Last week I started getting the sniffles. I felt a cold coming and knew I had to take it easy for the next few days if I didn’t want to get sick. But I carried on writing, thinking that I was only sitting at home and not doing much.
The next morning, however, I came down with a full-blown cold and fever and was bed bound for the next few days. As I laid in bed nursing my head and going through boxes of tissues, I tried to decipher how I had caught a cold.
I did not want to admit to myself, but I was stressed. I was annoyed at myself for not being able to even cope with staying at home and writing. However, given my overall state of weak health these two years or so, I should have known to give myself more rest than usual. I had overestimated the task of writing, thinking that I was only working my fingers on the keyboard, and forgot that writing actually expends a lot of mental energy.
I got annoyed at myself, for I was learning to put health as first priority by changing my habits, and yet I forgot the most fundamental point I keep reminding myself: listen to what my body is telling me.
My memory was flooded with times I ignored simple warning signals while I was previously working a corporate job. I accumulated knots in my lower back from wearing heels and carrying heavy bags with files as I went to client meetings. My arms were numbed from typing on the computer. My two thumbs had cramps from typing and scrolling on my Blackberry.
In Tokyo I pulled myself through working and, once I took leave, got sick. I nearly fainted in the subway station at Omotesando when I was to pick up my mother who was visiting. I couldn’t move so the doctor had to come to my apartment to see me. I had a cold every 2 to 3 weeks. I was constantly tired even though I slept a lot. My stomach was twisted in pain every now and then but I soldiered on. I was 26 years old and thought I was invincible and that I should be strong enough to get over a petty cold.
The more I ignored what my body was telling me, the more serious the warnings became. I started getting splitting headaches, then tension headaches which would last for seven days straight. The room would spin and I’d be holding my stomach in nausea while I tried to stop the pulsations in my head by hitting myself. Colds became the flu and fever. Stomach knots became more painful and frequent. My lower back would hurt even when lying down. Eventually, I collapsed. I was forced to take leave from work and sunk into major depression.
The last 2 years, as I’ve been recovering from my physical and mental illnesses, I’ve tried to listen to my body’s physical signals. I now realize seemingly innocent colds can be signs of stress – signs that my body needs more rest and rejuvenation.
Last week’s cold was a reminder from my body that I’m still fragile and that I need rest, even from writing, even if it is my therapy. It was a lesson I had to learn again. With each warning, I learn more about my body and what it can handle, and when it is too much. Each trial and error makes me more aware of where my balance lies.
What warnings has your body given you that you have ignored and what happened? I would be interested to hear your experiences in the comments below.
Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read