I rested a full week after having the flu–that means no crossfit, no intense cardio, just some light lifting. I barely cooked at all, much less healthy meals. Canned chicken noodle soup and Gatorade pretty much kept me alive during that week. The flu kicked my ass. For some reason, I don’t remember the flu being so bad when I was a kid. It’s one of those experiences that fades with time I guess. But I was wrecked for a solid week and I never want to be wrecked like that again. All the temperature fluctuations and body aches were crazy. My bones were achy and my muscles were exhausted from existing. I might wish it on my worst enemy, but they would really have to be on my bad side for me to wish that on them. I managed to stay hydrated for that week and recovered from the worst of it. The week afterwards, though, I was still extremely fatigued and I chose to take naps instead of going to crossfit like I normally would, for some heavy lifting and high intensity metabolic conditioning. I chose to sleep instead and I slept hard.
I was surprised when I received some criticism for not getting back into crossfit immediately. Like, as soon as I was able to stand on two feet, I was supposed to pick up where I left off as if I never stopped. I shouldn’t have been surprised though, because that’s pretty normal for today, right? After we have babies, we’re supposed to snap back into our more youthful bodies as if we didn’t just create a human from nothing with our bodies. If we are expected to pick up where we left off with fitness after having a baby, the flu should be nothing right? Nevermind that the flu, unfortunately, still actually kills some people. Nevermind the fact that a hundred years ago, this flu I had might have managed to kill me without access to modern medicine. Heaven forbid I take my time getting over being sick.
I didn’t cave into the pressure to get back into intense workouts immediately. I took my time. I listened to my body and worked on movements that felt good. And I took time in between sets. My lungs were still very congested with mucus ( it sounded like I was hacking up a lung every few minutes), and I needed time to breath. I was not worried about improving my fitness level or getting stronger right during that time. I was simply focused on muscle activation and blood circulation. I was concerned with getting my heart rate up enough to get my lungs working, but not enough to have them strain to keep up with the work. I was moving, yes, but I’m listening to my body and only working within the limitations it was adamant about. Overworking your body while it’s healing is just asking for trouble. Whether it’s in the form of an injury or, more likely, a secondary infection, over exerting your body while it’s vulnerable won’t get you far in the long run.
I’m a big proponent for listening to your body and staying in tuned to what it needs and doesn’t need. At some point I realized that there isn’t actually a rush to “get somewhere” in my fitness journey, because it’s only that–a journey. It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of things, with deadlines, shelf life, and social media. I think it’s easy to fall victim of this mentality when I was younger, but time and experience are tough teachers. So I’ve learned to take my time and to rest when I feel like my body or my mind needs it. I’ve learned that when it comes to things like health and fitness, those deadlines and pressure that you feel is all made up. It’s all literally invented to feed the machine of corporate materialism. The need to rush things leads people to buy additional supplements and workout gear to speed them towards their goals. Supplements and shortcuts may help shave off fractions of time, but trusting the process and being consistent with your effort will take you just as far without the pretend pressure. I decided a while ago that I’m not going to be a gear in that machine of materialism, nor do I want to be. Choosing not to be in this social climate is a consistent, conscious choice. Sitting out and not participating in the fray is going against the grain, and it’s sometimes lonely, but I know it’s the right choice for me and my inner peace. So instead of exhausting myself before work with crossfit, I slept on the couch after I put my son on the bus. I knew I was going to have a long and tiring day and I knew my body needed an extra boost before I got going. And I didn’t feel guilty about it.
Thus far, I’ve just been talking about physical health and the need to rest from exercise periodically. What about mental illness and rest? What about depressive episodes and anxiety attacks and rest? How often are we pressured to power through these aspects of our lives and still work, still work out, still cook, still parent, still be a good partner? This is a subject I would like to dive in a little deeper and talk about more because I think this subject deserves its own post. I think that mental health is still very much stigmatized, and the effects of depression and anxiety on people’s physical health still largely goes unaddressed. The truth is, is that depression and/or anxiety is exhausting. It takes huge amounts of energy to go about daily life while depression is weighing on your mind and your body. Going through daily life tasks while struggling to keep anxiety at bay is exhausting. The energy it takes to live with mental illness should never be underestimated. While it’s true that some days are easier than others to manage symptoms of mental illness, it doesn’t mean that it’s effortless. This is something to seriously consider when we’re talking about physical health and exercise. Because some days are almost impossible to get out of bed, let alone going to work and interacting with people. The effort it takes on those days to exist sometimes depletes us, and exercising on top of it all can be out of the question. Finding a balance between having enough energy to manage mental illness and finding the energy to workout can be difficult and for some it can be unrealistic. I was fortunate enough to develop coping mechanisms for my depression and anxiety using exercise when I was younger. Having that coping mechanism established, has really helped me through every serious depressive episode I’ve had in my life. The serotonin and dopamine that dumps into my brain after a crossfit session is unreal. I feel high; my body and mind are too tired to care about little things that can trigger my depression or anxiety.
But I realize that I’m one of the lucky ones. I realize that not everyone has the same access to the environment of working out, the knowledge of how to best go about it, or the time to spend in the gym. I realize that so many people could benefit in the same way that I do from exercise, but they face huge obstacles that could make it impossible for them. But even for people who have that access, being consistent with exercise can be difficult if mental illness starts rearing its ugly head. That’s why sleep is so important. Sleep is important for everyone who is trying to reach goals for physical health or performance. But sleep is even more important for people who deal with mental illness. Your brain and your body needs rest to heal. And dealing with depressive episodes and/or anxiety attacks is enough to need extra rest to heal from it. So, yes, exercise is important. Consistent effort in the gym is important. But if you’re dealing with symptoms of mental illness on a daily basis, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is rest. Unapologetically rest.