Learning how to be sick

I had intended my next post to be about my latest community yoga session. Unfortunately, my immune system had other plans.

I woke up last Friday with a sore throat, plugged sinuses, and fatigue. I had caught one of the glorious cold viruses that makes their rounds each year. This is realistically not a big deal. I just need some extra rest and fluids. After a week or so I would be back to normal. The issue is that I feel like I have had enough colds for a lifetime.

I started a medication last year for my Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) that represses my immune system. (For background on my RA diagnosis see my post “Call me Rexie”). Fortunately, this has been very effective at limiting my symptoms. Unfortunately, since my immune system is not operating at full capacity, I get sick easily.

Last winter I think I caught every virus I was even remotely exposed to. I rode on a public bus to an office where people did not often feel comfortable taking sick days. I was working in a petri dish. I ended up taking a lot of sick days and felt disconnected from the office. I was worried about my coworkers and my boss questioning my commitment. Eventually, I decided to talk to HR to find a solution. They were thankfully very understanding and we worked out a system where I was able to work from home some days. This helped a bit, but I was still sick often. I eventually decided to take a different job that allowed me to work from home most days.

This period was extremely challenging. My depression set in stronger than it had in years. I worried about others seeing me as lazy, and I began to see myself as worthless. In a culture where work and productivity is so much a part of our identity, who was I and what was I worth if all I could do most days was simply exist? Remembering these feelings now is heartbreaking. I wish I could tell myself back then how I was still me and worthy of being a member of society even if I could not do the things I used to do. Being sick is a fact of life. We cannot control it. What we need to do is learn how to ride the wave and not sink below the depths.

Something I have found interesting about illnesses such as the cold, is that it is helpful to find a balance of accepting you are ill, but not letting it rule over you. It is important to find a mental state that does not view your body as weak because it does not feel well, but rather sees its strength as it fights off an illness. I seem to get well quicker when I keep my mental state in a positive place and do not give in to negative thinking about myself and my circumstances. It is not a miracle cure, but it helps, and if nothing else, it makes being sick less miserable.

I wish I could say that I have figured out how to do this. While I get sick less often since working from home, when I do get sick it is still my natural inclination to wallow in self-pity and begin to head towards depression. At least now, I notice it is happening, and I am trying new methods to prevent a full descent.

Last weekend, I decided not to attend the community yoga session so I did not get others sick, but I still wanted to find a way to move my body. When I was sick for the majority of last winter, I usually did not exercise since I thought that exerting my body would drain my immune system of the energy it needed. However, it still took me a long time to get well and I was depressed the whole time. I believe that by not moving my body, I was not nourishing my mind with exercise as I usually do and I easily entered negative mental states. Maybe there was a may to move my body that did not require too much exertion, but still nourished my mind. I took a chance and searched online for “yoga when you are sick” videos. Low and behold I found a number of videos.

The yoga positions in the video I watched were gentle and did a lot to open up my body. When we are sick, our body’s tend to crumple up as we lay in bed or on the couch. It felt amazing to open up my body, release the tension that had built up, and to honor my body even when it was not operating at its usual strength. That night I got eleven hours of sleep and felt much better the next day. The combination of moving and honoring my body while still making sure to get extra rest seemed to do the trick for this particular cold.

Will this combination of restorative yoga and extra sleep always make me feel better? I don’t know. But what this did reinforce for me is the importance of, to use the cliche, “keeping your spirits up.” When I am sick, I will actively work toward this instead of wallowing in self-pity.

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