What’s So Good About Being Sick? Everyday Magic 895

Sometimes the body says, “Stop!” in the most eloquent language it can, a slim intuition that lands sweetly in the center of our attention, and gently redirects us. Other times, particularly with people like me who tend to pack in, pile on, and shoehorn in too much on occasion, the body speaks with far more force and dread. Welcome to my little cycle of illness lately, a not-horrible-not-great cold that turned into an ear infection that triggered two weeks of dizzying vertigo (and driving around with bottles of ginger ale in easy reach) ,then opened into a terrible-you’re-not-leaving-the-house and cold-medicine-hardly-touches this kind of cold. It’s a little like the Rube Goldberg contraption of an illness.

Now that I’m emerging, enough to wander some aisles of Home Depot without lurching for my bed, I’ve been thinking about what’s so good about being sick. As someone with a talent for picking up poetic inspiration, and viruses, I should know already, but when the chips are down, I immediately have to negotiate with the crazy things my mind tells me, which range from “Oh no! The world is ending!” to “This is all your fault.” Luckily, a good bout of illness is a great leveler, and a few days of lying around, mildly hallucinating in between downing wellness capsules and Tylenol usually sets me right again.

Getting sick isn’t what I think it is even if it does necessitate missing a conference and concert. It just is. When I think of the people I work with who have truly serious and chronic illness at Turning Point, I see this up close. Some of us are dealt very difficult hands in this life through no fault of our own: M.S. or metastatic cancer, or Parkinson’s or brain injury. There’s a lot to be said about what’s bad in such cases, but judging oneself for coming down with some rare neurological disorder isn’t helpful or appropriate. While a bad cold is a drop in the ocean compared to such serious illnesses, I remind myself that illness is a perfect time to put judgments on the shelf for a bit. Of course this can go too far at moments (Eating too many cookies? What the hell! I’m sick!), but overall, having the pause button hit on my life is just that: a time to stop, take care, burrow into the blankets, practice slower breathing, and catch up on some old movies.

I know it’s dualistic and limiting thinking to label things good or bad — my friend Stephen often reminds me, “Bad news….good news, good news…..bad news.” We don’t often know what we’re getting into or what it means right off the bat, so along those lines, I would say that having to travel only from bed to chair with a good supplies of tissues and cough drops isn’t a horrible thing. Sure, I felt horrible, but then I remember how time and my bodies are remarkable, shifting from one thing to another with surprising grace even if I’m kicking and screaming all the way.

So what’s so good about getting sick?  I grow my compassion a quarter inch more for people who deal with much worse stuff more of the time (“Worse things have happened to nicer people,” my friend Linda remarked the other day). I fall in love a drop more with the purpling clouds, right now, banked over the setting sun. I spend a whole lot more time with my animals, lounging in our small herd on couches or beds. I get to be and be still. And I get to get well.

The Problem With Hugging Too Many People While Exhausted (and Why I Can't Get Over It): Everyday Magic, Day 239

We all have our achilles heel, and here’s mine: I tend to get sick easily after exhausting myself, particularly when organizing any big events. It’s gotten to the point where I actually try to plan down time after such events so I can lie in bed, mildly hallucinating, and berating myself for doing too much. In the happy event, I don’t get sick, there’s delights, yoga, friends and other amusements to celebrate.

This time the “don’t get sick” option didn’t fly, and so here I am in my pajamas sick as a dog. I realize as I wait for the bath to fill that one of the reasons I seem to pick up little viruses so easily when run down isn’t just because I’m run down. It’s because at such big events, I hug many people….. repeatedly. I hug old friends. I hug strangers. I hug new acquaintances. I hug presenters who arrive travel-weary and blown away to be in Kansas. I hug my husband. I hug my cat. I hug people in parking lots, entry ways, auditoriums, galleries and grocery stores.

I could hang back, wear a little white mask, lean away when others lean forward, but what would be the point? Sometimes there’s just no cure for happiness and that yearning to connect no matter what invisible travelers pass from someone else to my happy but too-tired-to-fight immune system. So a few days after, when the who-knows-what stomach-sinus-head dealie lands, I lay low. And I don’t regret a single hug.

Sick, Sick, Sick, Wah, Wah, Wah: Everyday Magic, Days 142-143

So on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death and the day after Elizabeth Edward’s, I’m sitting in a pile of blankets, laptop out, kitten walking across me at regular intervals, and whatever $&#%@$ viral thing I have still stirring the pot. The day is bright and quiet, and my ambitions include only taking a hot bath, downing some aspirin, and picking up a friend at the airport…..oh, and a little work here and there. Actually, when I’m sick, I tend to work longer and harder, finding the moving fingers on the keyboard a better distraction than lying in bed, trying to aim my mind away from bizarre dream-lettes that come and go. In any case, this is life, and like anything, it will shift and change on its own mysterious schedule. In the meantime, there’s the call of oatmeal and tea, the warmth of fleece and the flitter of birds past the lit-up windows.

On the Edge Of Sickness and the City: Everyday Magic, Day 103

Tomorrow we leave the house at 4 a.m. to fly to New York to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Months of planning and dreaming about walking for hours in the brisk air across and throughout the city have diverted me into a slightly dreamy state. Yet as the gods of bad luck might have it, here I am the day before feeling sick and sicker with all manner of symptoms and a long afternoon of herb and over-the-counter intervention. Now that buy cialis online us pharmacy I’ve just downed two over-the-counter sleeping pills (and god knows what I’m writing at the moment!), I’m hoping to wake up restored. A friend of mine once told me our immune systems work like demons when we sleep, and I hope these demons dance up a storm of wellness for me tonight. I see me walking down the streets of Brooklyn and New City refreshed, happy and well. Hope you’ll have similar ventures out tomorrow.

Writing Into Mortality & Beyond: Everyday Magic, Day 13

Today I had the joy of facilitating a mid-summer writing retreat for people living with serious illness at Turning Point: The Center for Hope and Healing in Kansas City (actually Shawnee Mission, KS). While this is something I’ve been doing  for years, each time is new, giving me a front row seat to witness courage, curiosity and the power of how we create (even and especially in the face of mortality). Many of the eleven people who participated are carrying long-term progressive illnesses or stage four cancer diagnoses, years of trying one new medication or another, weeks that stretch into long deserts of moving through chemotherapy or grief, and other assorted hard stuff. One woman just lost her beloved to late-stage cancer two weeks ago; another balances late stage cancer treatment behind her and heart surgery ahead of her; yet another watches her strength and balance ebb and flow due to Parkinson’s.

Whatever the story, it’s a story about facing mortality: our own or our loved ones. As such, it’s a story about loss and grief — even if we’re lucky enough to only lose a few body parts and a false sense of immortality. It’s also a story of the joy found in being present for whatever everyday magic life gives us, whether it’s a glimpse of a red bird singing to one woman from a rooftop, reminding her someone is watching over her, or a hanging out at a family beach party for another woman, a welcome respite from cancer treatment.

In these workshops, I use writing prompts that aim us not so much toward the hope of returning to the old life, pre-illness, but the hope of finding meaning, connection, love, acceptance and strength in the current life. This necessitates also facing, and sometimes writing or talking through, the times meaning evaporates, connections dissipate, friends and families don’t know how to show their love, and it’s hard to not feel betrayed, weak and lost. I tell the people in such workshops to try to cultivate an attitude of curiosity and kindness for whatever comes up in their writing, to treat their responses or even moments of not being able to respond as they would a dear friend. I also encourage us to witness each other: listen carefully. In doing so, we open the ears of our ears and then can better figure out what our own lives are saying to us. I also bring snacks, and today, that included cherries because even if life isn’t a bowl of cherries (or a chair of bowlies as Mary Engelbriet writes), we can still find sweetness that replenishes and nurtures us.

We laugh a lot. We cry (and always, there needs to be a handy tissue box). We talk about struggles, breakthroughs, fears, and great loves. Yet I’m also amazed by how quickly people make a circle of support together, offering each other not just resources, but a kind of understanding that helps everyone in the group look into the issues tipping out when their mortality is stirred. In these workshops, we often speak of how to live, especially when the days are numbers and yet no one knows what those numbers are. There’s something about facing the hard stuff of life, whatever it is, that rips the veil of whatever-ness off, and lets us see clearly what matters, who we are, and how to live.

Photos from workshop used with permission of participants. For copy of My Tree of Life: Writing and Living Through Serious Illness, a book I edited of past participants’ writing, go to the Turning Point store. I also encourage people with serious illness or who are caregivers in the Kansas City area to check out Turning Point, make contributions, and/or take some classes. See a blog by one of the class participants.