When sickness calls
Prompted to write this from my bed while I’m ill (or sick since we are in America!), with zero energy for much else, and a cough that stops me from sleeping, yet my mind has wandered into what it finds curious - and that’s considering what happens with our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors when we get sick.
Inherently I am not a good sick person. I am impatient, I worry, I try to push through, it takes a lot for me to properly give in to it, I resist taking medicine unless I absolutely have to, yet I’ll also try and do all I can to get to the root cause of why I’m sick and get myself better asap.
I’m not Superwoman
Every time I’m sick I learn a thing or two, not least that I’m human - I’m not Superwoman (although I wish I was on some, ok many, days) and I have to rest in order to recover and heal. It’s a humbling experience, and ironically, when I do surrender into rest, my body responds and starts to heal, but it’s a tussle for a while until I finally relinquish.
I grew up in the U.K. and learned that you only go to the doctors if you are really really sick, and you only go to hospital if you’re in true dire straits. I learned from a young age, thanks to my family, that there are many things I can do to support my recovery. When I start to get sick; drink more water, take vitamin c and zinc, use homeopathy, cut out all dairy and sugar, eat fruit and veggies, cancel plans (I really struggle with this one), stay at home, get early nights, sleep, rest (not good at this either), and do all you can to give your body a bit of support while it fights what it’s fighting. Then at some point trust your instincts and if you need medical help, go get it. Instinct is a good one, learning when to get and accept medical help is important, and admittedly I probably leave it a little too long before I accept I need some medical support - 1) Because I never think I’m really sick enough for medical care, and in time I’ll be better, 2) I don’t want to take up time from someone else who really needs the doctor, and 3) I just don’t want the additional spend (said the entrepreneur living in the U.S.).
Emotions & My Monkey Mind
Despite this relatively good foundational approach I still find it incredibly difficult to take my own medicine. The guilt I pile on when I start to pull back and rest increases, the conversations that play out for a while in my mind go along the lines of… “how can you rest, you have work to do, you have family commitments, friend commitments, other people wouldn’t cave like this.” It’s like my own monkey mind notices an opportunity to pounce and adds insult to injury. All until I turn around and say “well ok, so what, I just don’t care.” and the monkey mind runs off into the distance and I begin a good dose of rest. Incidentally I think the “I don’t care” flippant comment is actually code for saying, “I do care, in fact I care so deeply that I’m going to prioritize and look after myself and rest.”
Dealing with those additional emotions when you’re sick can be hard work though. I’m a worrier, I wonder what my symptoms are and how long I’ll be sick. I’ve long given up googling as that never ends well. In the history of googling ‘The Google’ has never given me the right diagnosis - ever. So I learned not to google as that just fuels fear and that’s not helpful or healthy. Yet I do still worry, unnecessarily, and that takes up energy - energy my body would probably appreciate using to get me back to glowing health, yet we tussle! Breathing techniques and meditating help me to relieve that worry, even if it’s the last thing I want to do when I’m feeling under the weather, but I persevere as on the scales of google vs meditation, meditation wins every. single. time!
The idea of forced rest can literally terrify people, it sends me scurrying around for a while until I give in. We all love the idea of luxury, hand picked, choose what, when and how you rest kind of rest, but when it’s forced upon you, at the most inconvenient time (usually) it is not easy to adjust to. Are we so used to being over the top busy we can’t stop? When presented with the idea of alone time, quiet, no phone, no computer, no colleagues, no family, no noise, being with the physical or emotional pain of our health concern, and our own thoughts, it’s enough to make even the toughest human scrabble to find a commitment we just can’t get out of. While we can adjust to feeling unwell because it’s familiar and we believe we can control it, the perceived discomfort of rest is like inviting your monkey mind out for dinner and giving it the car keys to drive you. Heck no! Avoid at all costs.
I’m not sure which comes first, whether you begin to consider you have to cancel plans and then you’ll rest, or you recognize you need to rest and then you cancel plans. It doesn’t matter, the point is, you reach the conclusion that plans need to be cancelled. So, why is it so hard to cancel plans? This is my biggest achilles heel. Perhaps because I learned that when you make a plan, you commit to it, and you follow through on it. Perhaps it’s FOMO. Perhaps it’s fear of my monkey mind. Perhaps I worry about what other people will think. Perhaps it’s that I just don’t want to believe I’m sick and if I keep going I’ll somehow trick myself into being healthy again.
However, thank goodness that sickness has taught me that it’s ok to cancel plans, even if I still find it hard. Sometimes without knowing I’ve created space for other people involved to do something different, for reasons I may never know about. Or perhaps I was never supposed to be part of that particular occasion and my experience and lesson was going through the cancelling, or perhaps the ebb and flow of people coming together is universally shuffling for better reasons, again ones I’ll never know about.
When finally I have faced my emotions, hung out with my monkey mind, and cancelled some plans, along side all the other things, then rest can happen. Sometimes, the best medicine in the entire world is rest, yet it takes such a lot for us to do it. To rest, to sleep, to be peaceful and quiet. It’s easy to come up with reasons why rest is impossible, I’m a professional at that. Yet when I finally relinquish that’s when somehow my body responds with a cheer of “Hooray! She finally got it! Now we can get to work on getting her better instead of trying to convince her she needs to rest.”
It took me a while to get the message about rest, and it got worse being in New York. I’ve witnessed a culture here that is different to the U.K. New York is a culture of not resting, of not being sick, and if you are, then take a pill, and press on through. The symptoms can be managed by medication, and you can keep working and running at 150% capacity. I signed up and thought that’s what you had to do in order to thrive here, keep running around that hamster wheel ‘cause if you stop the wheel will stop and you might not get it started again.
Now that’s fear in action. Let’s be clear, no-one ever said “keep going don’t rest”, but it is a sort of implied undercurrent to the culture here, without intent, that many subscribe to. You learn to keep going no matter what. Eventually your body will stop you though. Mind did and floored me for 3+months to get my attention. Along the way I had learned to stop listening to myself about what my body needed, and used the marker of what everyone else was doing and saying to keep up. Keep working and burning the candle at both ends. Comparison is 100% useless when it comes to your own body and health.
Listening to my body, trusting it, and having the confidence to act on it is one of the greatest gifts sickness has taught me.
Every time I’m sick I get to practice listening to my own body. We have all experienced being ill and we’ll get recommendations and advice from family, friends, doctors, practitioners and the likes, but what I’ve realized is I don’t always have to accept and respond to what they offer and do what they say. They only trying to be helpful and kind but I’ve found out that sometimes the advice just doesn’t feel right for me. I can’t always explain why, and I’ve also realized I don’t need to either. I don’t need to justify or rationalize why. I can find strength and wisdom in trusting my instincts for me, without allowing other people to influence me about what I should or could do.
Today was a hard cancel lesson. I really didn’t want to, but I knew I was just struggling to function, everything (and I mean everything) has been an effort and I can sense my body needs quiet and rest. So, I trusted myself and cancelled dinner plans tonight with a group of incredible women who I admire and adore being with. I’m trusting the resting process, and taking care of myself is important, so I can get back to being well again when my body has done it’s hard work.
Benefits to being sick? You’ve got to be kidding you must be thinking.
Each time I’m sick I have time to reflect, ponder, adjust, and learn again and again About self-care, self-compassion, kindness and forgiveness.
Each time I’m ill I find out a little bit more about myself, and if the experience has an ah-ha moment all the better. Sometimes I get a renewed and revived sense of my next adventure, sometimes I’ll learn that a habit I have is not healthy and my body needs me to adjust, sometimes I don’t get anything, I’m just sick and then I’m better and I’m on my way again. But all in, I’m learning to trust my body, I’m learning it’s working for me, not against me. I’m learning it’s communicating with me in a way that says “something is out of balance and I’m right sizing you right now, be patient.” (Maybe that’s why we are called ‘patients’ when receiving medical care.. it’s about learning to be patient with ourselves?). I’m learning my body is doing its absolute best to get me back to full health in a way that may take longer than I’d like, and it doesn’t need me to always muscle in on what it’s doing, sometimes it just needs me to stand back, be still and rest.
To think, if I had gone out as planned tonight while it would have been amazing to see those wonderful souls, it’s likely to have hampered my recovery process, and I also wouldn’t have written this! So, if this helps just one person reflect on their own resting needs when they’re sick next time, then this period of sickness has a silver lining.