I recently ordered myself a cheap essential oil diffuser on Amazon. Not knowing that the same day I received it in the mail I would start to feel ill, I opened the box and the instruction manual. All I had to do was complete the  simple process of filling a measuring cup to the line, pouring the water into the base, adding three to six drops of essential oil and plugging it in. I crawled into bed and fell asleep to the smell of lavender filling my room.

When I awoke, my fever was gone, but my body was still aching. I had a sore throat and my body felt too heavy to lift out of bed. I messaged my co-worker, letting her know I couldn’t make it into work. I cancelled plans with a friend I had been planning to get brunch with. I sent the friend who’s birthday party I had missed because I felt ill the night before a message. I couldn’t help but feel this huge sense of guilt. “Ugh, I’m letting people down.”

I continued to feel this way until my mom shared Firoozeh Dumas’s story in The New York Times article “After Surgery in Germany, I Wanted Vicodin, Not Herbal Tea” with me.

Dumas describes conversations with her doctors in Munich leading up to her hysterectomy. She was convinced she would need painkillers stronger than ibuprofen to deal with the pain. Her gynecologist and anaesthesiologist told her otherwise.   

“The anesthesiologist explained that during surgery and recovery I would be given strong painkillers, but once I got home the pain would not require narcotics. To paraphrase him, he said: ‘Pain is a part of life. We cannot eliminate it nor do we want to. The pain will guide you. You will know when to rest more; you will know when you are healing. If I give you Vicodin, you will no longer feel the pain, yes, but you will no longer know what your body is telling you. You might overexert yourself because you are no longer feeling the pain signals. All you need is rest. And please be careful with ibuprofen. It’s not good for your kidneys. Only take it if you must. Your body will heal itself with rest.’”

Following her surgery, Dumas drank tea. Mint tea, fennel tea, homemade chai with ginger, cardamom and pepper. Following her doctor’s instructors, “You must sit in one place and enjoy this cup, slowly.”

After a week, Dumas had her stitches removed and told her doctor, “I rested.”

“Normally, I would have said, ‘I did nothing,’ but I didn’t say that. I had been healing, and that’s something.”

I think this story is a powerful reminder of the importance of listening to our bodies. Listening and not numbing. I can identify for myself several numbing mechanisms I use when experiencing both physical and emotional pain. Mindlessly scrolling through social media, eating and watching Netflix, to name a few.

As hard as it was for me to not feel bad for calling off work, cancelling plans with a friend and missing a birthday party, I needed to listen to my body. I needed to rest and drink tea slowly.

My hope for each of us in this beloved community of Goshen College is that we pay more attention to our bodies. Let’s listen to what doesn’t feel healthy or sustainable and having the courage to choose rest over numbing. Let’s be in tune with our own pain and stop dismissing our own needs. Who knows? We may become more in tune with one another’s needs as a result.