The sick day, do you feel guilty?

It has been a pretty massive couple of weeks, maybe months. And predictably I became ill. It started with exhaustion and ended in a viral infection. My gentle man also became quite ill and our different approaches to our work and our well-being became quite apparent. As I begin this sharing I can’t help but wonder how you view your health in the context of your work and your life. Ponder with me as I mosey through this topic.

I have had the blessing to work with people in a variety of health states and in each of those roles there was an emphasis on not attending work if you are sick- you do not want to compromise the immune system of someone you are providing a service to who may already be compromised. Your little cold could in fact be the cause of their passing from this life. That is an extreme, health service focused approach. There are other good reasons for not attending work when you are sick, such as not making your colleagues sick and crippling or reducing the capacity of the service.

Our work oriented culture, that makes work the center of our existence when it should merely be a means to a more life fulfilling end, celebrates the person who never takes a sick day. We hold up as hard working champions the folk who come in on their death bed because the world will surely cease to turn on it’s axis if this one person should stay home and heal.

Pfft. I do not applaud your heroism. I ask you to go home. Get well. Allow your body to regain it’s strength so that you can be everything you need to be at home, socially and at work once you are well. I do not need you at your desk, sniffly, watery eyed and unproductive trying to force yourself through your day, prolonging your recovery by expending what energy reserves you have to just show up.

You could be nurturing your body, allowing healing through rest, being gentle with yourself, and increasing your recovery time. At which point you return with the ability to perform your role, no dropping the ball, no ramifications for your work, the world continued on without you for a time, and you are back now as if you were never away.

I say this, but truth be told I continue to work when I am sick too, it just looks different because I can work from home. I have to try with all of my might to refrain from responding to emails, working on that article, making that phone call, organising my schedule… And I notice the difference that putting a ban on work makes to my energy and my recovery. This ban for me has to spread to all forms of work- chores included. I need to rest. Do gentle things like watch movies, read a book, nap. Actually rest and reserve my energy for my body to do what it needs to.

I have been watching my gentle man struggle with rest. It took a tantrum from me because he was so sick just to get him to call in sick and get to the doctor. Then he negotiated with the doctor to reduce the amount of time off he would take. After his appointment he came home and has been moving furniture around and organising “stuff” and pottering. It tires me out to see it. He just doesn’t know how to be still. To allow his body to rest. It puzzles me.

Clearly we have been taught very well to push ourselves to our limits for our work. We have been taught that we must be on our death beds to take time off. We feel guilty when we do and we need that all important doctors note to ease said guilt, and to claim more than a single day off.

We have not been taught how to prioritise our health and our well-being so that we can live our lives and contribute in all areas of them in a quality way. How about you take the time to get well so that you are not miserable, sick and tired at work where you have to perform. How about, if you must, you see that you are not able to do your best work while sick and by giving yourself the time to heal you get back to maximum creativity and productivity sooner. How about you take the time for you to get well because you are important, your health matters and no one would want you to suffer longer than is absolutely necessary.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”  ~Irish Proverb

Darkest Before Dawn

For some time now I have been haunted in the evenings, in the quiet spaces of the night, by the inescapable truth that we are fleeting. Dread washes over me and only my physical body’s wisdom can break through the fear. With conscious breath and a firm connection to the weight of my body on my feet or on the bed I can calm myself. But every night I do the same.

My fear of death, not just mine but yours and the critters we share this world with, has been a very strong experience that has shadowed the vast majority of years of my life. It started when I was a child, I would become so scared about inevitable nothingness that I would not know what to do. My dad’s heartbeat always helped but as you get older that’s not so accessible, practical or portable. Sometimes it would bubble up only once every little while, mildly so that I could easily let it pass. A year ago it was as bad as distressing panic attacks that made it impossible to hide from my beloved. At that time it would bubble up during work. Sitting in the lunch room eating, I would school my features to hide the saturation of fear from the people sharing the room as they talked about light every-day stuff. The truth is not that I have this fear. I have always known it. The truth is that I know how to alleviate it.

I understand that this is not a welcome topic in many circles. Who wants to sit with the discomfort thinking about your mortality creates?  If we broaden our scope outside of Western culture what will we find?  Death is removed from our reality with our “it won’t happen to me” attitudes and societal expectation that when someone you love passes you get over it “quick march” while the world cruelly pushes on. Once upon a time our dead stayed in our homes for weeks before burial. Nowadays our loved ones are whisked away, we might see them briefly but in a blur of ceremony they are truly gone. It never occurs to us that we might lose them, or that we ourselves are not going to be here forever.

Some of the happiest and most peaceful people in the world are aware every moment that the next might be their last. They make peace with the angel of death and make compassion their modus operandi. I am of course referring to buddhists and the toltec. I am sure there are many others, but these come to the forefront of my mind. Traditions such as these give thanks for the presence of life, they work at not letting the world humans have created get them down, and they treat each creature with kindness, recognising that we all share the same fate.

How does this help me with my scary-arsed panic attacks? There is a magic in this world and when I am able to see and hear it, I do not suffer. And I suppose in truth this is where work, as I have previously discussed it, plays it’s part. When I am constantly busy with no time to sit quietly, to observe the world and connect with it, then I do struggle. When I neglect my spirituality then I do suffer. When I fail to spend time around the people who matter most then I do struggle. It makes sense that these are the places I must look to reduce the impact of this shadow that has shared my journey thus far. If Tibetan monks can be so sure they won’t see tomorrow and yet be happy, I am sure it can be overcome.

I need to ensure I have a strong spiritual connection. Surely there are methods beyond measure to achieve this. For a person who believes in something greater, but not the man-made doctrines that make so many cultures spin, I will begin in nature and in being present.  I am reading a book (because that’s how I roll) on shamanism to help me be present in this moment. I want to always be able to feel connected with the energies of nature and to know where my own are going. I have started a garden in my new house because having natural colour and birds around is important to me.  I’m going to light more candles, burn more incense, go for nature hikes. I am going to lay on the beach facing the sky and let the heat of the sun light up every cell in my body, starting with the ones behind my eyelids that glow red when my face is directed at the sun.

To further connect with my spirit I am going to make more time to spend quality moments with my loved ones. It is the connections that we make, the ways we love, contribute and connect that make us who we are. Our loved ones are our community, they are the people we were born to, choose to spend time with, met in a fleeting moment and recognised from another place we can’t put words to. The people with whom we feel that everything makes sense. They are our training ground, our play yard, our reward for all that we express in the world. Knowing them, being connected to them, contributing to their lives and opening our lives to them makes everyhing worthwhile.

I am going to be grateful every day for the small and great things in my life. I am going to look for ways that I can be helpful. I am going to hold compassion as my first attitude whether it be for another human being or other creature because we are all the same. I am going to hold myself lightly and respond to the demands of life with curiosity before stress and anxiety. We each have the right to live well, to be ourselves, to not be persecuted nor persecute ourselves. We live, we die, we can’t take our gadgets or our wealth with us. We can leave a loving legacy. I am going to live each day as if it was my last chance to contribute something good, be that a smile to a sad passerby, an extra warm hug for a loved one, or taking a risk to make a big difference.

My journey right now is to make peace with death and the inevitability of dying so that I can truly live. Freely. Fully. With my whole being engaged in the cycle of death feeding life and life feeding death. I do not expect this to be a smooth or easy task, but it is a worthwihle one. I expect that each time a bubble of panic rises to close my throat it will be less intense and more brief than the last one. It is time to embrace the little deaths of change and be at peace with the greater. I will make the angel of death my friend and advisor so as to not waste a single moment.

“Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.” ~John Muir