In the first week of October last year, I had the first uncomfortable tinglings of a sore throat. How do I know this? Because in the journal I was struggling to keep up with, I wrote four pages about it. About the specific pain and symptoms I was experiencing at first, but these thoughts quickly spiraled into an anxious rumination –
How bad was this cold going to be? How was I going to be able to go to class for the next few days? Should I try to sleep an exorbitant amount now to head it off or should I get ahead on my schoolwork now in case I get way worse over time? How did I drop my constant vigilance, letting myself get sick? I’m going to miss out on things I love this week and it’s my own fault.
I have never been good at being sick. I am lucky that so far in my life illness has been infrequent and rarely serious. But when I do fall ill, the perfectionist inside of me rears its ugly head. I find myself demanding that this fleshy embodiment that carries me through the world behave exactly as I want it to, regardless of how I treat it in return. When I get particularly bad period cramps, I say that “my uterus has betrayed me”. I get mad at my body when it can’t keep up with my brother on a jog or when it gets a headache on a hot day. The first sign of a sore throat or stuffy nose has me harshly analyzing all my decisions for the previous month. I am quick to judge and slow to forgive.
I have had a chronic cough for three weeks, one that is annoying my sister at night and might be turning back into the adenovirus sore throat I have just barely recovered from. Now with an iPhone plugged in next to my bed I can ruminate even further with the power of WebMD in my hand. I have extensively googled the symptoms and find myself becoming frustrated with the search results: drink lots of water, eat fruits and vegetables, sleep 8 hours, and wait a few days. Essentially this advice boils down to keeping up the good habits you’ve been trying to develop anyways and let your body be.
How do I balance letting my body be with my fitness quest to make it stronger and faster? How do I simultaneously let it be and treat it better? How do I balance the need to separate my physical manifestation from my identity with the knowledge that when I beat up my body I am beating up me?
I am learning that what needs to change isn’t my behavior; it’s the tone and substance of my thoughts. I should continue to drink extra water and take some vitamin C tablets, but with love, not pressure to heal faster. When I give a friend a banana and tell her to take a nap, it’s not with the implication that she shouldn’t have let herself get sick – it’s with compassion and concern. So why am I so angry with myself and my body when ever I get even the tiniest bit sick?
I spent yesterday at the beach and left my feet sitting outside of the shade of the umbrella. I enjoyed the heat of the sun as I buried my toes in the sand, but the tops of my feet had a less enjoyable experience – I came home with roasted ankles. I am working to respond not with anger at my past self but with kindly applied aloe vera and cold presses (thanks WebMD) and a kind reminder to be more thoughtful on my next trip to the coast. My feet will heal in the next few days. In the mean time, I will let my body be.