I meditate. I burn candles. I drink green tea. And I still want to smack someone.
—Post-It note on my computer
While I was driving to work yesterday, I turned my head to the left to check my blind spot before changing lanes so that I could attain a speed of Way Too Fast. As I turned my head, I noticed that my neck didn't hurt.
This was remarkable because my neck had been hurting for weeks. I'm not sure when or how I pulled or pinched something, but it hurt like a mofo to turn my head to the left for a long time. It hurt so bad, in fact, that I had routinely been taking painkillers to keep it under control. Oh, sure, I could have gone to the doctor, but (a) I'm a doctor's kid, and we don't really do that and (b) when? when? and when? I figured it was a muscle thing and that it would eventually get better on its own.
Which it clearly did. But as I cruised down the road, I thought about the fact that I could not remember any instance of my neck hurting for the whole weekend. That got me thinking about the mind/body connection. It was last Friday that I made my peace with taking Riley into bed with me, that I decided to embrace rather than fight his need for some nighttime closeness. My friend was visiting all weekend, so I had help with the twins. The weather had been gorgeous, and we'd done a lot of fun activities. Sunday night, Riley even slept straight through the night. My point here is that I was feeling pretty Zen, and that my neck had started feeling better when that sense of calm took over my outlook. Coincidence? Maybe.
I have mixed feelings about the mind/body connection. Having watched my husband suffer through a disease that no amount of positive outlook, meditation, and mindful practice of yoga were going to cure, I resent the pressure that the mind/body concept can put on people. It's pretty guilt-inducing to devote a significant amount of time to cultivating a positive outlook only to have those efforts be for naught. In John's case, the argument could be made that his positive outlook prolonged his life, and that may be true. But the pressure to maintain a constantly positive attitude does not leave a lot of room for people to feel the negative emotions that a terminal diagnosis—or other form of life stress—brings. I think in many instances, when friends would suggest to John that "you can't even let yourself think you might die," what they really meant was that they could not handle the thought of death, that they needed to push that thought out of their minds, that they were not comfortable talking about it. But someone facing a terminal illness or other stressful situation needs to feel safe to explore all possible outcomes without the fear that a negative outcome is the Ultimate Failure, that a little more positive thinking would have warded of the inevitable.
That said, on a smaller scale, I do think stress can manifest itself in physical ways, and I think my neck is an example of that. Neck pain was a new physical manifestation of stress for me; usually I clench my teeth and get headaches. No matter how it presents, though, it's pretty certain that if I'm under a lot of stress, my body will not feel its best. If I'm able to control the stress in my life—put mind over matter, find my inner calm, fake it 'til I make it, whatever you want to call it—my body will respond in kind.
There's a little bit of a chicken and egg factor here, too. As the neck instance shows, when I take good care of my mind, my body is happier. But it's also true that when I take good care of myself physically, I feel better mentally. I suppose it doesn't matter which comes first though; all that matters is that there is a connection between the two and that if one part is unwell, the other will suffer as a result.
As I write this, I feel the tension in my shoulders mounting. That's another place my mind creates physical stress. My neck is still feeling fine, but I seriously lost my Zen last night, and I guess it's my shoulders that are going to take the fall this time.
Riley and I—well, and Maddie, too—had the worst night on record last night. Worse than the newborn days, even. Basically, someone was awake from midnight until about 5:30 a.m. Sometimes me, sometimes Riley, sometimes Maddie. Sometimes crying, sometimes chatting. Sometimes in bed together, sometimes in our own rooms. Honestly, I can't even remember how it all went down, just that nothing seemed to work, probably because I tried about a dozen things and didn't stick with one. One of my methods involved switching on the lights and screaming while jumping around like a freak. In case anyone is wondering: that was not the best method. I feel foggy, slightly ill, and my shoulders! Damn.
This too shall pass, I know it's a phase, and all that. What I'm curious about is how to find my Zen when the shit hits the fan in the middle of the night (or during the day, for that matter). What do you think about the mind/body connection? How do you work on maintaining the calm that keeps both your spirit and your vessel* well? Do you even think the connection exists?
*"Spirit and vessel"? Did I really write that? WTF? I really do need some sleep.