I am taking a sick day today, the first in...nine months? (this is not to say that I haven't been sick in that time, but I have either a) not had a job or a class from which to take a sick day or b) have soldiered on regardless). I was going to take only a half day, but when I got out of bed at around 10, things took a turn for the worse, and I soon found myself reeling back to the relative comfort of covers, cough drops, crystallized ginger, and lots and lots of water.
What's wrong with me, I'm not entirely sure. I've got your run-of-the-mill symptoms: congestion, runny nose, headache, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, sore eyes, fatigue, shakiness, a little nausea. But truth be told, I don't think that I would be sick right now if I had taken the time to check in with myself-- and take better care of myself-- physically, mentally, and spiritually over the course of the past two months.
I've been feeling under the weather two weeks or more, and it's as if my mind/body/spirit has been yelling out, louder and louder through these intensifying symptoms, "Hey! You there! Yeah, you! We need a break, woman. We need attention and validation and loving tender care. This is not a drill! Are you listening? We repeat: this is not a drill..."
And I, following long-ingrained patterns of habit, avoidance, and fear, chose not to listen. Instead of slowing down at the first sign of symptoms-- instead of going to bed early, saying no to social outings (or at least some of them), journaling, meditating, doing yoga, drinking tea, generally recentering myself-- I did... none of these things.
And that's why I say that my choices are-- or have the potential to be-- contagious. My choice (or really, series of choices) not to care for myself has resulted in my body/mind/spirit finally throwing up their hands and saying, "Fine. If you're not going to care for us when we ask for it, we're going make you slow down. We're going to make you so miserable and tired and ill that you have no choice but to take a break." And-- as evidenced by the fact that it is 4pm on a Tuesday and I have yet to leave my apartment (nor, even, to change out of my pajamas), it worked. In short, my choices made me sick.
Thus, I say that "my choices made me sick" not with rancor, but merely as observation, so that I can see clearly-- to the extent that it is possible-- the way that I am living my life. Knowledge and understanding are prerequisites for making changes, and that is my primary goal these days: to cultivate knowledge (of my own experience, and, by extension, other people's experience) through witnessing, learning, so that I can-- eventually, and only if I deem it necessary or desirable-- make a change. At this point, I'm just taking stock, and the stock of it is this:
When I get busy-- and particularly when my "performance" is accountable to other people (be they professor, employer, partner, what have you)-- I stop making my own self and self-care a priority. I find all manner of excuses for not taking care of myself, among them:
-I'm too tired (this one is huge, and cyclical)
-I have so many other things to do
-I don't feel well
-I need to do this project for work before I can tend to my own projects (and then, inevitably, I'm "too tired" after completing the work project to pay attention to my own)
-I can't cancel on my friends. They'll be disappointed/they'll be angry/they'll be upset/they won't want to hang out with me again and I'll lose all my friends and will be rejected and unloved and alone
-I don't want to face my feelings (so I zone out instead of engaging with my own creativity, because doing so requires that I also engage with my own experience)
-I'm afraid that I won't do a good job at the things that I want to do, and then I'll look like a fool for believing that I could do them
-I hate to miss out on things and I'm afraid that if I say no to anything (but my own self-care) I will miss out on the experience of a lifetime
-I'm afraid that I will do a good job at the things that I want to do, and then I'll be obligated to do more of them, and then my whole life will be consumed by writing or painting or singing or what have you, and I will never leave my room and I will have no friends and I will be completely out of control and utterly at the mercy of my own (apparently malevolent) art
-I've already worked so much already today; haven't I earned the right to zone out in front of Gilmore Girls reruns? I don't really need to write, or draw, or play guitar, or go play in nature, or wander around with no destination, or do any of the things that I really and truly love to do, that help me to feel awake and inspired and alive
But that's the crux of the problem: By not tending to myself, I am limiting my own capacity to feel and to be Alive-with-a-capital-"A". This is unacceptable. And therefore I resolve the following:
Resolution 1: I will turn my light out by 11:30 at the latest, 3 out of 5 evenings each work week
Resolution 2: I will return to writing morning pages every day-- even if it means hitting the snooze only once, instead of three times
Resolution 3: I will respond to email as it comes in-- or I will set aside time when I can attend to it later that same day. (This counts as self care because it will do loads for reducing my stress, since I am always anxious about how behind I am on electronic communication)
Resolution 4: I will refrain from doing social activities at least one night each week
Resolution 5: I will attend Taize services every Sunday before choir practice
Just as choosing not to care for myself charges me with certain consequences, choosing to care for myself-- even in small steps-- will, I am certain, have a similar-and-opposite effect. Stay tuned for results.