Listen to your body. Everybody tells me that and, to be honest, I’ve said it to everyone, too. It is indeed important to listen to your body, and not only when you are recovering from surgery or undergoing treatment. If I hadn’t listened to my body back in January, we never would have found the tumor in the first place. Listening to your body and respecting its wisdom is always a good idea.
But sometimes it’s hard to believe what your body is telling you. That’s my conundrum now. Every afternoon my body tells me to rest, but this is no gentle suggestion. This is a loudspeaker-amplified scream of a command. GO TO SLEEP. NOW! Even though I am two months beyond my operation, and I wake each morning feeling like myself and rarin’ to go, I still feel a fatigue in the afternoon which is overwhelming. My face goes numb. I start staring into space. I stop talking and all I want to do is sleep. Some days it’s just for thirty minutes, but other days it’s for a full hour or two when I lay motionless and unconscious and then take another hour to fully wake up. I recognize this sort of extreme fatigue from the early post-operative days. But now? Two months later? Say what?
There’s a trap that many of us fall into at one time in our lives or another. I call it the not…enough trap. That’s the time when we feel our most self-critical and most dismissive. It’s a very versatile trap – you can fill the blank space between those words not and enough with any adjective you please. Over the years my own not…enough trap has had its blank filled with a delightful array of adjectives like smart, productive, energetic, talented, pretty, tall. As the decades fly by, those scournful descriptors never really leave me, although they do take turns coming to the fore. And now, every day when I hit the wall and am faced with that all encompassing fatigue, the voice in my head says, You see Sue, you’re just not strong enough.
Strength is a complex concept, though. It gets tossed around too much and often misunderstood. I could easily think that being strong now in my present condition might mean pushing through the fatigue, staying awake, persevering and forcing myself to be active regardless of how I was feeling – regardless of what my body was telling me. But all that really would mean, I think, is that I had fallen into that other trap where I start to see myself in two parts, my body and me, as if we weren’t connected, as if I was in combat against my body which was trying to force me to do things I didn’t want to do. But as I discovered early on in this process, my body is me, and when it tells me I need something, then it is me that needs it. The real strength lies in listening with understanding, not in fighting against it. The more I fight against myself, the harder it will be. There will certainly come moments when circumstances command me to ignore the wisdom of my body. But I know that when that happens, i will inevitably pay the price later on. So for now, the wisest thing for me to do is to stop worrying about being strong enough, or productive enough or any of those other not…enough trap words. Instead, I best just listen to what my body has to say, to respect its needs, to find strength in that understanding, and to dedicate the afternoons, for whatever time is necessary, to taking those long naps.