Is my sore throat a sign that I’m angry? Or that I’m self-sabotaging? Or I am just sick?

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. xx

Daring 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

6 thoughts on “Is my sore throat a sign that I’m angry? Or that I’m self-sabotaging? Or I am just sick?

  1. Sarah

    Hey you 🙂

    Been reading your facebook updates and once again can’t help identifying with lots that you say. I think actually that we are all quite similar when you get down to the nitty gritty. At least that’s my take on it. I think that a lot of people hide it better than others, ie the fear of being a failure etc (or don’t talk about it at all, and live in fear constantly of being ‘found out’). I resonate strongly with the sore throat thing though. For the last few years I have had long bouts of an ‘achy’ throat, not sore exactly just like a constant ‘ache’ that has made me feel quite run down. In truth I’ve now come to accept that it’s because things with me, get ‘stuck’ in my throat. Like you I hate any type of confrontation, and always want people to like me, and so rather than actually say what’s on my mind sometimes, or get angry with someone I’ll just ‘swallow’ the words, and won’t be able to express myself. Another example is when I was on the F**k It retreat, I was more ill than I’ve been in ages. It started with the usual achy throat, but then developed into a full blown cough and cold, streaming nose, severe headaches, and generally feeling rotten. I’m sure it was because I dealt with a fair bit of stuff that week, and it resulted in me being ill. Having said that I’ve felt generally exceptional since then.
    I def think you should be kind to yourself, accept this period of sickness, that maybe your body is just healing itself as part of this whole self-help process. Who cares if you’re behind schedule with the books etc, I certainly don’t and neither I’m sure are many of your readers.
    FYI if you are looking for something good to watch whilst still unwell, can I recommend ‘Supermensch’ it’s a documentary produced and directed I think by Mike Myers about an absolutely fascinating guy – Shep Gordon. It’s available in iTunes, not sure about NetFlix, but it’s a real feel good film which I smiled all through. The title of the documentary is very apt for someone who has lived a fascinating life, but who has really touched the soul of many others (it’s funny too!) and will definitely appeal to the self-help side of you I believe.
    Hope you are starting to feel better. I’m currently sat in the sunshine, in the garden, researching Supper Clubs, and trying to convince myself to just ‘do it’ and start one up, and to ignore my Gremlin who keeps telling me it’ll never be as good as other people’s supper club’s , and that no-one will come, or if they do, that the food will be rubbish, and everyone will hate it and demand their money back – aargh! I keep telling myself, the saving grace is that I have the advantage of living in the sticks where there’s less competition, and what’s the worst that can happen…? …and on that note I’ll sign off!!

    Sarah xxx

    Reply
    1. Marianne Power Post author

      Do the supper club! Do it, do it, do it. Where do you live? And thanks for the film recommendation and also I’m glad I’m not the only one with the dodgy throat. Another friend, Helen, messaged me to say she’s had much of the same. Feels embarrassing to admit all this though for some reason. DO THE SUPPER CLUB. That’s where’ I’ll sign off!

      Reply
  2. Andrew

    Hi Marianne. Firstly, I hope you’re feeling better soon! Being unwell for a period of time isn’t much fun and especially if you’re too tired to do much bar sleep – the last time I came down with something I felt too tired to even read (a heavy punishment for me) and so was shocked at just how mind-numbingly boring it is to be ill when you’ve barely got the energy to do anything more than just lie there!

    I agree that we can all be capable of self-sabotage when things are going well – honestly, I’ve just got too many examples of positive thinking followed by negative thinking to even start to list them all – and so end up affecting our health as well -an unhealthy mind in an unhealthy body, perhaps? However, I think you are spot-on with your analysis that you can overdo the “I’m ill because I think negatively” stuff because it just gives you even more to feel down about.

    I suppose all the above counts as a vicious circle, so perhaps the answer is to try and see it as a virtous circle instead, which in your case would be being pleased by the book deal (well done by the way!) but then making a deliberate point of NOT blaming yourself for getting ill soon afterwards and instead trying to view it as bad luck that was not, in fact, linked to your good news at all and is simply an unfortunate coincidence. That way, you’re not allowing yourself to see it as “bad luck follows good, typical with me” and instead can carry on feeling good about the successes because neither they nor you “cause” any ensuing problems. Hope that makes sense…

    Reply
  3. Zoë R

    Hello luv! How did I miss that you’re sick? Hope you’re already feeling a bit better 🙁 Was just looking through some old photos and was ever so pleased to see your pretty, smiley face. I’m still holding onto the whole “I was a big fan before the hit blog and the adoring Brazilians ;-)” xo

    Reply
    1. Marianne Power Post author

      Hee hee! Your support and encouragement before I was MASSIVELY FAMOUS will not be forgotten. Feeling so much better today. How are you? xx

      Reply

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