Learning to Respect My Body’s Limits

Friday is here! My throat still really hurts and I feel the first hints of nasal congestion. In a few hours, this will likely be a full-blown cold. It’s supposed to rain all day and turn to a wintry mix, so I’ll likely need to coop myself up inside all day. It’s just as well because I have a huge work project. Mostly, I’ll be happy that tomorrow I get to spend the day with Ben; it’s a tough adjustment to go from near full-time companionship on vacation for four days to our sole 45-60 minutes each day this week. I’m actually pleased that I didn’t sink into a depression this week because of the drastic difference. Instead, I focused on finding gratitude in my everyday life and on keeping my spirits as high as possible by remembering the good times on our vacation and thinking of the positive things, however small, coming up, the weekend being the main one.

As usual, we don’t have glamorous plans for either day, which is actually partially what I’m excited for. It’ll be a restorative to rest and spend time at home and in town. I’m lucky to have a spouse who doesn’t need fancy packed social calendar to be happy. In fact, Ben is nearly as socially-aversive as me! We enjoy the simple life and quality time together over extravagances and social-media-worthy activities.

Maybe it’s a sign that we’re old now. We need life to be at slower speeds, we relish relaxation, we are relatively contented with what we have and what we do on a micro and macro scale. We work hard during the week and don’t want to chase fun on the weekends; we find it in what we have and where we are.

I remember that I used to frequently feel agitated if not actively doing something or pursuing something. I only felt fulfilled by being insanely busy, hopping from one thing to the next whether for work or play. It might be years of chronic illness or burnout, autistic or otherwise (autistic burnout is a huge issue), but now I’m okay with downtime, watching movies on the couch or just sitting on the deck in the summer sun instead of “needing” to exercise in that time. Either of these causes or their summative effects surely exhaust me and beg me to slow the speed at which I’m trying to do life. Particularly because my illnesses are autoimmune in nature, easing up on the throttle and deliberately trying to lower physical and emotional stress is of the utmost importance. After numerous times of stubbornly pushing through fatigue, illness symptoms, or just my depleted body’s plea to my brain to rest, I’ve finally ceded to the fact that doing so always sets me way back and becomes something I regret. The terrible idiom that a pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure can be adapted in my case to mean pushing a little to do something extra active and fun (the pinch) when I’m starting to get rundown results in a major exhaustion or sickness (a pound of problems) that then makes even my usual activities impossible for some time. Instead, the wise me needs to ride the wave whatever way it goes. When energy is waning, I must heed to the need to rest. When I feel good, I can enjoy more physically- or mentally-demanding pursuits within reason. Even when I feel strong and like I’m raring to go-go-go, I have to be my own “bad cop” or “wise parent” and hold myself back from doing way too much and overtaxing my body. Inevitably, this can usher in a health setback so it’s just not worth it.

The main thing I’ve learned is that the stimuli that act as these fatiguers or autoimmune disease flare-up triggers are plentiful, diverse, and often shocking to other people (in the sense that they say with disbelief, “THAT tires you?!”). For example, more than any other trigger, social engagements are most comprehensively exhausting for me (body and mind). It’s less tiring for me to do a bunch of shopping errands in sensory-overwhelming environments than to get together with people, even if the social engagement takes place seated. “Weird” to some people perhaps, but then they’re likely not autistic or if they are, social challenges aren’t their primary “deficit.” I choose to own my needs and honor them, even when other people purposely or inadvertently guilt me into feeling badly for declining certain interactions when I’m already feeling spent or nearing that place. People who truly love me and care will trust in my judgement and find ways to open their minds to understand my different struggles and needs. Hopefully, they’ll even be flexible and interested in finding ways to make spending time together work within my means and not feel hurt when I need to cancel or alter plans. The very nature of chronic autoimmune issues is that they are often unpredictable in their severity and course. It’s not always practical or possible to do everything I wanted to or planned to do. It’s just as disappointing to me as it may be to them and likely more so because they still get to make new fun plans and I’m sick and lonely, battling uncomfortable symptoms. For now, I do my best to communicate my feelings and needs and hold onto hope that someday I will feel better and be able to do more in all outlets of my life. It’s easy to fall into the self-flagellating trap and feel insufficient as I am and ashamed of my “lame” limitations, but such pressure and criticism only further stresses and upsets me. I’m starting to learn that being self-compassionate isn’t just some airy-fairy, silly, self-indulgent notion, but something vitally important to feeling worthy and whole. I’m not yet in a place where this is natural for me or feels “right,” but I’m trying to get there.

So, this weekend should be and will be restful. It will also be enjoyable in its simplicity and valuable in its restorative nature. My throat feels like razor blades have scratched it every time I swallow, so an important goal will be to take care of myself and hopefully lessen the severity of the developing cold.

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