Thanks to my wonderful Australian Latin teacher in HS, who put up with me breaking on my tongue her treasured language for four painful years, much pain for both of us, I am appreciating the word “convalesce”. Con (with) + valere (to wish well, hale, healthy) = convalesce, which is a much neglected concept in our culture. Yes, we associate it with people getting over a long illness, but even then we (I’m using the macro ‘we’) tend to be impatient about it—whether it’s our own illness or someone else’s. The concept of emotional convalescence gets short shrift, indeed. However: profound emotions use a lot of energy. (Sorrowfully, not calories). They wipe us out, deeply, both physically and psychologically, and convalescence is necessary. It may not be possible while in the midst of crisis—but at some point ‘the tab comes due’.
Ours is a tough culture. It is “innocent of knowledge” (phrase Gandhi used when he didn’t know something) about the toll of emotional travail. We struggle for credibility with invisible illnesses, and so many are (cancer, IBS, slipped disc, etc). Imagine our lack of credibility when we are in emotional travail! Blood running down the chest gains sympathy; broken limbs will do, as well. Emotional suffering is brushed aside with platitudes (what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; just think of happy things; aren’t you over that yet??) How are we going to take care of ourselves if we are trained away from even being aware of the systemic toll that our bodies pay when we are drenched in tough emotions? Contemplate (or shrink from) the clench of fear, the fierce, scorching flames of anxiety; the life-sucking ‘black hole’ of depression; the literal heart-pain that accompanies the agony of loss… These things take energy! Recovering from emotional suffering is as daunting and time consuming as recovering from a tough illness.
Our emotions, be they ever so tough at times, are what make life worthwhile. We interpret the world through our feelings, and this goes on all the time. As written in the preceding blog, we may be immeasurably deepened by our journey in the emotional realm. “Happy” is lovely; I love feeling that way—along with contented, at ease, comfortable, loved and loving. “Ease” unfolds her gossamer gowns, and we fall back on the grass/ couch/ bed in a rapture of relief. No need to convalesce after enjoying these delicious emotions! But life is not made of relaxation and “Happy” is a false god to worship—in spite of the millions spent in advertising to promote it. We don’t dig deeply into ourselves, find our mettle, call forth amazing capacity, unless we are challenged to do so. And Life is guaranteed to provide that challenge for everyone, one way or another.
Digging deep, and sometimes simply surviving the tough stuff, is exhausting work. Picture a miner chipping rock deep underground. The passage is narrow, the press of immense weight is felt on all sides. When the torch flickers, shadows dance strangely on the walls and if the torch goes out: utter darkness. All of us, rich and poor, here and on the other side of the world, will have such passages in our lives and we will be emotionally stretched to the breaking point, and hopefully not past it. Then we need to convalesce. An important process goes on during emotional convalescence, and that is the integration of new material about self—along with regaining physical strength.
What does emotional convalescence look like? Well, it looks the same as that which is needed after physical illness: rest. Eat easy-to-digest foods, handle self gently, increase exposure to nature, reduce exposure to toxins and stressors and, in general, bunker in. It requires patience with Self (we can get so impatient, can’t we?). A long stretch of anxiety, or coming out of an intensely anxious situation, asks of us that we consider our entire ecosystem (body, mind, emotions, spirit) and adjust our behavior accordingly. If you have safe (be they clueless) others in your life, you may want to USE YOUR WORDS to let them know what you need. It is so disappointing that mind-reading is not part of the human package! So in-gather your potency by asking for what you need. Post a “handle with care” sticker on your forehead. Remember that speaking about what you have been through, and how you are feeling, is part of convalescing. Timing is everything, so pick a time when your peeps are not, themselves, super stressed.
Emotional convalescence enables us to recover our physical, mental and emotional strength—because ALL of them take a hit when we go through travail. May you have safe and loving people in your life who welcome your words and support the "aftermath": your need to convalesce.