Don’t Soldier On

Most illnesses, acute and chronic, are caused by toxaemia, a build up of waste products and toxins within the blood, lymph and tissues. Toxaemia invariably follows a long period of what is known as enervation. This is where the person feels chronically tired, even after sleeping. It is where the vitality has gone, the spark missing, everything’s an effort. When we become chronically enervated, our bodies lack the required energy to clear the metabolic wastes and toxins, and we then manifest symptoms which are labelled “disease”. These two words- enervation and toxaemia– are the foundation of almost every health issue we have.

We live in a crazy world.

Many years ago, if someone was very sick or struggling to cope they would spend time in a convalescent home. Here, away from their daily stresses, in quiet surroundings, they would be able to rest and sleep as much as needed, relax in fresh air, unwind and allow their bodies and frayed nervous systems the time to naturally recuperate. This was the intervention of choice for many decades, and it worked well because it removed the person from any aggravation and irritation, and provided them with many of the appropriate biological conditions conducive for their recovery.

Convalescent homes no longer exist, at least not in Australia. They have been replaced by Day Visit Hospital Centres and Pain Clinics, and the ubiquitous use of pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs.

A number of years ago in Australia one pharmaceutical company marketed a pain and flu drug with the motto and jingle “ Soldier On, Soldier On…” The television advertisement was very clever and catchy. The message was simple and innocent enough: we all have so much to do today, we can’t let sickness, pain, or falling apart interfere with our lives. The solution was provided by this drug company: take this drug and you will, by virtue of the suppression of your symptoms, be able to get on with your hectic schedule. You will be able to soldier on! Put yourself last and your commitments first was the hidden message! Even the metaphor was brilliant. Soldiers sacrifice personal comfort for higher causes, so you are in honourable company. And, like the sacrificial soldiers, to soldier-on in the face of adversity, pain and discomfort was meritorious, even noble.

Today, it has become almost a badge of honour to “soldier-on”.

A few years ago I attended a compulsory Work Cover course on Work Injury Management, sanctioned by the Health Department. The recurring emphasis of the seminar was that Allied Health Therapists needed to encourage patients to resume their pre-injury work duties as soon as possible. This invariably meant the liberal use of pain killers and/or anti-inflammatory drugs, while at the same time recommending exercise and stretching sessions, which without drugs would more than likely be too painful.

I was not the only one shocked by this approach. One doctor in the audience asked the lecturer whether we were medicating these people too early in their recovery phase. The lecturer’s reply was emphatic: “we are not doing it early enough!” Pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications were to be commenced almost immediately, she continued, to enable the patient to begin stretching and exercising without feeling discomfort. The main goal? BTWASAP- Back To Work As Soon As Possible!

This was when I fully realised how divorced our society was, and in particular, our health-care system, from our own biological signals.

We are not only advised to eat when we are not hungry and drink when we are not thirsty, but now we are advised to immediately suppress our pain and discomfort by medicating it.

Soldier On! Soldier On! is now the 21st Century Mantra!

They don’t do this with horses, they rest them.

No wonder people are falling apart.

When I raise this point in my seminars, I am always surprised at how it resonates with so many people. I see couples turn to each other and nod, simultaneously acknowledging the truth in what I’m sharing about this modern world habit. Many people comment to me after the seminar that this point- the damage done to our bodies and minds by constantly soldiering on- is one of the main ‘Eureka Moments’ gleaned from the program. They knew they pushed themselves hard in their various roles, but they had never really understood the consequences to their mental and physical health of constantly soldiering- on.

When we habitually “soldier on”, we become, over time, profoundly enervated. This sets the stage for a toxic state of the body (of course compounded by other bad lifestyle choices such as poor nutrition, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, lack of sleep, stress, under or over exercise, lack of sunshine and so on).

You need to know this. Houston we have a problem! A tragic problem!

In my opinion, soldiering-on is today killing more people than soldiering!

What is Meant by Soldiering-On?

Soldiering-on is the daily, ingrained habit of pushing ourselves when tired, exhausted or in pain. It is the habit of forcing our body to say yes when it wants to say no! It has become so widespread that it could rightly be called an epidemic. Very few people, professionals and public alike, understand the ramifications of this habit, and just how much a risk factor for serious disease it is. Humans are the only animals that consistently ignore their body signals. The price we pay is our health.

Please don’t misunderstand this. Everyone in the western world pushes themselves at times in order to meet a deadline or fulfil an urgent commitment. A healthy person, with ample energy reserves, can cope well with this extra demand, even when tired. They will not “fall apart” because of the occasional case of pushing through tiredness or discomfort. This is not what causes the damage to the nervous system. It is the habitual, day-in, day-out tendency to keep going despite chronic tiredness or pain that constitutes soldiering-on.

It is the habit of always doing something. Never having an idle moment. If there is spare time, the person finds something to do- clean the bathroom, wash the car, clean out the garage, fix this or that, do the gardening, practice golf- whatever fills the time. Being tired is no excuse for the average person. Spare time is always to be filled doing something.

Children Are Suffering Burn-Out, Too!

For the most part it is adults who fall into the soldier-on habit. But just as in many other areas, the younger ones are now following suit.

Teenagers and those younger are increasingly suffering burn-out from soldiering-on.

They attend school, engage in after-school activities and many engage in competitive sports, which require very early training sessions and sometimes after school training as well. Then there are weekend competitions. I have seen many children brought to me by frustrated parents because the children have experienced twelve months of “hell” with different injuries and various health concerns.

The scenario follows a predictable and common pattern. Recurrent respiratory tract infections, colds, flu, sinusitis, tonsillitis, abdominal pains, sleep problems, concentration issues, joint and muscle injuries – these are just some of the presenting problems experienced.

Enervation is invariably present. Remember, enervation is a marked drop in vitality, in daily energy. The spark is absent! Our nerve force is compromised. This drop in vitality is chronic- for months, often years- not just a day here and there.

Tired and often exhausted, the child is taken to a doctor, paediatrician, alternative therapist and back to the doctor, but, despite all the therapists’ best intentions, the frustration often remains. If not an illness, it is an injury. If it not one anti-biotic, it is another, then double-strength. Different vitamins and tonics are often resorted to in desperation.Often the child is simply too exhausted to train or even go to school. Mood changes are observed. They go quiet, sometimes become angry. Their study is affected.

In the extreme cases of burn-out, the result is time off school as well as training. Commonly, the diagnosis of Glandular Fever, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Epstein-Barr Virus, Ross River Virus or any other label is given. As the situation worsens, the family is forced to curtail the child’s every activity. Intense frustration turns to acceptance. Stop everything! No more soldiering-on!

The warning signs – the illnesses, the chronic enervation (tiredness), the repeated injuries- were instigated by the body as alarm bells, but were not properly listened to, and the body then escalated its protests.

Both adults and children pay a heavy price when symptoms are routinely suppressed. Tiredness is a symptom, and symptoms are simply protests on behalf of our bodies imploring us to make changes.

Our symptoms are not enemies.

They are allies in disguise.

They are the body’s way of saying “thou shalt not” or “please do things differently!”

In all age groups people’s lives have become so fast-paced, with so many commitments, responsibilities and chores, that it would appear we have no choice but to soldier on.

This of course, is a delusion. We do have a choice. And we have to make choices which work with our natural biological signals.

Soldiering –On in More Ways Than One

There are those who never stop during the day, and despite feeling tired, manage to get through their commitments with stimulants like coffee, tea, chocolate, sugary snacks, refined and processed foods, soft drinks and so on. These stimulants, as we have seen, provide a short burst of stimulated energy only to be followed by a pronounced drop an hour or two later.

This sets up the pattern, or loop, of going from stimulant to stimulant, until tiredness turns to exhaustion and exhaustion turns to sickness or injury. Many people commence their day with caffeine and close it with alcohol, both in fact stimulants.

This is one of the main routes to falling apart!

However, there are some individuals who display stoic indifference to their exhaustion and, in the absence of stimulants, still manage to push on through their fatigue. They run on empty, and they too are in a perpetual state of enervation, or energy debt.

Always be mindful that chronic tiredness, or especially exhaustion, is when we are more likely to tweak, pull, or spasm a muscle or strain some part of our body, especially our backs, and off for treatment we go. People are often surprised at how these injuries occur on the slightest movement. “ But I hardly did anything”, is an anguished refrain I commonly hear.

Tragically for those less fortunate, more serious events can also occur. We are more likely to suffer a catastrophic health issue when in a perpetual state of exhaustion through soldiering-on.

Then there are those who enable themselves to keep going with the assistance of regular pain and anti-inflammatory medication. They push not only through tiredness and exhaustion, they also push through pain. Regular headaches, back aches, hip pain, deep bone pain, a feeling commonly described as a “dull tooth-ache in the neck and shoulder-blades”, heavy legs and many other symptoms can be caused or exacerbated by deep-seated, chronic tiredness.

We compound such problems by routinely medicating them to suppress the pain and discomfort. Although widely engaged in and indeed socially acceptable, this is a form of personal disrespect. It is disrespecting the body’s intelligent signals or symptoms, and by ignoring and suppressing them, we are heading for trouble.

The habit of soldiering-on through pain medication is particularly dangerous to one’s long term health, and is a stepping stone to, and a hallmark of, falling apart. It bears repeating that I am not referring to the very occasional time where severe pain is alleviated through medication. Severe pain is not to be endured. One of the blessings of modern medicine is just that- the relief of incapacitating pain.

To compound matters, some people even take pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications as a prophylactic when no pain or discomfort is experienced at the time. In other words, pain killers are sometimes taken to prevent any pain in the immediate future. Such a practice increases the toxic load of the body, causes the specific side-effects of the drug on top of that, and renders the body’s warning signals null and void! This invites more serious metabolic breakdown over time.

Imagine a horse trainer ignoring his horse’s signals by giving him coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks and even drugs to mask the tiredness and pain in order for the horse to soldier-on? A ludicrous image. In fact, to do so is against the law!

They respect their animals too much to allow this to happen, and besides, the trainers know the outcome would be financially disadvantageous: the horse would fall apart, run last and then require longer to recover.

It isthe ninthwonder of the world how we expect ourselves to do what we would not expect animals to do!

The Importance of Rest and Sleep

Almost without exception, those who are falling apart are enervated (exhausted). Declining health and exhaustion are bedfellows. I cannot recall one person who, complaining of a number of health issues over time has said they have lots of energy. The majority of those falling apart are experts at soldiering-on!

Soldier-on……fall apart! Soldier-on………fall apart! Get the picture?

The epidemic of habitually soldiering-on when tired or in pain is a fairly recent social trend. It is also quite unique to modern industrialised societies. It is not inbuilt into the human genome! It is an acquired habit.

In traditional South American, Asian and Mediterranean cultures they would routinely restore their energy with siestas, or afternoon naps. This was a sensible intervention taken as a way of life, and viewed as normal in these countries.

This health- restoring “time-out” break, during which tired nervous systems recharge and tight muscles relax, is still practiced, although less commonly amongst the more westernised young people of those societies. It was a wonderful interlude in a long day that promoted a more relaxed way of life, a more balanced and healthier way of life.

Siestas are not part of the modern American, British and Australian cultures, and it is to our detriment. Instead we soldier-on, forcing our tired bodies with stimulants and drugs!

With the intense work schedules of many people, and few available amenities to rest anyway, it is often not possible to stop and nap, and to do so would risk inviting perplexed looks from co-workers and admonishing looks from bosses.

Even short breaks of one or two minutes are very restorative and beneficial, where the eyes are closed and the shoulders are relaxed.

In such circumstances where midweek naps are impossible, weekend naps are of great benefit.

Soldiering –On has Risen in Lockstep with Stimulant and Pain-Killer Use,

The average person in Australia, man woman and child, takes more than 150 pain killers per year, or over 12,000 in their lifetime. This is over 3 pain killers per week . 50% of all painkillers are for headaches. This is a scary statistic.

As Dr Joel Fuhrman states: “Anything that takes away symptoms rapidly or makes you feel better rapidly is likely to be a health hazard” .

Exceptional circumstances aside, pushing oneself or soldiering-on is a habit that can and must be broken, in order to stop this insidious nerve leak that drains our vital energy and sets us up for a toxic state of sickness, serious illness and injuries. For the future of your own health, do not allow yourself to become profoundly, chronically enervated. Do not soldier on, and you will not fall apart! Ignore this at your own peril!