, a relentless and unforgiving storm. Being busy was the only solution. Temporary, but enough.
And so, I have begun to give myself permission to stop when I need to stop. It’s been over four decades and I’m exhausted. I’ve suffered from my ability to ignore what my body was telling me I needed. My marriage has suffered. My children have suffered. My relationships have suffered. I cannot continue down this same path any longer. A path with no clear destination.
And so, I’m trading days of strength training for yoga because so much of my body hurts.
I sit and read instead of vacuuming.
I plant flowers instead of pulling weeds.
I go on long walks with my dog and do not force myself to run. Just walk. And breathe.
I’ve realized my body just needs to rest. And be heard. And in letting my body rest, my mind is learning to follow.
I have begun getting up before the sun, sitting at my nook table that offers a breathtaking view of the sunrise, cup of chai tea in hand, and reading and journaling in the quiet of the morning, before the rest of the house wakes and the movement of the day begins. I’ve pulled books off my shelf that have been sitting and collecting dust and have given myself permission to sit and read and be still while setting aside my to-do list for another hour or another day.
I wonder why I waited so long. I hope it will last—I have been known to quit hard things when they make me feel too much.
But, I’m liking this new me. I don’t run around in a crazy rush of activity all day. At least not every day. I greet my family with more smiles and a calmer voice, and I have found I want to sit and talk and not think about everything I think must get done. “Should” and “must” have been my mantra for years. Now I am working toward “want” and “need.”
I’m learning to acknowledge whatever emotion is currently enveloping me and either embrace it because it’s valued and I want to hold onto it or let it go because it does not serve a purpose other than to nod my head in notice of it.
Even to my ears, this sounds as if I’m presenting an image of a perfect reconstruction of myself, that there’s no turning back, I’m a new person.
That’s far from the truth.
I still struggle to acknowledge my emotions in a healthy way that allows me to give myself grace and time and room to navigate through the moment with realistic expectations and a way forward that still includes self-care and love and acceptance of what is.
But, I feel more aware than ever. More aware that I cannot continue on the same path of self-harm. That I cannot simply ask my body to do more with less. To continue on when it’s starving for comfort, a soft touch, connection, rest, tenderness.
Will I push the snooze button too many times and not have my quiet, private moments in the morning? Of course, especially in the winter when my bed is so warm and comfortable.
Will my head attempt to inform me that going on a long walk with my dog while listening to one of my favorite podcasts is not truly exercising and that what I should do is head down to the basement and grunt through a strength workout? Maybe forever.
Will the narrative in my voice forget to be gentle and caution me about eating that cookie or remind me that I should find a higher-paying job or try to be a better friend/mother/wife/human being? Unquestionably.
However, I am hopeful that, over time, that voice will soften and appear with decreasing frequency and that a new voice—one filled with patience and kindness and understanding and love—will emerge and take over. At least more often than not.
I hope to never again ignore what my body is telling me. After all, it’s been with me my whole life—I think it knows me pretty well.