One of my mother’s favorite warnings to me as a child was this: “Don’t overdo it." It was uttered in reference to everything from playing outside in the cold winter air, to running races with my friends, to eating potato chips dipped in Philadelphia cream cheese and chive spread. “You know what happens when you overdo it,” she’d say ominously, as if the tone in her voice wasn’t already enough to stop me in my tracks.
What happened was that I ended up sick. An asthma attack most likely, but also stomach upsets and headaches - my body’s favorite ways to let me know I’d overdone it and it was going to put me in my place: Bed.
Now that I’m grown, my mom is pretty good about keeping her opinions to herself. But there have been times over the past decade or two, during those years when I was working two jobs, playing in three or four musical groups, and writing on the side, that I saw the memorable and unmistakable “you’re overdoing it” look in her eye.
As a child, I did everything I could to deny the truth of her warnings. She was just engaging her usual overprotectiveness, I thought, as I sulked inside while my friends went dashing through the snow. As an adult, I prided myself on “taking it to the limit,” working all day and then playing concerts at night, rushing hither and yon, not getting enough sleep, and stressing about all of it.
Most of the time all that overdoing it caught up with me, just like it did when I was a kid. I had chronic sinus infections for years, never knowing when I woke up each day if I’d have a raging fever, a pounding head, and laryngitis. Even with those infections running rampant, I’d continue to do and over-do, until one year I ended up with pneumonia. (I knew I was in trouble when I didn’t have enough air to blow out the Silent Night candle during the Christmas Eve service at church.)
But in the past three years, I’ve been SO healthy. I also live incredibly simply in comparison to those days of running hither and yon, trying to do everything for everybody. I get plenty of rest, eat regular meals, I’ve retired from my job and cut back on musical activities. I have the luxury of picking and choosing what to do with my time and energy, and I’ve decided to do a lot less in favor of more time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
But friends, I slipped. Last weekend I overdid it.
And I have been SO sick.
I wasn’t feeling well at the start of the weekend, one that was to include the annual retreat for my handbell group. We’re preparing for the Christmas season, which means lots of music and choreography to learn. So we meet for a weekend of intense rehearsal. Friday night from 5-9. Saturday from 9-5. Then our regular rehearsal time on Monday from 9-1. Most of that time is spent standing, concentrating, thinking about music and technique and when to throw the snowballs during Jingle Bells (you have to see one of our concerts to know what I’m talking about). On Friday night I was already achy and tired, and my digestive system was a little out of whack.
No big deal, I told myself. But Saturday morning I felt worse. I clearly recall telling myself, “you just have to stop thinking about it and get this done.”
The same old philosophy I employed all those years ago when overdoing it was my modus operandi.
I got it done, and got Monday’s rehearsal done as well, along with driving my mom to a doctor’s appointment afterwards.
When I finally got home Monday afternoon, I crashed. My body felt like it had been run over by a steamroller. My stomach was on a roller coaster ride, and most of it was downhill at breakneck speed.
I had overdone it big time, and the payback was hell.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? In my last post, I was writing about being so tender and loving with my body, of treating it with special care? And then I turn around and abuse it to the point of collapse. It’s easy to fall back into old habits, even when those habits aren’t good for us. I have a deeply ingrained sense of responsibility, and never blow off rehearsals or other obligations. Instead, I give myself the pep talk - you can do it, just get it done, you’ll be alright. And then I power through. While a certain amount of "powering through” adversity and illness is necessary and commendable, it sometimes results in dire consequences rather than happy congratulations.
Yesterday my dear husband stayed home from work and took over all my daily tasks - the grocery shopping, the errands, the dog feeding and walking - so that I could stay inside where it was warm and dry. I ate little bits of toast and drank cups of sweet tea and Vernors throughout the day. I kept a heating pad rotating around my aching back, neck, legs, and shoulders. I curled up in bed with warm puppies, in my favorite chair with books, on the sofa with last night’s Dancing With the Stars.
In short: the polar opposite of overdoing it.
I felt 100 percent better.
I’m back at my desk, busy writing out tomorrow’s to-do list in my head. But not far from my mind is the sound of my mother’s voice - “Be careful...you’re going to overdo it."
Not to worry, Mom. I learned my lesson.
At least until next time.