Poorly Me

Posted 17th of March 2023 by Bay Whitaker

Recently, I was off work for a couple of days with a really nasty cold.  This led me to reflect on how I respond to being poorly, and what we can take from these times.

Imagine if in some bright shiny future, minor ailments like colds, migraines, upset stomachs have somehow been eradicated.  Nobody ever gets “a bit poorly”… you’re either in good health, or else if you are ill, it is something serious: longlasting and maybe fatal or debilitating.  Would that be a desirable change for humanity?  Actually, I think not.

To me, there seems something important in the experience of being a bit poorly.  This is something about our need to accept our weakness at such times, knowing those periods will end.  Recently I had a ghastly night of fever, a splitting headache and a throat so sore I could not swallow.  Imagine if we didn’t know what this is (a bad cold).  I expect I’d have thought I was dying, I felt so awful.  But of course, we DO know.  And we know that, probably, I’ll feel terrible for a couple of days, and then gradually start to feel better, while snuffling and coughing through the recovery period.

Because I know what a bad cold is, I can take permission from myself to rest, sleep, watch rubbish on telly, and have the totemic comfort foods of my childhood.  (In my case, lots of blackcurrant tea and tiny triangles of toast smeared with marmite).  It’s a case of “waiting it out” and I am allowed not to be available, whether to work, family or other social obligations.  It’s a time simply to be with myself, in a compassionate, undemanding sort of way.

Some people – and I bet you know one – are much harsher on themselves about being poorly.  They cling to the idea that “I never get sick” and they are unlikely to take time off work unless absolutely hospitalised or in some other way having some kind of severe health episode.  I sometimes wonder, with such people, whether their parents failed to let them take time off school when they caught a bad cold or had crippling period pains.

Other people – and I bet you know some of these too – will construe quite minor mood difficulties as physical illness.  I know someone who claims never to have emotional lows, but will need time off and become ill whenever he breaks up with a partner, or suffers some loss or frustration in his life.  Whether knowingly or not, by treating emotional pain as physical illness, he can take the time and space he needs to heal.

It is important for us to know that sickness – whether of the body or the heart and mind – is part of being human.  Our ability to falter and suffer is offset by our ability to recover, and this feels like an important, hopeful message, to take from those times of being poorly.

How do you respond to minor illness? Are you able to be kind to yourself and take time off? Do you push yourself to keep going no matter what? Or somewhere in between? What do you feel you have learned about yourself and gained from times of minor illness? Next time it happens can you see it as an opportunity to respond differently or learn something new?

Image by Silva from Pixabay

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