I have that mom-thing that when I am taking care of someone else, I unconsciously put myself on hold. It’s been that way a bit since Nate’s knee surgery on Thursday. I can ignore hunger pangs and even push through the need to pee for hours at a time if I’m focused on someone else. A friend who is a high level bank executive recently told me that she arrives at work daily at 6 a.m. with a 20 ounce coffee and works steadily at her desk until around 10, even though she can feel her back and shoulders locking up and her bladder crying out for attention. She is a brilliant woman whose intelligence I’ve always admired; I knew her in high school and was downright intimidated by how cool and together she always seemed, long-limbed and blonde, edgy and smart. And yet, she, like me, often refuses to pee because she has too many other things on her plate. Who knew?
It seems to be a particularly human trait to ignore signals that come from the body, as if somehow these are suspect. My dog certainly doesn’t ignore his biological processes, if he’s gotta go, he’s gonna. Likewise, little children don’t/simply can’t “hold it in” in the same way that adults do. This willful body ignorance applies well beyond our processes of elimination. How often have you supressed your awareness of a symptom in the hopes that it would simply vanish? I’m not getting a headache now because I have a big report due tomorrow. I have too many meetings scheduled this week for this to be the flu. It’s just a cold. I’ll push through it. (On the other hand, we tend to obsess about other body signals: the nagging abdominal pain that we are pretty sure might be cancer, ignoring the possibility that it’s related to our 5-latte-a-day Starbucks habit.)
When an animal is sick, it rests. Years ago we had this badass cat named Huckle. Every summer, he used to go “on walkabout”, disappearing for weeks on end into the coyote-ridden woods that surround our yard. His longest stint al fresco was about three months. We had given up looking for him, figuring that if he met his maker on the losing side of a life-and-death-battle in the wild, that’s how he would have wanted it. Then one morning, we heard a yowl at the back door, and lo and behold, Huckle half-dragged himself into the house as if he’d never left, although he’d clearly seen some action out there: He had a tear in one ear, a couple of chipped teeth, and a broken pelvis, according to our vet. Huckle knew it was time to come home and rest – no more duking it out in the wilderness. He found a quiet corner in our basement and curled up, sleeping for about a week before emerging up the stairs with a bound as if he’d never felt better. He didn’t have to google “sharp pain when I breathe?” to know that something was seriously wrong with him, nor did he need Web M.D. to prescribe rest.
With our screens and LED beeps and blips providing an eerie glow into the night, with emails and texts tinging and pinging at all hours, with unfettered access to medical information in just a few key strokes, we live in a time when it is increasingly easy to become distanced from our body’s natural rhythms and wisdoms. It’s hard to make time to listen to the body, rather than just tell it to fall in line until our next meal, CrossFit training or bowel movement. When the body calls, I am so often too preoccupied with my ego’s agenda to pick up. Kind of like when caller ID announces robotically “Call from…Mom” when I’m busy. I’ll think: “Oh, it’s just my body. I’ll call her back later.” As if she’ll always be there for me. No matter what.