I have a cold. This is not the first sentence I wanted to write here in 2015, but unfortunately, that’s the truth. Luckily, the illness didn’t present itself until I returned from my Christmas vacation, so I was able to thoroughly enjoy my time at home in Florida, visiting friends, relaxing and enjoying the warmer temps (80 degrees most days! Oh how I long for that now…). I believe I caught said cold from the airplane ride back to the city, and the more people I preach that theory to, the more backup I receive that yes that is indeed the most likely scenario. But in addition to the sore throat, vice-like nasal congestion and a cough that would easily clear a large room, I experienced some other feelings: guilt, shame and a complete sense of failure.
While I agree these sound like extreme emotions to experience with a cold, if you’re a health-minded individual, like me, I imagine you may have encountered these sensations before. When we pride ourselves on “being healthy”, sometimes that leads us to attempt unattainable goals, like never getting sick. Ever. Viewing the act of falling ill as a failure, saying, “how could I allow this to happen to me?”. When I first fell ill, I told anyone who would listen “I haven’t been sick in years! All my medicined and herbs at home were expired because I am just so darn healthy all the time!”. I turned getting sick into a fault, something that happened to people who didn’t take good care of themselves; a weakness; a character flaw.
It took me a couple of days to come to this realization. Luckily, sitting at home with little energy to do much else left plenty of time for self-reflection. Although being sick has been dreadful and I long for the day when I feel well again, this experience has taught me a few interesting lessons that I hope to carry with me throughout the new year:
1. I am only human. I may eat my weight in kale, drink tons of water, wash my hands frequently and work out almost daily, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the vulnerabilities that come with being a living, breathing human being. No matter how well you take care of yourself, if you’re stuck on a plane for hours with a woman one row away from you freely coughing into the recycled air, you’re probably going to get whatever she’s got. The fact that I immediately began to beat myself up for catching a bug showed me that I need to stop and think about the reality of the situation before passing judgement. Would I tell a friend who is sick “well, that’s all your fault you know! You shouldn’t have eaten that cookie and drank that champagne and watched that marathon of Inside the Actor’s Studio instead of going out for a walk!”. No. If I did, I’d be quite lonely. So then why would I say those same things to myself? I needed to treat myself with kindness and give myself permission to be human. The more I embrace this, the faster I believe I will heal, and the better I can deal with an illness next time (and yes, no matter how hard I fight it, eventually there will be a next time).
2.The importance of rest. One of the main things you hear when you get sick is that you need to rest. But what exactly does that mean? I know that my initial approach is to plop down on the couch and click on the TV or start reading all the online articles I’ve been saving up in my reading list for weeks. But after a while of doing that, my body felt more stiff and my symptoms would sometimes seem to get worse. I learned that I need to focus not just on “resting” but doing things that are “restful”. Luckily, I was able to take about a day and a half within the week to stay home and focus just on taking care of myself, thanks to some very understanding clients. After sitting for a while I would get up, do some gentle stretches, walk around and get the blood flowing a bit, trying to loosen some of that awful sinus pressure. I incorporated some restorative poses into my day, especially gentle chest openers to attempt to relieve congestion and cough. I would do a bit of light cleaning, a quick sweep of the floor or organizing some things on my bookshelf. Taking these little breaks throughout the day allowed me to not only to get my body moving, but also to keep me out of that “woe is me” funk I often get in when I’m sick. It can be easy, especially since I live alone, to wallow in this feeling, but I have to keep reminding myself “this too shall pass.” Which leads me to my last revelation…
3. We don’t realize how good we’ve got it until it’s gone. It often takes an illness, of any severity, to recognize how little we value our everyday health. We tend to gripe about our daily aches and pains and how we wish our bodies looked like, moved like, felt like…but we rarely acknowledge how miraculous our bodies are and how much they do for us every day. It might sound silly, but I’ve found that it’s important to literally thank my body for doing it’s job. As each phase of this illness passes, I say “thank you for getting rid of that sore throat. You knocked that out in one day! Now I know I have to deal with this cough, but I know you’re doing your best and it will be gone soon.”. I’m not sure how long it will last once I recover, but I plan to take the time to acknowledge my body and my health more often and be grateful for the fact that my body is healthy enough to tackle this cold and get it the heck out of here.
I’m hoping I’ve only got another day or two left of this cold, and I won’t say I’m glad I got sick, but I will say I’m grateful that I was open and available to allow it to teach me these lessons that I too often ignore when I’m well. I wish you all a healthy and happy New Year and remind you that even though it might not always go our way, there’s always something to be gained from every experience.