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– Anna Heuer Hansen
“Focus, Anna, and keep breathing. You can do this!” I tell myself as my vision gets blurry and abnormally bright, and the sound becomes muffled as if under water.
I give my body a subtle shake and lower my head for a couple of seconds, and then look back up. “I’m okay, just a little dizzy” I think. I concentrate hard and force myself to focus. But I’m not okay. I almost lose my balance and need to sit down for a couple of minutes.
“Alright, that must be enough, up again and get on with it”. I stand up and in less than 10 seconds the bright light is back and I get a ringing in my ears. I hear a voice to my right; “Ehm, I think you need to stop now”, he says. It’s only when I turn my head and see his concern that I realize what I’m doing. Pushing too hard, again. “Yes, I think you’re right” I answer. I finally sit down and close my eyes. “If you listen when your body whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream”.
I have heard this advice a long time ago, and I still struggle to follow it.
I know this is a pitfall of mine, and nevertheless I still find myself trying to will my way out of fainting. Trying to force my body to obey my willpower instead of honoring its needs.
Sometimes we have unreasonably high expectations of ourselves, and we ignore the protests of our bodies to the point that they have no choice but to shut down completely in order to make us listen.
I didn’t think I was asking anything unreasonable of myself that day. What my mind wasn’t aware of yet (but my body had known for many months, I suppose) was that I had a serious iron deficiency. After I almost fainted again in the shower, a friend of mine prompted me to do a blood test. When the results came back I suddenly understood my body’s reasons, and I felt ashamed and sorry for not responding appropriately to its signals. I adjusted my expectations and started granting myself rest whenever my body felt tired. I started listening.
But here is the thing: I shouldn’t have needed to know it was iron deficiency in order to take rest. When you are about to faint, you sit down. That’s okay. Medical issue or not. You do not need a deficiency as an excuse or justification for following your body’s signals and taking care of yourself.
Of course, I’m grateful to know the explanation now, so I can keep an eye on my iron levels. However, I might need to take more rest or to slow down for a host of different reasons that I mentally don’t understand yet. And I don’t need that understanding in order to trust my body.
When I push through even though my body clearly says no, it always leads to trouble. Hearing and respecting that no is fundamental in learning to make the choices that are right for me. The messages we receive from our bodies are often more valuable than we realize, while we tend to neglect them and focus on rationalizing our choices. But the body is key to skillfully navigating our way through life, and being guided by its subtle directions makes for a much smoother journey than when it has to pull the brakes so hard we end up crashing.
The writer Charles Eisenstein calls his own adrenal fatigue a powerful medicine: “On a deeper level, this is not the body making a mistake. This is the body saying “I refuse to support you on a path that is not your soul’s path”.
When navigating our lives and choices, the body is our essential compass. And in learning to follow even its subtle indications, we are doing our part in making it smooth sailing rather than a bumpy ride. I can’t promise this is the last time I’m too stubborn to listen to my body. I still catch myself dismissing its complaints until it has to scream. But I keep on practicing and hopefully one day it’ll only have to whisper.