How To Be Sick Well
I’m a bit unwell, and writing what I need to hear today.
Awhile ago I had a (congested) laugh when I was coming down with a cold and googled ways to think about minor illness. I’ll talk about the helpful advice below, but the funny one was an article about karma. It said that the cold was caused by something negative I’d done and I should be glad that it wasn’t worse – that it could have led to a horrible rebirth, such as a “hell being, hungry ghost, or animal.”
As entertaining as it is to think about being a hungry ghost (idea for my next short story), blaming me for my illness was NOT HELPFUL. When I got sick or hurt as a child, my family was angry at the disruption and burden it caused. I’d live in denial, ignoring symptoms until things either went away or got so bad I couldn’t hide them anymore. It took practice and caring friends for me to acknowledge illness calmly. Thinking my cold was payback for some misdeed in my past was not the route I wanted to take. Also, being reborn as an animal doesn’t seem like a punishment, at least not if I could pick (sea otter all the way – seriously, they have POCKETS! Shedd Aquarium on Instagram).
What advice was helpful?
I knew my thinking about the cold was making my situation worse. The physical symptoms were what you’d expect, my reaction to them felt out of proportion – that’s why I turned to google. I’ve since had different health issues, and find myself returning to these lessons. Illness is part of life, it’s as natural as joy, but my thinking gets clouded by pain and poor sleep and I need these reminders about how to be sick. How to be sick well.
Focusing on the present
Is step number one, basic. I let go of worrying about how I’m going to feel later in the week when I have to do some physical work, or if my nose will be drippy when I do a presentation (spoiler: It was. It was also nowhere near as bad as I’d imagined it would be.)
This is harder and more important with illness that might be a serious or long-term issue. I hear my brain saying, “What if [insert nightmare scenario here]?” and feel worse, of course – I can create some horrifying scenarios! So, I learned to take “What if?” as a cue to shift to “What is?”. What is happening right now? What is helping? What is my body able to do?
Mostly that I am not being reborn as a hell-being, and also that I have a comfortable place to rest. That my children are old enough to understand and take care of household tasks. With the cold, I could be glad it wasn’t something worse. Even with worse issues, I appreciate the chance to talk about health and aging with my kids. And a shoutout to Canada’s (flawed but… awesome) healthcare system 🙂🇨🇦
I wondered to myself, what would the Dalai Lama do? I think he would consider the seven billion souls on this planet and know that some of them are feeling illness. He would send kindness to them, compassion and empathy. I smile just having the loving-kindness thoughts. I send kindness particularly to those who don’t have the comforts I just felt gratitude for. I can empathize with people in my life facing their own challenges and learn from them too.
Letting tasks / productivity go
Rest has value. There are times – being sick is one of them – when rest has more value than most other tasks. When I’m unwell, I take responsibility for making sure the kids and I have food to eat and that’s about it. I do what work I can, and don’t do what I can’t. If I’m not obsessing about how awful it is to be sick, I can do a lot more than when I’m wallowing in self-pity.
I get sad about things I miss, or things I didn’t get done – I feel the sadness and it moves along, as all feelings do.
People like helping, I let them
Most people are glad to be of help. I know I feel a sense of belonging and usefulness when a friend or neighbour asks me into their life to give them a hand. (Bonus: Good karma!) I might not need much help to get through a cold, but with limited energy, my appreciation for small gestures expands like a get-well balloon.
So, I started writing this in a bit of a funk, hoping to talk myself into grace… and tada! It worked, and I will leave you with one more tip: When you answer your door in pyjamas at 3 pm on a sunny almost-summer day, people trying to sell you things make awkward apologies and leave quickly 🙂