I recently had a bout with the flu and it reminded me of just how hard it really is to care for yourself when you feel so sick that you just don’t care. My acute illness is over – I’m actually grateful that I was really only too sick to function for about 3 days – but I have been feeling “run down” ever since and just today saw my hematologist and got confirmation that the flu pushed me back into the anemia zone.
It is frustrating and demoralizing, especially since I feel like I’ve been working so hard to do everything “right” and I’ve had several recent victories, including getting colonoscopy confirmation that my colon is in good shape and my Crohn’s disease seems to be under control and beating the nasty c diff infection that I struggled with all summer and into the fall. It feels like I’m constantly taking a step forward and then getting pushed backward with a different problem. But then I remind myself of what I wrote earlier this month about coming to terms with the reality that I will never be a “paleo success story.”
All I can do… all any of us can do… is just live our lives one day at a time. When you deal with chronic illness, there is no destination. But we still keep trying to make the journey the best we can. What do we do when the current moment though is a difficult one? How do you get through the crisis, even when you are so sick that you have difficulty even caring? I don’t have all the answers (hardly!) but here are my thoughts, spurred on by my experiences being acutely ill for several days and then dealing with the lingering fatigue and general malaise over the past couple weeks.
So, how do you care for yourself when you too sick to care?
Go into survival mode.
I’m a list person and when my brain starts to feel overwhelmed with all the things I know I need to do, should do, and want to do, I grab some paper and start making lists. I employed this strategy on the third day of my bout with the flu, when I was starting to feel better but also overwhelmed with everything that had piled up in my work and personal lives when I was nearly comatose on the couch the previous two days. I wrote down everything I could think of, from “open the mail” to “prepare for important meeting next week.”
Then I boiled that down to the absolute most essential things. And I came up with two.
- Stay alive.
- Keep job.
And then I asked myself, what are the minimum things I need to do RIGHT NOW in those two essential areas. To stay alive, I needed to keep eating. Right now I just needed to figure out my next meal. It didn’t need to be fancy or the most impressively nutrient dense food ever, but something that wouldn’t aggravate my symptoms or trigger a Crohn’s flare. I settled on a big mug of bone broth, a microwaved sweet potato with ghee, some leftover cooked broccoli, and a grass fed hot dog I thankfully had in the freezer. Not perfectly paleo, but all foods I knew I could tolerate and would provide some balanced nourishment.
In regards to keeping my job, I did two things. First, I emailed my boss and told her I was starting to feel better but that I thought it would be best to take a third sick day. In the interest of making sure I keep my job, at the same time I assured her that I was indeed improving and I was absolutely certain I would be well enough to make the important meeting next week. Second, I set my email out of office message and turned off my cell phone. My job has its own pressures, but let’s face it – it’s not saving the world. It can all wait a day or two until I’m feeling better.
Take care of the basics
When I was a kid and stayed home sick, my mom always made me get out of bed and get dressed at some point. She knew that it would make me feel more normal and at least a little better, even if just for a little while. Without my mom around to force me out of bed though, I found this difficult. On the second day of the flu, I at least changed pajamas!
Get clean(er). If taking a shower feels like too much effort, splash water on your face and brush your teeth. It always amazed me how much better I felt, even when I was at my sickest in the hospital recovering from a surgery or complication, when someone helped me “clean up.”
Indulge in something you think you shouldn’t do, but is essentially harmless. For me that was watching some day time TV. For three days in a row, I watched The Chew. I started to feel like Carla and Michael and Daphne and Clinton were my friends. But the key was that I had to get out of bed to watch. It forced me up and to change positions, which helped as much as the TV show did.
Stop the glorification of busy
Above all I reminded myself that it’s OK to get sick. I’m fortunate to have a job that grants sick days and I should use them. Since being diagnosed with Crohn’s as a young adult, I have always felt a need to work hard and take on extra responsibilities; I guess to prove to myself and others that this disease was just a minor annoyance and not a “big deal.” I love what my friend Samantha over at Sweet Potatoes and Social change has to say about this. I encourage you to read her whole post, and remember the value of resting when you need to – “In our rest we can find strength to live into our purpose and become better than we ever thought possible.”
Help yourself heal
If you are dealing with a transient and acute illness like the flu or are having a flare of a chronic illness, this might need to wait until you are back to feeling like yourself again, but eventually it will help to develop a practice that is focused on both mind and body wellness to help prepare you for future rough patches. Yoga does that for me.