Rest and Recovery with an Autoimmune Disease

Rest and Recovery

Resting. It sounds nice in theory doesn’t it? It brings to mind visions of naps in the sun, vacation, or curling up with a good book, but in reality we as a society equate resting with laziness. If you choose to rest you are seen as lazy and if you need to rest you are inadequate and incapable. At least that is how I always felt. For as long as I can remember I always felt the need to work harder and better than everyone around me. I am still not sure what it is I am/was trying to prove but I know that I am/was determined to prove it. Before really coming to terms with my ulcerative colitis I was always “burning the candle at both ends”. I was graduating college early, volunteering at a crisis hotline, working full time, planning a wedding, hanging out with friends, and drinking a lot of coffee and I loved every minute of it. I loved feeling productive, I loved what I was doing, and I loved the feeling of a full and active life. Then I moved, I got sick, I lost my support system and my ability to do anything other than stay alive was taken away from me. All I could do was rest.

Looking back, I almost feel like in some large cosmic way I was recovering from all of those years of abusing my body with constant work. Catching up from the all-nighters, late nights, morning coffees, afternoon coffees, marathon travel weekends and never ending to-do lists. In reality, I was resting because my body was failing and needed to heal. From the time that particular flare started to the time my energy returned to a level approaching normal was eight months. Eight very long months during which I struggled with what it meant to need rest. Was I a failure? Was I below average? Would I forever be seen as sick and incapable? I knew moving forward I would need to rest more, guard my health and my stress level more closely, make sure that things didn’t get out of hand, but what did that mean for me? For who I was?

The conclusion that I came to is that functioning at 100% capacity, 75% of the time, is better than functioning at 50% capacity until you burn out. In order to be my best, healthiest and most productive self I need to take time out to rest and recover even when I am not actively sick. I take naps some days, I sleep in late some mornings, I go to bed early some nights, and some afternoons I just sit on the couch. When I travel or have a particularly busy stretch it will take me up to a week to fully recover and regain my momentum. That being said, I’m also a nanny to baby boy, work in internet sales, attend births as a childbirth doula and, obviously, write. I am busy, I am hardworking, but I take time to rest. Those principles don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Yes, I did have to give up some other things, I don’t stay out super late anymore, I can’t say yes to every offer of social time, I am careful about travel and busy weekends, and I work in jobs that specifically offer me the flexibility I need to take care of myself. I have also enlisted the help of my husband and family who help me carefully guard my time and remind me to rest when I get too tired.

I know I am not alone in my insecurities surrounding rest because we live in a society that glorifies being busy, but our calendars and our diseases are not what define us. In our rest we can find strength to live into our purpose and become better than we ever thought possible.

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Jesse St. Jean

Jesse St. Jean

I am many things: a wife, a daughter, a sister, a nutritional therapist, a dog-mom… and I’m an autoimmune warrior.

13 Comments

  • Taking time to rest is harder than all the dietary restrictions put together. Usually your body tells you when to rest, but often it is already too late then and you think “I should have known better.”
    Taking enough rest my next focuspoint. It is soooo important.

    • I agree it can be harder than the dietary restrictions for sure! It takes a lot of practice to start putting your need to rest at the top of the priority list,but it helps so much. Good luck!

  • I seem to do more than I need to and then I am extremely tired and think the same thing,I should have known better

    • It is hard to admit to ourselves when we are tired, but show yourself some grace and know that we can only do our best in the moment we’re in.

  • Boy do I resonate with EVERYTHING you’ve written! So glad I’m not alone – I have RA and in the past 6 months have started AIP and I’m learning SLOWLY to rest up and listen to my body, but after 42 years of the mantra “I’ll sleep when I’m Dead” its going to take me quite some time to learn how to do it! But I will!

    • Good Luck Emma, It is one of the most difficult aspects of healing but also one of the most important. Take each day as it comes and show yourself grace 🙂

  • wow…you really captured it perfectly! i think I’m harder on myself than anyone else, but when my wife is cranking stuff out around the house and i am icing (due to psoriatic arthritis) i feel like a lazy bum…but its myself doing it, not anyone else…thanks for writing this article it really puts it into perspective that rest is the best medicine!

  • People have been writing about the benefits of R&R since the times of the Romans. At least. Seems like we still don’t listen. :/ But I definitely think rest is one of the best ways to get back to feeling like myself again.

  • Wow, this is so perfectly stated! It’s like you took the thoughts out of my head and put them into writing. I have become selfish with my “me” time and have finally come to the point where I don’t feel guilty saying, “No” (I still feel like I have to explain my situation sometimes but I guess that’s just a part of being respectful so people don’t get their feelings hurt, especially with my Mother). Plenty of rest and some exercise are the two biggest things I know I need on a daily basis. Usually no matter what else is going on, if I get enough rest and some exercise, I can get through the occasional times that life gets too busy.

    Thanks for a great post!

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Nutritional therapist Jesse

Hi, I'm Jesse

I empower women autoimmune warriors to reclaim their health by teaching each woman how to make the right food choices to heal her body while confidently owning her journey so she can live a vibrant life with chronic illness.

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