Feeling Better Yet?
Illness is the doctor to whom we pay the most heed; to kindness, to knowledge, we make promises only; pain we obey.--Marcel Proust
You feel like you're dying, you look like you're dying, and you sound like you're dying," my doctor said while studying my lab slips and X-ray. "Thankfully, you're not. You've got a relapse of the flu, infected sinuses, and now pleurisy. I want you to take an antibiotic and go back to bed where you belong until you're well enough to be up, which could be another week to ten days." When I feebly protested that I'd already been sick with the flu for three weeks and that I was far behind in my work, my doctor nodded sympathetically. "Well, go home then, take your medicine, put on your pajamas," she advised, "and write a meditation about how important it is to take care of yourself when you're sick. But I will be very angry if the next time we meet it's in the hospital."
I did as I was told. Sort of. I send this dispatch from underneath the covers.
Most women don't go to bed when they're sick because they can't. The children still need to be taken care of, the work still has to get done, the meals still have to be made, life marches on. So you stagger around like Typhoid Mary until you drop. One morning you just can't move and with good reason. You're sick. For a day or two - at the most - you allow yourself a reprieve. Your mate and/or the children of the household solicitously inquire if there's anything you need, then quietly close the bedroom door so you can rest. Frequently, they'll poke their heads in to check on you because the sight of mother prone on the bed for more than two hours registers a 6.5 on their personal Richter scales. "Feeling better yet?" you're asked cheerfully. Eventually, after this question has been posed enough times, you say you do, even if you don't. You get out of bed, get dressed, and get ready once again to swallow swords while juggling flaming torches. The show must go on.
But sometimes we can't get up. Sometimes we're so run-down that we can't shake the flu standing up, or our bad cold becomes bronchitis or we break a bone, slip a disc. Sometimes the unthinkable confronts us: a lump in the breast, a high white-cell count, a whack on the head, chest pains that stun un into submission. We're not asked politely if we'd like to pause on the path for refreshing respite. We're abruptly ordered to a halt.
The deeply spiritual Southern writer Flannery O'Connor came to believe, "In a sense sickness is a place more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it's always a place where there's no company, where nobody can follow." The next time you're sick, stop feeling guilty about it. And quit operating under the deranged and dangerous delusion that it's all under your control. Instead of setting yourself up for a fall, give yourself permission to drop out for as long as you really need to in order to (1) get well and (2) gently explore this strange but temporary detour. Be as open to new insights as an inquisitive tourist would be.
If I'd never sustained a head injury ten years ago, I don't think I would have started my own business, written a syndicated newspaper column, or eventually published three books. My nearly two years arbitrary sabbatical provided me with the opportunity to strike out on a new path after I recovered. Every illness, from a cold to cancer, has a life-affirming lesson for us if we're willing to be taught. It can be simple or profound. Learining to take better care of ourselves in the future in order to stay healthy. Bringing more harmony into our daily affairs. Balancing our need for rest and recreation with the demands of responsibility. Appreciating the subtle nuances of the dark days as well as the light-filled ones. Seeking Wholeness as well as healing. Searching not just for a possible cure, but for the probable cause.
Flannery O'Connor searched for the positive aspects of her illness until she viewed her tutorial with lupus as "one of God's mercies." We may never become that enlightened. But the next time you're not feeling well, please cradle yourself gently with kindness and compassion. You'll be better for it.
-Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance - A Daybook of Comfort and Joy ©1995
I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes illness worthwhile.--George Bernard Shaw
I was very, very sick this week. I don't remember being that sick for quite some time back. I had enjoyed relatively good health over the last several years, with a single exception, which I thought might have been brought on by something I ate. Falling ill while getting started on another project at a remote location has a whole set of its own problems. It doesn't look good to the boss, like maybe you are slacking because you don't want to be there. Quite the opposite was the case. But I really was sick. So I stuck it out, the first day.
I didn't sleep well that night, and the next day was really bad. I was in a daze from the medication I was taking, I had a fairly high fever and it hurt to move. The project required field work of me, and I was in poor shape to wander up and down stairs and ladders, climb all over dusty old equipment. I felt terrible, but I was no quitter. Two hours into the job that day, I begged off and went back to my room for a few hours rest. I was back at work, then for another few hour of pure torture. Then I went back to the hotel and slept until the next day. In that 24-hour period, I slept for 15 hours of it. I needed the rest and recuperation, apparently. I felt better yesterday, and I am almost back to full speed today.
I don't usually take my health for granted, but I sometimes take it less seriously than it deserves. Karen Casey, author of Daily Meditations for Practicing The Course (in Miracles) suggests that we not ignore the possibility that there may be an inner cause for an illness - something we need to deal with, but may have left undone, unattended-to. She also points out that a shift in our perception of illness may change the way it affects our life. All I knew was that I wanted to make a good impression on the job. I am not a slacker, I am capable, I can do this... Dang!(hack, hack) I feel absolutely horrible, should I go home? I finally came to my senses, even if it was for a short time, but I did take a time-out. I was surprised at the speed with which I bounced back, grateful that I am able to work on during the remainder of the week. But, I am examining the whole illness thing that happened to me this week. I know there was a lesson in there for me.
I am associated with a great many older men, and one of those whom I have known for many years died of a sudden heart attack this week. He led a very active life, and was a true leader in his business and social endeavours. I am not saying that a high stress lifestyle did him in, but I know that at times there was a great deal of pressure on this man. I think he died too young, but that is my own opinion. My deepest sympathy for the loss of the family of Brother George. But, the last thing I want to do is to run myself into the ground (literally!) because I was too busy to notice what my body was trying to tell me; to work myself into an early grave, because I was too stubborn to admit that I needed to take a time-out and care for myself. Does anyone really think you are a slacker when you look like you have to feel a bit better before you can safely die, because you won't admit you are sick and go home? A shift in my perception of my own health and self-care would apparently be in order, too!
Do I feel better yet? Yeah. But I am keeping a close eye on things, and taking it slow. It has been an enlightening week.
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