All my friends got sick over the holidays. Puking, sore throats, strep, you name it. Somehow I didn’t. Even my husband got a touch of it, but somehow he didn’t pass it to me even though we spend 8 hours a day in the same small space, sharing air.
I wondered what was different about this year. It’s been nineteen years – since I became a mom – of catching other people’s sicknesses over the holidays.
And then I remembered that one of my blood tests came back a few months ago showing significant deficiencies in some key vitamins and minerals, and so I started taking daily supplements. I also cleaned up my diet and greatly increased my sleep, while, at the same time, vigorously reducing my stress level.
I suppose I could be wrong, but here is my theory. I think my immune system was just strong. As we now know, catching illness has more to do with the state of the body that was exposed than the strength of the virus or bacteria. Generally, even a harsh bug can be introduced to a strong system and not find a home. But, when the subject is worn down from lack of sleep, too much stress, too much sugar, and a tired immune system, it succumbs easily to colds and flu.
This year, it happened to be that I was being extra mindful about good self care long before I would normally do that. You see, I’d normally wait for the first sniffle to show up. But this year, by the time it did, I’d already been pushing extra fluids, beefing up my daily sleep, pulling back on stress, and feeding myself immune boosting vitamins and minerals for months. And so, when I was exposed to whatever it was that infected all my friends, my body didn’t have much trouble fighting it off.
I wonder if our emotional and spiritual selves are that way too.
I mean, they are. There, I said it.
If we wait for the “first sniffle” to come before we kick in with self-care, we’ll probably succumb – at least temporarily – to whatever we are being faced with. When someone we once trusted slides a knife into our back – an experience so many of us have lived through, we completely collapse because there aren’t reserves to keep us going through those hard and painful moments. Or worse, when the cancer finally takes her or the adoption we thought was going to be wonderful really goes sideways and our happy family is now looking more like a morgue of corpses or our jobs are snatched away because of downsizing and we’re left wondering how we will keep the mortgage paid and the lights on – when the real stuff of life that happens to all of us at some point or another finally happens, we can’t stay standing. And it’s not necessarily because the thing itself should have the power to completely black out all happiness and resilience and ability to cope. It’s because we have long neglected ourselves to the point where even a shift in the wind can make us topple
There is a saying that goes like this, “Into every life a little rain must fall. And sometimes it pours.”
Lately I’ve been asking myself if perhaps it’s better to live in a way that prepares me for the unexpected heavy rainfalls that are inevitable rather than running myself on close to empty all the time. I always tell my kids that in the winter they should always keep their car tanks full. “Never let the empty light come on.” Why? Because when it does, you better hope to God it’s not thirty below zero with a wind-chill factor twenty degrees worse and that you’re too far from a gas station to fix the situation. So, because the stakes can be high when the temps are that low, never run yourself so close to empty.
What can I do today to protect me from what’s coming tomorrow? To fortify me for the times the rug gets jerked out from under me? In case the four most stressful situations in my life all hit the fan on the same day? In case someone I love unexpectedly leaves? In case the rain pours?
For me, here is what helps. Remembering that I’m a multi-system being. I am not just flesh and bones, but at the same time, I am comprised of those things. They are part of the entirety of me. I am not merely a being of emotion and feeling, but I am those things as well. Again, they are part of the many facets of me. My spirit is not the entirety of me, but indeed, I am spirit. I cannot neglect it and think it won’t catch up to me.
And so, because I am a being of flesh and bones, but also a being of spirit and emotion and feeling, I must care for and continually tend all parts of me. All the time. I can’t wait till the tornado shows up and the sirens are blaring to act if I want to survive it. Heck, even better… if I want to thrive. Because honestly, I’m sick of surviving things.
I’ve spent many years doing the pseudo version of self-care. You know that little idea that we all get so wrong. Don’t we think of self-care as the thing you do when trouble comes? But really, I think that if you find yourself in a situation where you must change courses entirely when trouble comes just to stay afloat, it’s proof that you’ve neglected real self-care.
If you think that self-care is about bubble baths and wine when you’ve had a bad day, you might be missing the boat.
For a strong soul: Meditation. Forgiveness. Contemplation. Solitude. Practicing the art of thankfulness. Looking for the grace of God in every situation. Both the happy moments, but especially in the stressful and painful ones.
For a strong mind: Reading. Writing. Journaling. Breathing in and breathing out – taking in new ideas and putting forth your own. Practicing the art of guarded thought. Not giving in to anger and anxiety.
For a strong body: Exercise. Clean food. Water. Vitamins and minerals. Sleep, and lots of it. Fight stress like it’s your real enemy, because it is.
For strong relationships: Strive to be interested rather than interesting. Be full of care rather than careful. Talk rather than holding in. Give rather than only taking. Show up. Be there. Take care of yourself in a way that you will have abundance to share. Forgive. Do not demand that all ills be atoned for. Empathize – put yourself in the other person’s shoes and walk a mile or two before taking any action or harboring any bitterness. Do not demand total elimination of all flaws, both in others but also in yourself. Be flexible. Bendable. Have thicker skin and do not break easily because of the slightest strain.