In recent years I have developed a fierce respect for my health. Not only my mental health – but my physical health. Whereas before I had little patience for the times when I was sick, there are times now when I fear it. When I am sick I just use more sick days at work – which raises more questions and more suspicion: “what is really going on?”. I feel disgusting. I break all of my carefully laid down routines and maintenance plans. I have to take more tablets. And all too often it drags on for too long thanks to poor immunity and a system that’s already struggling with every day and brings me – if not to relapse, then certainly to the brink.
When I am sick, the dog often thinks he is allowed to play.
It makes sense. There is less energy to be on top of my game with my thinking, so if I’m not ultra careful I do forget to reality test my thoughts. I get lazy and don’t practice mindfulness. My appetite is lacking, so unless there is someone else cooking for me and serving up nutritious food, I’m not eating well. I’m exhausted and sleeping all the time and not maintaining my routine. I’m too sick to exercise. My medication is going in – but that’s about the only maintenance activity that is actually happening – and if I have a gastro bug even that gets out of kilter.
Short term bugs aren’t so bad. A day or two and I get back on top of my game without too many problems. No, the one that I hate most of all is surprising to some people. The thing I dread most is the common cold. It drags on forever. It saps my energy. It robs me of the desire to prepare decent food, to look after the house, to keep much of a routine. Sound like anything else you know? I live in fear that the head cold will go to my chest and then I will finish up coughing for weeks on end which leads to fear of aggravation of an old back injury – and so my thoughts become dominated by dismal and negative themes and the black dog leaves his rightful position at heel and begins to circle again. Thus it is that I find that a cold, if I can’t get rid of it quickly can be a trigger for relapse.
So – what do I do? I stay rested. I eat well. I have my flu shots – which I know some find controversial – and that there are also people who are not convinced that this helps, but as a health worker I find that it has left me less vulnerable and in Australia health workers get them for free. I wash my hands regularly and use hand disinfectant. I dress to the climate. I’ve given up rain walks in cold weather. Some people use vitamins, but to be honest I couldn’t face taking any more pills and don’t want to spend the money and would rather just eat the vegetables. I try to avoid spending a lot of time with people who are sick. If you look back a couple of posts to ‘Beyond Medicine‘, you will find that these are the things that will keep you physically healthy as well as mentally healthy. If you want to keep the bugs at bay these are the things you go to. Some I have already mentioned, but lifestyle habits and strategies that reduce stress are also important. Support is important. Hope is important. Sunshine is important. Recognising the early warning signs and triggers of physical illness is important. Our mental health and physical health are inextricably linked.
If I get a cold, I do start taking cold and flu tablets early when I get symptoms of a cold – particularly at night, and I use airway clearing aromatherapy oil before I go to sleep so that I can breathe clearly. I also sleep propped up slightly. Usually these things stop the cold from getting to my chest. Usually.
This year has gone well so far. I’ve stayed mentally well enough while I’ve been sick that I’ve still been able to use my mindfulness and cognitive behavioural techniques to keep the dog in line, so he hasn’t really challenged – even when some of the other important stuff has fallen by the wayside. It’s still going to involve work to get the rest back in place, but hopefully not as much as usual. So just for the moment while I get a bit better…
Sit, Dog… Sit.