Convalescence: the gradual recovery of health and strength after illness.
In today’s world, our greatest commodity is time, and sadly, we never seem to be able to find it when we need it most. When someone is ill, whether it be physically or mentally, the healthcare industry is quick to offer that magic bullet to cure all, patch you up and send you on your merry way. Have you ever been really sick, and never quite gotten over it? Felt like you have been bumbling along with one less wheel? Perhaps you could do with a true, gentle, peaceful, restorative convalescence!
The idea of a convalescence is that the patient is granted time and space in which to genuinely heal and restore themselves back to their normal state. Traditionally, those who had a truly debilitating illness, were not expected to make a full recovery unless they took a convalescence. This wisdom began to fall out of favour with the emergence of drugs and antibiotics, old diseases such as tuberculosis appeared treatable without taking a long period of rest to recover, hospital stays grew shorter and back to work we went.
“A good convalescence is a marvellous thing. It rounds off an illness and gives it meaning; it makes the sufferer stronger for having had it. In a way no vaccination could do, it arms and strengthens the immune defences and provides real protection against recurrence, possibly forever.” .
I have been fortunate enough to have slipped into a deep, restorative convalescence when I most needed it, twice now. The most recent, at the beginning of the year. I had just finished a 10 month contract at an ad agency, which was chaotic and crazy and mad – fun, but all-consuming, a real adrenaline-trip. They told me mid week that my last day would be that Friday, and even though it happened so quickly, I still remember the feeling I had as I left the office – an overwhelming ‘I’ve just done my last day in this industry!’ Strangely, it took me a few disillusioned days to actually work out that I was pretty damn burnt out, and needed to get the hell outta here!
I found myself on a plane back to New Zealand where I spent the next month in my old room at my parent’s, sleeping, eating organic, freshly picked vegies from the garden, taking the dog for casual walks in the evening, and doing not much at all. It was the best medicine I could have asked for. Truthfully I think I could have convalesced for another month – but – reality called! It was such a healing experience though, to put pens down, and turn inward, and find some quiet time to recharge. When I came back to Sydney, it was all systems go, and I leapt from full time work to starting a new business, this blog, and immersing myself in more study. I don’t think I would have had the energy to do this if it wasn’t for that down time, and certainly wouldn’t have had all the beautiful creative bursts of inspiration with a tried out mind.
So, how to do it for yourself?
There are four parts to a good convalescence:
Rest, Nourish, Move, and Medicine.
The most important element. Deep, uninterrupted sleep is when your body turns inwards and gets busy repairing itself. If you are anything like I was, running off adrenaline and having random, patchy sleep throughout the night, then this will benefit you more than you can ever know. Sink back into the natural circadian rhythms of your body – go to sleep when it is dark and wake when the sun does.
Give your body the best quality nourishment in order to facilitate the healing and repair it does at night. This means a diet of wholefoods, preferably organic, and of simple fare. No stimulants such as coffee, sugar, nicotine or alcohol. Avoid dairy and fast foods. Prepare lots of nourishing broths and soups, made from root vegetables that bury deep into the earth, sharing their energy of grounding and connectedness with you. Quality plant-based proteins to help repair, and fresh juicy fruits.
Exercise – the yang to the yin of sleep! Try to get the pulse rate up a little each day, but never over exert yourself. Power walking, yoga and pilates are great choices.
Depending on your reasons for taking a convalescence, you will need to keep up with whatever protocol you have been following, conventional or otherwise. It would be great to see a herbalist to talk about taking a tonic to support you during this time of rest and repair. If your immune system has taken a battering, you may look to take Echinacea for support, and for general stress and fatigue, adaptogenic herbs such as Withania and Rhodiola may be of help.
Such a beautiful thing you can do for yourself, and so simple! So next time your body is screaming out for you to hit pause, try and listen, and honour that message. Even if it is just the flu – don’t feel guilty about it – just take that extra day or two off work – your body will thank you for it in the long run!
My top convalescence tips:
- Listen to your body when it is asking you to STOP
- Take a few days, weeks, or month if you need it
- Take the journey with the support of your healthcare provider
- What your body wants – your body gets – eat when hungry – sleep when tired!
- Release all guilt surrounding your time off
- Tell your close friends and family what you’re up to so they can be supportive