Well, as some of you on Facebook might know, I’ve sick for the last ten days and counting. At first it was fine – an excuse to stay in bed and watch TV (after a solid three days watching Gossip Girl, Netflix is now asking me ‘How often do you watch teenage drama? Often/Very often…’) but I’m bored and fed up now.
It’s just a virus, according to the doctor, who says these things take as long as they take etc but I’ve been doing a right number on myself – beating myself up for having such a crap immune system and trying to find the psychological cause of all this.
You see, in self-help land you’re never just sick – there’s always some sort of emotional/psychological problem at the root. One friend suggested I might have an ULP – which apparently stands for an Upper Limit Problem. This is when things get too good (Brazilian book deal good) and we self-sabotage. Could be true.
Louise Hay (grandma of self-help who wrote a book called You Can Heal Your Life) reckons all illness comes from someone you are not forgiving in your life. In her book she has a whole list of ailments and the psychological causes (you can google it) and she believes that sore throats (my main issue) come from: ‘Holding in angry words and feeling unable to express the self.’ Despite what this blog might suggest, that’s the story of my life, so I’m very willing to accept that’s a possibility too.
I even listened to a radio interview in which John C Parkin of F**K It Therapy talked about healing overnight from chronic eczema. He reckoned that the moment he stopped being angry at having eczema and just accepted that this was part of his life, it dramatically improved.
So I’ve been sweating in bed, listening to self-help, telling myself ‘I accept my bug, I embrace my virus… It’s all happening perfectly etc’ then getting FURIOUS when I don’t wake up cured. Hee, hee! If I don’t end up in psychiatric care at the end of this blog, it will be a miracle.
Anyway, this is what self-help does to you. A cold is no longer just a cold, it’s a reason to dive into yet more self-analysis. Honestly, I cannot express just how fed up I am of self-analysis. Actually, maybe that’s what’s making me sick.
But this last couple of weeks has reminded me of what started this self-help lark in the first place.
You see I used to be sick like this all the time, really and truly all the time.
Throughout my twenties, there was barely a week in the month when I wasn’t either coming down with something or getting over something. By my late-twenties I was pretty much a walking, talking case of permanent tonsillitis.
It was a horrible time, I was miserable. Life was like wading through treacle.
I took my constant sickness as a failure, a sign that I couldn’t cope with life the way that everyone else could.
I got stressed and embarrassed by how many sick days I was taking so I did my best to soldier on.
I’d wake up every morning, chuck down paracetemol with a tonne of coffee and try to get through the day until it was time for wine/bed. Weekends would be spent in bed watching hours of box-sets – either that or getting hammered. Being drunk always offered temporary relief.
I used to think that if I could just get enough sleep/vitamin C/broccoli (I’m still obsessed with broccoli) I’d be OK. But it never worked. I was constantly exhausted, no matter how much I slept, constantly run down no matter how many Berocca supplements I took.
Then one day, after I’d come back from a gruelling op to have my tonsils removed (not fun in your late twenties), a colleague gave me a book called The Joy Of Burnout, by Dina Glouberman.
That book argued that when you get sick all the time it’s your body’s way of telling you that your life isn’t right. Many of us are very skilled at pushing down emotions and ignoring those 2am moments of ‘What the hell am I doing with my life?’ but a bad illness makes us stop.
It listed the signs of burnout and it was like someone described my life:
Signs of burnout
- You are exhausted all the time, no matter how many hours you spend in bed
- A sense of isolation from other people, and even from yourself, to the extent of becoming a virtual recluse
- Ineffectual, no matter how much work you put in
- A feeling of emotional deadness
- Loss of empathy for other people’s problems even when it is your job to be empathetic
- Feeling of being trapped
- Increase in cynicism
- Loss of sense of humour
- Loss of sex drive in a relationship but other activities that can become addictive such as drinking, shopping and internet chatting
- Increase in physical problems including back and heart pain, headaches, frozen shoulder, chronic fatigue, adrenal and thyroid problems, irritable bowel syndrome, post-viral illnesses, viral meningitis and even heart attacks
- Rising dislike for yourself and others
I ticked every box. I realised it wasn’t just my immune system that was letting me down, there was something much bigger at play.
I was working as a journalist at that point and I was stressed out of my brain all the time. I was writing for a national newspaper and doing very well but I was living on my nerves. I was always waiting for my massive F**K Up. No matter what anyone told me I never thought I was good enough – but it wasn’t just a work thing, I was like that in every area of my life. I’d constatly compare myself to everyone around me and find myself lacking – I thought I was fat, ugly, stupid, single… Brene Brown calls this voice in your head ‘The Gremlin’ and apparently we all have it to one degree or another but my gremlin had a million gremlin babies who were in my head ALL THE TIME. It was no wonder I was sick – I was poisoning myself with my thoughts.
The Joy Of Burnout was my second ever self-help book (the first one: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, resulted in me quitting my PR job) and it had just as powerful an effect on me. I realised that I had to make a change. I quit my job again. I went to the docs and was put on anti-depressants for a while and spent six months getting better. I started reading A LOT OF SELF HELP try to understand why I felt the way I did, I started working as a freelancer so that I could get a better work/life balance.
Seven years on and I’m so much better than I was but it’s still a work in progress. My default setting is to think of myself as a failure and to think of the ways I’m messing up and when too many of those thoughts set in, I tend to get sick. So maybe that’s what’s gone on here – I definitely gave myself hell over the money stuff and I’ve been frustrated with how unproductive I’ve been with the blog but also maybe it really is just a bug that’s doing the rounds.
That’s the danger with the self-help approach to sickness – it makes it OUR FAULT, something else to beat ourselves up about. So while it’s helpful to look at what else might be going on, I’m trying not to drive myself totally crazy with the analysis. Just a little bit crazy.
Anyway, Dina Glouberman’s book is optimistic – she argues that burnout is a great thing because it forces you to make a change. All in all, I’m grateful for my dodgy immune system and even the periods of depression because it means that I’ve thought about a lot of stuff, have empathy for others and also my body won’t let me keep going with things that aren’t right for me.
So there you go, my long, throaty, sickly back story.
I’m not entirely sure how this fits in with Brene Brown and Daring Greatly but she does talk a lot about Shame – the stuff that we’re really embarrassed about and the ways we think that we’re not good enough. For years I was very ashamed of how often I got sick – I am still very embarrassed about it. It feels like a failing and I constantly compare myself to friends who seem to go through life juggling a million balls and NEVER getting sick.
But oh well. We are what we are and life does seem to get easier if we accept ourselves and don’t compare (Brene says ‘comparison is the enemy of happiness’). She also says that the only way to get rid of Shame is to share it – so here I am, outing my sickly self.
I feel better for sharing but I’ve tired myself out too. This is the longest bout of thinking I’ve done in a fortnight. I must go now and get back to Gossip Girl. In the meantime, here’s a summary of some other viewing recommendations based on my schedule of non-stop telly watching over the last two weeks:
Orphan Black – weird series on Netflix involving clones. I thought it was silly at first but it got better and was quite into it by the end.
Paul Smith documentary – can’t remember what it was called but it’s also on Netflix, about the British fashion designer. I thought he was just lovely. Recommended.
Bill Cunningham documentary – gorgeous film about eighty-odd year old photographer for the New York Times. Sad and sweet.
Searching For Sugarman – another bitter sweet piece of gorgeousness. About a singer who never quite made it in the sixties and vanished…
I have also dozed through Once, the Irish musical film (lovely, if you haven’t seen it), The Soloist (Robert Downey Junior discovers homeless musical prodigy, schmalzy but fine when you’re sick) and hours and bloody hours of Gossip Girl which needs no comment, except that it’s like crack….
So bye for now.
As ever, I’m behind schedule… so I will keep going on Daring Greatly for a bit longer and sure I’ll catch up with myself at some point. Take care, hope you don’t get the lurgy. xxDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead The Joy of Burnout: How the End of the World Can Be a New Beginning You Can Heal Your Life F**k It Therapy: The Profane Way to Profound Happiness