For the past 2 years, I’ve been teaching kindergarten. As adorable as my kids are, they are also germ-mongers. Some of them have yet to master the skill of hand washing WITH soap, and have been known to sneeze and cough directly into my mouth. I’m still a pretty new teacher, so I’m sure I’ll eventually develop a resistance, but for now, it’s their germs against mine, and I’m losing.
Last winter, I got pneumonia and had to stay in bed for 4 weeks. My temperature was 104.3 when I went to the hospital, and when I had my chest x-rayed, the technician loudly exclaimed, “WHOA.” (Just what every girl wants to hear about their internal organs…) This winter, I’ve been fighting a chest infection slash disgusting cough for 6 weeks. I haven’t felt well, and my energy has been much lower than usual. It’s been rough.
I struggle with being sick because I’ve always thought of myself as someone with an immune system of steel. I typically can kick whatever bug comes my way with a few days of rest, fluids, and positive thoughts. For some reason, I haven’t been able to do that lately. As a result of my discomfort with being sick, I’ve felt the need to explain my “general healthiness” to everyone I meet. Here is a conversation I had with a kind and concerned cashier at Whole Foods:
Cashier: “Oh it sounds like you are fighting a cold. Try having some extra ginger this week or getting a wellness shot from our juice counter.”
Me (because I’m a polite Canadian): “Thanks so much – I’ll have to do that.”
But here’s the conversation I wanted to have…
Me – “Just so you know, in 12 years of public school and 3 university degrees, I never missed a single day due to sickness. And in 3 years at my last job, I took ONE sick day because I had FOOD POISONING… but the next day I was right back at work.”
So, it would seem I have some issues when it comes to being sick.
As evidenced above, I’ve noticed all kinds of defensive feelings popping up when others chime in with advice (or simply notice) that I’m still sick. When this happens, it feels as though they are saying I’m not doing what I should be doing. I know this is really just my own inner critic, as I have a tendency to believe everything is within my control, and therefore, if something goes “wrong,” I have no one to blame but myself. In other words, I got sick because I did something wrong. I am still sick because I am still doing something wrong. I also feel guilty when I’m sick because it impacts people who typically count on me. It disrupts the flow and routine, and often requires others do more because I am doing less.
So here is my “Sickness Manifesto.” I’ve been saying this to myself in an effort to change the tape that plays inside my head:
“It is ok that you are sick. You are human and these things happen to everyone. Slow down… it is only temporary. You are not required to be perfect, and your value is not lessened by how many days you’ve had a cold. Even if your current sickness is entirely your fault, that is ok. That is life. Perhaps you were holding all the unwashed hands, kissing the city’s pavement, putting your nose in the soot, and being so IN life that the germs got in – but so did the joy. Accept what is. This too will pass, and you will still be you.”