Rest: a key component in healing and keeping symptoms at bay when facing a chronic illness.
We all know we need it.
We likely crave it.
Many times, our bodies won’t let us go without it for too long because there’s crippling fatigue involved in the challenges we face.
However, even though I know that rest is essential in my battle with Lyme Disease, I often find myself unable to adequately rest. Even when I want to rest badly enough that I’d give up almost anything for it, I still fall short when it comes to resting well.
Why is this? How could something so simple be incredibly difficult to actually obtain, especially when I spend the majority of my time in bed (the place where rest is supposed to happen)?
It may seem crazy that even though I “rest” all the time, up until I got serious about being kind to myself, I rarely felt like I was actually resting when I rested.
There are many contributing factors to this, including the symptoms of fatigue and insomnia that come along with Chronic Lyme Disease, however, I’ve recently realized that it goes deeper than that.
The biggest thing that was hindering my rest was me. My mindset was holding me back.
Instead of seeing rest as a gift for my body, I saw it as a hindrance, as something that was holding me back from doing the things I felt called to do.
It’s not easy to feel like you’re not able to experience life anymore. It feels like a part of you is missing or you’re being left behind. That’s a challenge many with chronic illnesses face at one point or another throughout their journeys. For those who are bedridden for any length of time, this burden may feel particularly cumbersome.
So, how does one cope with this need to rest? What does it actually mean to rest well?
Through some evaluation, and a lot of trial and error, I’ve identified a few things that may help you rest well:
1) Sleep when you can, but don’t stress when you can’t
This one has been hard for me to get on board with because there are few things more frustrating than being exhausted yet unable to sleep. The tossing and turning are enough to make me want to pull my hair out (but who needs to do that when it’s already falling out on it’s own?). Add chronic pain to the mix and it’s a real treat. ;) However, I know that being stressed and worried about not being able to sleep does not help the situation.
When I am unable to sleep, I’ve started to just go with the flow. Sometimes I read, watch Netflix, or listen to a podcast. I might get up and eat something or do a few dishes. What I do depends on the night and whether supplements have made me groggy or not. Then, when I’m finally to a point where my body feels like it can sleep, I’ll try again.
2) Be upfront with the people in your life about your need for rest
It’s easier to actually sleep when your body will let you if you know that those in your life are aware of your situation. If you constantly feel like you’re letting others down then it will be hard to wind down. Be honest about your need to miss work, church, or social engagements. Most people will at least try to understand.
3) Stop making plans
As much as you can control this, try to stop making plans. Learn to live in the moment. If you feel well enough to do something, then do it, but don’t set a plan and hold yourself to it when you may need extra rest. This is especially important if you’ve gotten to the point where you often need to cancel plans.
There are times when making plans is unavoidable, like for doctor’s appointments. During those instances, be honest with yourself about the times of day that you’re typically more rested and schedule appointments accordingly.
Another way to handle inconsistent schedules is to make tentative plans. For months, I didn’t get out to do anything social with friends or family. I had no energy and wasn’t about to make plans to do something and not follow through. But, you know what? I got lonely. I needed time with friends. I needed to get out, even if it would be taxing. So, I started setting tentative plans. We’d say we would try to get together on Saturday and then check in and see if it would still work on the day of. If it worked, we’d set a time. If not, we’d try again another time. It lessened the pressure I put on myself and allowed me to enjoy getting together with friends when it was possible.
4) If you must make plans, schedule in downtime before and after
Have you ever mustered up enough energy to do something outside your norm and then felt so encouraged by the success with the first meeting or task that you wanted to keep going? I’ve heard others talk of this phenomenon of “overdoing it” on “good” days. Just because I have energy to do one special thing doesn’t necessarily mean I will be able to handle a full day of activities.
To combat this need to “do all the things,” I schedule in rest time before and after the plans. If I push myself to keep going after my initial plans, I know I’ll pay for it later and be in worse shape. Everyone is different in how their energy streams work, but this has helped me to keep from overdoing it and regretting it later.
5) Begin to create a life rhythm that works for you
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to create a life rhythm that works for you. This is something that can’t be done hastily. It is best done after much prayer and evaluation.
For some of us Type A Personalities, our initial gut instinct upon diagnosis is to run after the illness and fight while trying to maintain normal work and life commitments. But, at some point you might face a breaking point when you realize that life cannot just continue as usual.
That’s where I was. I have had many, many breaking points which spurred me on to slowly evaluate where I was and notice what I needed to help me be more stable. This is a process, and I’m still figuring it all out.
To create a life rhythm, start by looking at your basic needs: housing, food, income, sleep and rest, treatment, time with loved ones, faith community, etc. Determine what you absolutely need right now in order to get better. Figure out how current situation is helping you and how it is hurting you. Then, see how you can arrange the things in your life to place health as a top priority. Once you find the right groove, you may be able to rest better.
6) Pray that God would give you rest
While this post focuses heavily on physical rest, when facing chronic illnesses our souls crave a deeper rest than our bodies can give us. We’re often weary, overburdened, and worn down. We crave a deep rest that we may struggle to obtain.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29 NIV)
When seeing hurdles ahead of us that appear to be unsurpassable, discouragement may set in. Getting rest may seem impossible, but remember that Jesus knows and loves you. He understands your burdens and wants to help you through them (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Pray for rest. Pray for peace. And pray for guidance as you seek to find restorative rest.
Those are just a few things that may help you rest well as you face a chronic illness. I hope you’ll be encouraged to evaluate where you are and what you need to get rest.
You may notice that I left out all the traditional good sleep habits like “go to bed at the same time every night.” While tips like that can work, when you have infections or other diseases wreaking havoc on your body, it might not be possible to see results from those tips. So, I kept it simple with things we can do to further give ourselves grace and permission to get the rest we so desperately need.
If you struggle with getting rest or battle insomnia, please know that you are not alone!
Because I understand brokenness and feelings of grief while battling chronic illness, I wrote a short eBook guide that can walk you through how to find hope during life’s darkest moments. I’d love to give you a free copy of Finding Hope Through the Fog.