Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Radical Rest - A New Way Of Caring For Myself

I have received a deluge of emails from those of you who are most curious about why I haven't posted an entry for 3 weeks. Let me begin by assuring you all that there's nothing (new) wrong. The breast cyst aspiration went really well and proved that it was totally benign. No one has any idea why such a large cyst formed, but it seems to be fine now. As far as I can tell, my cancerous breast tumors and bone metastases continue to shrink. My hands are slowly healing. My kidneys and liver are managing to do their job of detox and elimination without further deterioration. My blood pressure has stabilized and I'm sleeping well.

I have been needing a level of "radical rest" that is unprecedented in my life. I yearn to be carried by the delightful feeling of coasting - moving effortlessly with the momentum that is there, not having to exert energy to create the push to do the next thing. I am exhausted and learning to surrender to a cycle of rest that is deeper than I've ever known. I've needed a rest from writing and from the feeling that someone is expecting something from me.

When I think back through my life, I inevitably end up considering somewhere around age 6 as the last time I felt rested. How could that be?!

Prior to this past 8 months that I have been off work and dealing with cancer as my more-than-full-time job, I was in private practice for the previous 23 years, with barely more than a week off once or twice a year. Three times in that 23 years I took 2 weeks off, but I didn't spend the 2 weeks resting or doing something "vacation-like." I'd go away for 5 or 6 days and then spend the other week at home taking care of some project. I used to be so misguided that I'd count conferences as vacation.

In my "spare time" I wrote my book. I awoke at 4 am for over a year to get some quiet writing time before everyone got up. I used "vacation time" twice in that period to spend a week somewhere writing 14 hours a day.

I took 3 months off when I moved to California, but I hardly rested. I moved my home and my office 3000 miles and had to set up a whole new life during that time. I spent the first year flying back to New York once a month and working for a week. Gold Status on American Airlines is a poor replacement for rest.

I was a student for decades before that. I began college in 1973 and worked either part-time or full-time during the 8 years it took for me to get to Osteopathic Medical School, where I spent another 6 years completing that task. I was on-call my last night as an Intern at Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn. In the morning when I completed that wretched phase of my training, I went to the roof of the hospital and burned my white coat. Upon returning home at 7 am on July 1, 1987 I packed a truck and moved to Woodstock with Carol, where I immediately opened my first office and worked as a carpenter's helper for the guy who fixed up the house we bought with a $4000 cash advance from a credit card.

My first summer job was at age 12 in a cabinet factory. I counted the screws, nuts, bolts, and brackets that came with a self-assembled desk and bookcase, put them in plastic bags, and stapled the bag to the underside of the desk. During the school year I worked for my father helping with the bookkeeping for his kitchen remodeling business until I left for college.

As I work chronologically backwards through my reasons for feeling like I desperately need a rest I get to this period from ages 6 - 12, where I was just an elementary school student without a job. It was during this time that my mother's health began to go downhill. She intermittently spent days to weeks at a time in the hospital and I was called upon to take care of her and other things at home. She wasn't diagnosed with cancer until I was 16, but had an endless stream of gastrointestinal, gall bladder, and pancreas problems. I was overburdened with emotional and household responsibilities.

What a sad portrait of myself, rest-deprived for nearly 47 years. I can't help but think of all the people who grow up in extreme poverty or in a war zone and are severely traumatized and neglected in addition to their lack of rest. I am almost embarrassed to be complaining, but I remind myself that comparisons don't help anyone. We all have a right to feel whatever our circumstances dish out to us. I hope I can honor the path I've been given and surrender to the need for rest. It is such profoundly satisfying medicine. I know I will emerge from my "healing cave" with a whole new view of purpose and meaning in my life and find a way to share it with others while simultaneously living a new way of caring for myself.

Consider the benefits you might gain from finding your unique form of radical rest and self-care. Don't wait until your system forces you to do so, or decline and death might come first. Anyone able to read this has a choice.