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What Losing A Kidney Taught Me About Rest

About six weeks ago, I had surgery to remove my left kidney.

Why? Well, I had symptoms over the course of a few years that pointed to a kidney losing function, but each symptom by itself always seemed to point to something else, something simpler and more common.

Stress, depression, adrenal fatigue, being overweight, having an abnormal cycle, somewhat mysterious back pain that wasn’t worth addressing. Meanwhile, the blood flow to my kidney became blocked, killing it, and then eventually it got infected. And that’s how I found out about it at all and was able to get the three surgeries I needed.

I learned a lot in the three months from the time we caught the problem and had the first surgery until I began recovering from my kidney removal surgery.

At first, it was just frustrating. I’m an Enneagram 3 – constantly on the move and busy with a mile-long to-do list. I didn’t like the way all this slowed me down. But I realized how badly I needed to rest and heal. And that’s when I started to reflect on what this time was teaching me.

It’s okay to not be productive sometimes

I hate not being productive, which is why I have chronically burned myself out and never slow down until I am literally forced down by illness. The kidney wasn’t the first time this had happened –– it’s been my whole life. Even as a kid, I never stopped moving until I got so sick I’d end up staying home for a week. 

But after the big surgery, I couldn’t do much of anything. I couldn’t get out of bed by myself, couldn’t use the restroom by myself, couldn’t sit up by myself. I felt like I had been cut in half (I kinda had).

And so out of necessity, I just rested. And guess what? The world didn’t fall apart, my business didn’t crumble, my friends and family were perfectly fine, my dogs were taken care of.

You don’t need surgery as an excuse to rest. You aren’t more valuable if you’re constantly productive. You have full permission to sit and be. And that can be enough. You are valuable simply because you exist. I think we can all use a little more intentional time to do nothing.

When you know you need to rest, take more time than you think you need

If you struggle to rest as I do, don’t just take intentional time off. Take enough time off. 

I am a therapist, and I seriously had clients on my calendar the week after my surgery.

This was stupid and laughable. In fact, a therapist friend had to remind me that it’s not a great idea to see clients when I’m still on pain meds… like what was I thinking! When I inevitably had to call each client and cancel because I was in so much pain, they were all incredibly gracious and a few chuckled with me because they knew I would end up canceling.

The point here… take more time to rest than you think you need. Our bodies feel stress and burnout first. Then it works its way to our emotions. And then finally, it gets to our thoughts. This is when we become consciously aware of the body’s need for serious rest. But by this point, it’s already severe. 

By slowing down more than I wanted to, I was able to listen to my body and give it the rest it actually needed. 

Meditating and being still really is hard, but also worth doing

If you don’t meditate or you’re just getting started, it’s totally normal to think you’re a mess because you can’t sit still and think about nothing (you’re not). Meditating really is hard! Think about modern American culture… there are a million distractions every second of every day. You never have to sit and do nothing if you don’t want to, and so our brains aren’t used to the practice.

Once I started to learn how to simply rest, I then started learning how to be more intentional with my time awake and began meditating more. It’s hard to just be there and focus on my breath and let my thoughts move through.

I still mostly use guided meditations, because they actually help me think less. I can simply listen and focus where the voice asks me to focus, rather than trying to rein my thoughts in. 

Meditating is helping me stay centered and grounded. This world is full of trauma, anger, hatred, despair, anxiety, and so many other difficult emotions and realities that can feel overwhelming. It is really important for us to find grounding, contentedness, and peace every day.

Meditation hasn’t been for you? Try one of these mindfulness practices to start.

It’s important to know how to receive help 

Remember when I said I couldn’t use the restroom by myself at first? Yeah… embarrassing. I’m not great at receiving help. That first week I tried to do several things before I was ready, and just ended up more tired and in more pain. Refusing to receive help simply didn’t work.

Learning how to receive help is partly about trust. Can you trust another person to be there for you? If the answer is yes, the next question is this: Can you let your vulnerable self be seen? That’s much harder to say yes to. But learning how to receive help will ultimately strengthen our relationships and increase our sense of empathy and compassion.

Final thoughts

At this point in my recovery, I’m feeling pretty good. But I hope that this time, I will actually learn and keep these lessons about rest. I hope they can be helpful to you too, for when you need much-deserved physical, mental, and emotional rest.