Body Talk

The Instagram wellness world counsels “listening to your body” above all—perfect advice for a procrastinating hypochondriac like me.

A mug of tumeric tea with lemon.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by RobynRoper/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Recently, I noticed a cramp in what I thought might be my kidney, which I understood to be near the ribs. For a few days, I wondered if this cramp was getting serious, so serious that it could be an infection. There were no other signs of infection, and in fact my kidneys seem really healthy, based on what I remember from Googling kidneys a few years ago when I wondered at that time if I had an infection as well. But even without signs, the cramp remained. I couldn’t stretch it away, despite knowing every stretch. And a few nights after the cramp appeared, I was so cold. Even though it makes sense that I was cold because I had taken off the leggings I was sleeping in case they were bothering the kidney infection, I wondered if that chill might be related to everything else. If I really thought about it, especially if I thought about it while remaining absolutely still, I wondered if I might be dying.

When I mentioned this to my mother, she said “you are not dying,” and then asked me how my writing was going. I ignored that because I wanted to focus on my kidney. Later, when I re-Googled kidney infections, I found out they’re not really where the cramp was, and also that cramp disappeared. But then a new pain appeared, and this made me think there must be something else wrong, something less named and more mysterious overall.

Realizing Google and my mother were never going to solve my problems, I turned to social media instead. Immediately I found the root of my pain on Instagram, where everyone is much more focused on how and why our bodies are terrible. You are not dying, users across the app told me, but you are in trouble. The solution was simple: Stop listening to anything else and listen to only your body instead.

Captions from people who were broken like me—in an invisible way that you can’t describe fully and that might not even be necessarily bad—explained how we’d gotten here. Sometimes what I need is to take a break and just focus on me, just let myself talk, just hear what my body is telling me, I read, and I thought, I need to do that too. I realized it was insane to try and get anything done at all without first taking the time to assess how my body felt, not just about doing work, but also about the desire to do work, which might be the problem to begin with. In the past, the answer to whether or not I was too sick to write 800 words was clear and brief: No, probably not. But now, on Instagram, the truth was revealed: Maybe, yes.

I mix one part lemon and one part ginger and one part turmeric into warm water and apple cider vinegar, I read one night when looking for a solution to how to feel better when you don’t feel perfect. I drink this in the morning when I’m feeling like something’s off. I wanted to ask her what she means when she says something’s off, but someone in her messages already had.

I’m not a doctor or anything so don’t take this like that, but sometimes we just need to slow down. She’s saying this while she sits in front of a plant, wearing a sports bra, and I want to hold the image and zoom in because I want to know what’s wrong with her, since it can’t be as bad as whatever’s wrong with me. I pay attention to what my body is telling me, and I try to give it what it’s asking for.

Under her influence, I want to give mine the same thing. Outside of my body, there’s so much noise. There are deadlines I’m ignoring, and there are jobs that I don’t want to hear back from, and there are people that I need to see in person instead of just texting, and there are so many errands; every day there are errands. If I tune all of that out and I hear only my body, what I hear first is peace. There is silence, finally, and it isn’t useless. This is necessary, I’ve been told by the experts, who legally must constantly remind me that they aren’t experts. But still they’re sure that I should turn everything off and go inward as often as possible.

I start every day by meditating, one caption told me, and I never get sick. I want that, sort of—it seems very dangerous, and maybe immoral—but more than anything I want that silence. I want to hear what my body is telling me because I want it to only be us in here. If I listen well enough and I hear something troubling, I know from countless Instagram Stories that I’m allowed to tell everyone else to leave us alone. We are struggling, I can write, we need a break. If I only listen to my body, I can’t hear my mother say, “A break from what, exactly?” And I can’t hear my editor say, “That’s fine, just let me know when you think you’ll feel better.” All I hear is us. We are so quiet, and we are so unwell, and what we need more than anything is more silence.

Once we’re well, what I think we’ll sound like is a scream. We’ll sound the way something trapped and forgotten sounds when it first sees the sun, and I don’t think anyone will want to listen to us anymore even if we’re giving them advice on how to better drink water. But this could take years of unauthorized meditation and healing, and I’m only barely interested in the final product. Actually, when we’re at our weakest, my body and me, I think we’re happiest. We can hear better this way. We can listen to the experts (legally not experts) instead.