Amongst other things, I’m a Pilates teacher and I had an appointment with a friend for a session. She texted me to cancel as she was feeling very under the weather, a recurrent bout of labyrinthitis. No problem. I wished her well and said we would re book when she was better. I saw her the following day and she looked washed out and pale. I remarked on this and she said that she forced herself to come out because she couldn’t sit still, she felt guilty doing it.
I asked her where she thought that came from? Her mother had ingrained in her that you should keep active, even if you felt ill. That was what she was doing, pushing her body to do something, to keep going at all costs because “it’s just the way I am”. This is something I see frequently in women, type A personalities, this drive to keep going at all costs. They push themselves so hard that physical symptoms like Irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, high blood pressure or even chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and Myalgicencephalomyelitis (ME) are common; anxiety and depression are the mental partners.
Over the last few years it’s become more common to hold onto the idea that we should be able to multi task, to be a high performing professional, have our own business, be a perfect partner, the perfect wife, the perfect mother. Always driving ourselves to perfection and not recognising or listening to what is going on in our body. I’ve done it myself, resulting in burnout and depression and leaving my profession several years ago. I didn’t listen to the myself, I ignored the physical and mental signs. Piled on the guilt, the shame and the embarrassment at what was happening. Why couldn’t I do all these things? Other women did and they coped, or did they? Or were they just hiding the physical signs, the insomnia and the depression like I did for as long as they could?
The awful thing is that whilst we are looking for perfection in these things it’s out of reach. What is it anyway? We forget to enjoy ourselves and find contentment. Our joy in life disappears. It’s a downward spiral. It doesn’t have to be like that, it took me years to recover but if we learn to tune into our body and think about the way we are, we can find a different path. We have to stop beating ourselves up because we can’t do everything and be compassionate with our selves. Our best is good enough. I asked my friend “What if it wasn’t the way you were? What if there were another way?” She was quiet and asked me what she could do and I replied “Go home and make yourself a cup of tea, get a good book and sit down. You are doing something you’re looking after yourself.”