Listening to your body – why mind over matter isn’t always the best idea

I am ill. Having previously taken great pride in not having a day off work in over 10 years, my super-strength immune system has, in the last couple of years, decided that it doesn’t want to play super hero anymore. Working as a teacher carries a certain risk with it. It is the season of coughing, spluttering, sneezing and sniffling, and, whilst I was determined to survive this monster term of 9 weeks without any time off sick, I have had to miserably admit defeat. Dragging myself into work, only to spend the day shivering and slowly losing my voice, whilst also battling with a painful cough, I eventually burnt up and started feeling delirious. My colleagues urged me to go home, I stubbornly dug in my heels and stuck it out. Surprisingly, no one gave me a medal for making it through the day and now I am sofa bound, with a fever, watching my daughter sleep off her virus on the other side of the settee.

On the one side I am fully aware that there is no shame in being ill and needing time to recover and to get well, however, there seems to be a culture of soldiering on even when you should have laid down your armour and sought refuge in the safety and comfort of you bed. I asked myself why we seem to force ourselves to carry on instead of paying attention to what our precious bodies so desperately need. I appreciate that there are some people who are more resilient than others and we all cope differently with a snotty nose or a full-on bug, and some of us need to be bribed to stay at home when we can barely stand up anymore. However, from what I have observed, the majority of us push ourselves and our bodies into situations that are neither beneficial to us or to those around us. Why is that? Speaking for myself only, I am a mind-over-matter person. My mind is always stronger than my body, and it takes a lot for me to concede and give in, never mind, to give up. This has served me well so far in life and has gotten me through some pretty tough times, as well as pushed me towards my goals step by step. I have ran two marathons that way and worked 80-hour weeks to change my career and study at post-graduate level. Sometimes however, this inbuilt pig-headedness and strive to carry on no matter what, which may be useful for long-distance running, is unconstructive when applied to our health, be it physical or mental. If I carry on, even if my body screams no, wanting a rest to recuperate and heal, it will eventually collapse and take even longer to get better. That’s not rocket science and no one needs a medical degree to know that. What we do need to realise, however, is that it is not only important,, no, it is of the utmost importance that we listen to our bodies and minds and cut them some slack now and again. They are doing some pretty awesome work ALL THE TIME, without a day off EVER. Surely some rest is a decent compromise?

Over the past few months I have come to realise that I do not need to prove myself to anyone and that I do not have to be a hero all the time. I am allowed to be human, to be fallible and imperfect and most of all, even though I find it hard to accept, I do get ill now and again. That doesn’t let anyone down. It is normal. What does let me down is when I don’t allow myself to heal. So, for now, I am embracing the rest and calm, the endless cups of hot tea and honey with lemon, the snuggles with my baby girl, the day curled up on the sofa under a soft blanket and the messages from colleagues and friends that wish me well. Soon enough I will be ready to power on and embrace the chaos and everyday hustle and bustle my family and job bring.

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