The Art of Rest

Traveling for long periods of time can be physically and mentally exhausting. I specifically remember childhood road trips along the West Coast. Dad would push us to be in the car by the break of dawn so that we could arrive in San Francisco by dinner time. Just sitting in the car for 12 hours a day wore on my youthful body, when all I was doing was staring out the window, driving my twin brother crazy, reading endless piles of novels, and occasionally stretching my legs at a scenic overlook or historical point of interest. When we actually reached our destination, Dad was the Energizer Bunny. We would follow his lead, skipping from site to site, or at Disneyland from ride to ride, with only lunch and dinner as breaks. By the time we got back to our hotel, I would be exhausted, and sleep would descend with frightening speed.

There was a method to this madness, and I loved returning home with drooping eyes and lacksidasical muscles knowing we had squeezed every ounce of experience and laughter out of our trip. Like my father, I approached life the same way. I took every advanced class I could, tried every sport and after-school activity, and still found time to dive into my own realm of imagination by writing stories, organizing neighborhood games during the summer, and constantly reading. I rarely slowed down, often only for sleep, and even sleep became a casualty as I moved into my high school and college years.

I can no longer succumb to this tendency to fill up every minute of the day with an activity, and I try to be more conscious about allowing myself periods of rest. But I don’t actually know how to rest. I sit down with an iced tea on my patio, and immediately my mind jumps to everything else I should be doing. I lay down for an afternoon nap, and I fight the urge to jump back up. I know my body needs rest, that fibromyalgia will rear its ugliest head if I don’t slow myself down. But I literally don’t know how to rest!

The act of resting is a learned skill, and one I desperately need to master by the time I set foot on the plane to Europe, or I will end up in a severe flare of symptoms before even the first week of my trip is over! The first step for me has been to mentally rewire myself to think that resting is not the same thing as being lazy. I fight this every time I look at my itinerary, when I feel the urge to add in one more town or museum or neighborhood to explore. Instead, to fight my urge to over-schedule, I am actually scheduling in rest time. This seems counter-intuitive – shouldn’t I rest when I feel like I need rest? However, if I wait until I actually hit what I have come to call “the wall” – when I physically cannot go a step further – it will be too late to rest. Instead, I will need at least a day, and possibly up to a week of recuperation.

So I am scheduling rest periods into my itinerary. This includes afternoons at a cafe with a journal and a book, lazy days at the beach, afternoon siestas in bed, and time to just sit and reflect, whether I’m lying on a blanket in the park, or riding the train to my next destination.

I’m also teaching myself how to relax here at home. I start each morning with a series of stretches or yoga, ending with some breathing meditation. I also take half an hour with a cup of tea or coffee while reading a magazine or novel. When I get home from work I take a short afternoon nap. And I end each day with my heating pad and sometimes a bath.

I still struggle to allow myself permission to relax, even when I know it’s what my body needs to keep going day after day. But I’m confident that with enough perseverance, I will eventually master the art of resting.

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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