Below the Surface

An EKG and Time Off

Below the Surface
Photo by Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash

“You’re going to the hospital,” my wife said. She was right, I needed to go.

A few years ago my chest began to tighten. I ignored this pain and went about my day while the work piled up. Five days later, the pain in my chest was too strong to ignore. After eating dinner, I told my wife about what I was feeling.

In the emergency room, the triage nurse took an EKG — a survey of my heart. Everything was normal. In fact, my heart was strong and healthy. But the pain in my chest was still present.

“Your pain is due to stress,” the doctor explained. I didn’t feel stressed. I was busy, sure, but stressed?

Of course my pain was stress induced, I just didn’t want to admit it. In my busyness, I had let things pile up and weigh down — quite literally — upon me. The stress had been building for some time, well before I noticed the pain.

Jeremy Bishop’s photo of the underwater Buddha garden is beautiful. Without spending the time to dive below the surface, an entire world would be left undiscovered.

Too often we skim along the surface of life. We move from one thing to the next without paying attention to ourselves. We praise being busy as a good thing. We move from event to event without taking time to pause and look below the surface — to listen to what our body is trying to tell us.

I fooled myself into believing there wasn’t time to address my pain. I was running along the surface, while below I was falling apart.

The doctor prescribed a week off from work. “No email and no phone calls,” he said. “Take a break and find ways to release stress.”

Since then, I learned how to listen to what my body is saying — to look below the surface. Through regular massage therapy and yoga, I pause and observe how I feel. I listen and I react.

While stress and being busy will never go away, spending time to dive deeper provides relief. I’m happier. I’m calmer. I sleep much better.

Listen to your body. Don’t ignore what’s going on below the surface.

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!