Rest Medicine

I have been working really hard at resting. That probably doesn’t make sense, but I have been struggling to incorporate preemptive rest into my routine and it feels like a lot of work. The rationale for preemptive rest is that scheduled breaks help your body restore its energy capacity because you are not pushing to the point of exhaustion. Bruce Campbell explains preemptive rest very well, and credits it as a key component of his own recovery.

I was very resistant to trying it. My functional window of opportunity is so small and fleeting. Why should I interrupt an activity to rest, especially when I feel like I can keep going? I’ve always been a power-through-it kind of person, and I’ve approached CFS the same way. Taking two scheduled breaks a day to lie down and rest, regardless of how I feel, has been a huge emotional disruption. I hate this daily reminder that I am weak. I hate feeling like a sick person who has to lie down after an hour on the computer. I don’t want to need this rest. I shouldn’t have to need it. I should be able to overcome these limitations, not feed them or cater to them. When I started taking these rest breaks, I hated it so much I would lie on my bed and fume about it (and yes, that defeats part of the purpose of resting).

But I wanted to give this method a fair trial. I knew I had to change the way I think about the rest breaks in order to get any benefit from it. I thought about treatments for other diseases and how those patients probably don’t enjoy the process either. If I had cancer, I would hate chemotherapy but I would do it. In fact, I think I would attack chemotherapy with a “let’s do this!” attitude. Cancer? Screw cancer, give me the chemo – I’ll take it and kick cancer’s ass. Rather than seeing preemptive rest as a burdensome imposition, would it help me to treat it as a daily medicine?

I don’t get pissy about taking my medications; I need them, so I take them on schedule every day. But I am still struggling to feel that way about preemptive rest. For example, I should lie down right now but I want to finish this blog post before lunch. I’m at war with myself every day because my expectations and desires are always bigger than my energy capacity. No matter how short my list is, no matter how much I have reduced my expectations, I never accomplish everything on my list. Taking rest breaks feels like a disruption and waste of time.

Would I resent chemo like this? All the horrible side effects and agony of chemo have a purpose: to rid you of cancer. I see my medications the same way: I take pain medication and it helps my pain. I am trying to bring the same attitude to preemptive rest. The rest breaks are necessary, just like my pain medication, and I should embrace it as another part of my arsenal. I realize that it might take months to see benefits from any treatment, whether it’s chemo or a new pain medication or rest breaks. I know I have to stick with it, and part of that process is adopting a positive attitude towards a method designed to help me. I am working hard, every day, to give rest breaks a fair chance.

Update (11/30/12): After I published this post, ME/CFS Self-Help Guru posted about reframing challenges in a positive way.


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6 Responses to Rest Medicine

  1. LJ says:

    Just so you know, healthy people take a rest before they need it — smart planning, I call it! or put another way, it is a sign of strength, not weakness! and by the way, whom do you know that accomplishes everything on their list in “today”s world – I want to meet them! there is so much to do each day, I’ll never catch up! so hang in there and give “fighting the rest”, a rest!

  2. Absolutely agree, Jennie. It’s just so hard.

    We face an impossible choice every day – between being sensible about pre-emptive rest or having a small semblance of a life. It’s pretty much one or the other. If I could convince myself it might help then perhaps I’d be more committed to it.

    After so many years, the number of tomorrows in which one might enjoy the fruits of such an effort become far fewer and the need to seize the day becomes more pressing.

    But you are right: maybe, like you, I should give it a proper try *long sigh*. Love and best wishes to you and good luck with your experiment 🙂

    • Jennie Spotila says:

      Yes, Valerie, you describe the conundrum perfectly. It is very hard to make this level of sacrifice for unknown benefits. In some ways, it feels like experimental chemo with terrible side effects and unknown effect on the cancer. One difference is that chemo is a set time period – X number of treatments or X number of months. Then you are done and it worked or it didn’t. If preemptive rest helps, it is a permanent “treatment.” What is missing is a clear understanding of the potential benefits. How long until I experience benefits and at what level? I need a cost-benefit analysis, really. Rest will cost me X but the benefit will be Y. If we had that, it would be much easier to decide whether it was worth it.

  3. Suella says:

    Pre-emptive rests daily in the “afternoon” (sometime between 12-4pm) gave me some semblance of life back within a few months of practicing them. We are all different and your cost benefit will be different than mine. I humbly accepted this man’s experience. After all he cured himself through self-help techniques and has remained so for over a decade. That was, and still does remain good enough for me to pay very close attention to his classes and fellow students.

    Pre-emptive rest gave me enough refreshed energy to go back to college one day a week from being housebound within a few months. I am very grateful for Bruce Campbell’s example and I use his protocols to continue to carefully and safely improve. I gave myself longer than he did, and concentrated my original pre-emptive rest in one an afternoon session. He had two flat rests in a darkened room of about 20-30 minutes am and pm.

    I think resting and pacing depends on how good we are at hearing what our body is saying, as well as our heart-rate monitors. Pre-emptive rest is not a golden bullet and has to be used with appropriate pacing, etc. For me any flat time is good and refreshes me, but in the beginning I found the hour, in which of often slept through really helped.

    Jennie, one idea could be for you to problem solve how you can make rest interesting and rewarding for you emotionally and spiritually. For me meditation CDs can work or even something entertaining or amusing. If your body needs to sleep you will likely be able to simply ignore the CD as I do.

    Best of luck with your cost-benefit analysis.

    On the other hand you could make it a leap of faith and try it, although perhaps skeptical. What have you to lose? Think of it as can’t hurt. might help, eh?

    • Jennie Spotila says:

      Thank you for these excellent comments!!! I am finding two rest periods to be disruptive to my train of thought and/or rhythm of my day. I’m trying one longer rest period around mid-day right now. Actually, I’ll do it as soon as I finish this comment.

      I’ve been working on this for three months, and am committed to continuing. But it is about more than just lying down at a certain time. For me, this is forcing me to change many of my assumptions and thought patterns. It is much more challenging than I expected. And facing that challenge every day without seeing substantial benefits is very hard. After three months, I don’t feel there has been significant change in my capacity. What you and Bruce Campbell have experienced seems completely different, and this makes me wonder if I’m “doing it wrong” (which of course leads to more frustration).

      I really appreciate hearing how this has worked for you, and your ideas on how I can improve the process. I’m committed to keep working on it.

  4. Suella Postles says:

    Jennie, Bruce did two rest periods for about 20minutes am and pm.

    I had an hours flat pre-emptive rest to start in the afternoon. As I got better it wasn’t always flat but it was, and is “feet up”. I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact I can’t stand in one place for long without feeling as through my energy has fled. Upright, moving around no problem. Stationery not good.

    I now also find that 5 or more minutes lying flat (eyes closed) whenever I feel the need is very refreshing. I probably do this generally twice a day, but almost always once. I take my yoga mat with me and find a safe place to lie down in advance. My eyes open of their own accord and I know I can safely get on with my day, albeit with care and pacing.

    I don’t think that doing it wrong is necessarily what is happening with you. I suspect that you need to give it more time before you consider that it doesn’t work. You will have done a lot of push-crashing before now and will have a lot of catching up to do. A lot of rebuilding. If you are logging, and recording things like heart rate or paces walked, that might start to show an improvement. If not, I’m not sure I would consider a general impression of no change particularly accurate.

    Do you sleep during your pre-emptive rests? If not does your pulse rate come back to your resting pulse rate after you have awakened, got up and moved around a bit. That pulse rate is supposed very consistent. When it isn’t we are supposed to curtail our activities considerably. Think of it as an early warning system.

    Best of luck. Let us know how you are getting on.

    Bruce reckons that we should spend 50% of our perceived energy on activities and the other 50% on allowing our body to heal. Might that perspective help when considering how much energy needs to be preserved though pre-emptive rests and pacing?

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