This is my new question. Lately I’ve had a few people in my life that keep getting sick. Sometimes they’re sick for weeks. And sometimes it’s cold after cold. The thing that floors me, is that they treat it like it’s normal.
I’m here to say it’s not. When a client mentions in passing that they haven’t been going to yoga or they cancelled a session with me cause they were sick, I ask what’s wrong with your immune system?
The looks I get. Some seem incredulous. Some are annoyed. I think some people think that I’m mean.
The truth is, you don’t have to get sick. I know, everyone thinks getting a cold or virus a few times a year isn’t a big deal. And it’s not, but it’s an indication that there’s something going on with your immune system.
While I deeply believe that’s true, I’m not really talking about an occasional cold or virus. I’m talking about those people who consistently seem sick. The people who go through some big stuff, push themselves, don’t engage in self-care until they’re forced to be in bed with fever, headache, nausea and sometimes vomiting. Let’s be honest, nursing a virus isn’t actually self-are. Somehow, those these people always say something like, ‘I just spent three days in bed!” Meaning that the have to get back to pushing themselves.
Maybe you’re one of those people. Maybe you’re nodding and laughing uncomfortably in sheepish recognition. I used to be one of those people. There’s no shame, but there is a better way.
I used to be one of those people who do incredible amounts of things. My self-worth was tied to my busyness. I liked to get an unreasonable amount of things done in a day and mostly, I did for everyone around me and rarely did for myself.
Now this part is a bit embarrassing, but we all do it sometimes. After breaking my back and being exhausted putting other people first in my life, I was incensed that no one took care of me. Sometimes, actually most of the time I didn’t even get asked, I just assumed that I knew what other people needed and did for them. Unfortunately for the people who loved me, I was resentful and passive-aggressive about my displeasure that they didn’t appreciate me enough. I’d smile and keep doing for others, all the while simmering inside and keeping track of what i felt they owed me. If I didn’t think it measured up, I was enraged. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s not something I’m proud of or talk about that often.
A bit ago I wrote about recently getting back to that resentful place and working on boundaries. Read about it, then come back here to immune systems.
You know what the answer is right? You may be cringing, but we all know the answer, many of us just hate it. Saying no was something that made me physically uncomfortable. However, learning to say no is life-changing.
I feel like life in your middle years it’s not about learning new lessons, but rather about learning the advanced work around the lessons you learned years ago. Boundaries are like that.
In my youth I learned not to let people walk all over me or take advantage of me. Or at least, I understood what that looked like. A bit later, I learned how sneaky people can get about that. I learned about passive-aggressive and manipulative behavior. Then I learned about resentment and that leads to rage and illness.
Now in my middle years, I’ve learned to not give a fuck about what other people think and just to pay attention to what I want. So, when someone asks for a favor, even if it’s my kids, I don’t worry about what will happen if I say no. I don’t worry about how badly they need me or think that I’m the only person who can help them. That is co-dependent behavior and it took me a long time, a lot of Melody Beattie books and a fair amount of therapy to unlearn what I’d learned in my family of origin.
These days, I first ask myself if what I’m being asked is something I really want to do. Does doing this thing make me happy in a pure, non-ego driven way? Is it feeding my soul or is it draining me in some way?
What I’ve figured out that makes boundaries easier is to think about, is that having a boundary is more of a way to say yes to myself. So instead of thinking that I’m saying no to someone, possibly someone I love, I’m actually saying yes to something I’d rather be doing.
Look, I’m a busy woman with a lot of responsibilities. My time is expensive and precious, but even if it weren’t, it’s MY time. If my kid leaves his cello at home and I’m across town having coffee with an old friend and I am feeling happy and getting my soul fed, is it really worth it to drop what I’m really enjoying doing to go home get his cello and then race to school before 3rd period? Probably not. Why put myself on that emotional roller coaster? Also, by rescuing him for such a small thing, am I really teaching him anything?
On the flip side, when a good friend needs someone to sit with her dying mother so she can get some sleep and feed herself, I’m happy to do it. Taking time to sit with a woman I’ve known for 43 years while she is sick and in pain feeds my soul. If I can offer comfort, peace and some solace to someone who is scared and in pain, someone who has indirectly helped shape who I am, then that makes me happy. Deeply happy. That’s good stuff.
That is worth 40 trips to the middle school with my kid’s cello. It opens my heart, makes me think about life, about who I am, about who I want to be. It is an experience that I can never have again and the memory is one to cherish.
So, let’s go back a bit to how I first figured out about saying no. I realized that I was waiting for other people to make me feel good, I was thinking that running to the school to deliver my kid’s cello was making me look good in the eyes of the school secretary, teachers, perhaps other parents. I was that parent who showed up. I was looking for outside, superficial approval.
Is what the school secretary thinks of me important? Of course not. Does it give me an ounce of joy? Of course not, but it made me feel important and needed. That’s ego.
So, after I’d feed my ego and get little enjoyment out of it, of course, I’d get sick. You can’t walk around on little sleep cause you’re so busy, taking inventory, with a belly full of rage and not get sick. Eventually it catches up with you. Rage almost always makes you sick.
Self-care? Wasn’t in my vocabulary back then. To be fair to myself, it wasn’t a word society was tossing around like we do now. My parents didn’t teach it to me, in fact, the exact opposite. I just didn’t have the skills or tools to do any different.
Here’s what I now know. There are no promises. Okay, that makes me sound like i used to be a spoiled brat. Not completely, I just wasn’t taught a lot of helpful life lessons.
Today, though, I’ve learned that no one is expected to take care of me, except me. I’m the only person responsible for my health and happiness. Period. It’s up to me to communicate with my love about what I need in life and they have to respect that, but the idea that another person should make me happy, should fulfill me is thinking for a much younger Melissa.
So, when I get resistant and push myself too far, cause I’m hoping someone will notice\ what I’m hoping that somehow I get points for bending over backward. More so, though, I’m scared of all the judgment for saying no. Cause I’m still of an age that women are supposed to be compliant, are supposed to say yes and no means that you’re difficult.
But, if I’m waiting for someone to take care of me and THEN I get sick. it’s only on me. It’s my job to take care of me. Period.
I work with people who are not good at taking care of themselves. Some of them. It’s not always their fault. Sometimes they’ve been raised like me, to be compliant and think that I’m less than if I’m not. Sometimes the voice of anxiety or the voice e of depression tells them that they should just push forward. They should just do what they’re doing and ignore how they’re feeling.
Anxiety and depression want to live. They want to run and play. They want to skip on the beach, roll in the snow and speed through the woods. So, they lie to us. They lie so they can live and we believe them. We believe them because we want to believe there is something that makes this better, something that makes sense. Pushing through feels familiar and comfortable. There is comfort in the discomfort. .We want to believe there is a simple way to feel better, to be able to breathe.
Unfortunately, we also tend to be people who have a hard time asking for help. Asking for help from a professional or even a friend gives us a different perspective and helps us see where we might to do something other than push through.
Sometimes it’s just simply easier to focus on someone else, to take care of their needs, rather than our own.
That’s why I’m here. This is what I do. This is what makes me feel fired up and passionate. I’m here to remind you that anxiety, depression, PSTD, trauma, OCD are lying to you. I’m here to remind you to hydrate, to take a long bath, go for an aimless walk. Take care of yourself. before you do anything for another person, except an infant, take care of yourself.
If you don’t take time for yourself, take breaks, take naps and really care for yourself, you will be forced to stop. You will be in bed with tissues and the garbage can next to your bed. It always catches up with us.
Let me repeat that. It always catches up with you. It might not be as simple as a cold or virus, though.
When I ask my clients, what’s wrong with your immune system, I’m not suggesting that they’re a germ magnet or that they’re unhygienic. I’m not suggesting they don’t eat right or engage in risky behavior. I’m suggesting that perhaps, the anxiety or depression is lying to them.. I’m suggesting that there are symptoms that the client is not recognizing as anxiety or depression.
My experience is that the client is not engaging in mindful self-care. Not taking care of themselves as they would take care of a loved one, a child or a partner. Meeting with me is a good first step, or sometimes it’s the step they need to feel just a tiny bit better and we can create a plan for them to feel better more often. The ones that are doing the A+ job are coming to me for yoga and meeting with me, in person or through FaceTime or Zoom to stay on track with their wellness plan. Having accountability, guidance and support is the thing that, they tell me, makes all the difference.
Today is the perfect day to set intention for yourself. Research shows that the best way to have a success, whatever that means to you, is to schedule the things you really want to accomplish. Today, schedule in your self-care. How do you want to feel? When can you slip in a nap or take a long walk? When can you carve out time for yourself?
I promise, it makes all the difference.