Four Lessons I’ve Learned from a Week with the Flu

It really did take me by surprise. I knew I was going at an accelerated pace since the start of the new year, but it wasn’t non-stop like it was before. There was that nice long break between Christmas Eve and the first working day of the new year; there was the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and the day off for the presidential inauguration. So when I came down with a horrendous cough, sore throat, laryngitis and complete exhaustion, frustration was the first thing I felt.

I was frustrated that my ridiculous pace of life had been interrupted. I was frustrated by the fact that I didn’t recover after one day of working from home and even more frustrated when there was little improvement after a day working from home and a day at home not working and resting. Why wasn’t I getting better?

The fact of the matter was, one does not get better by simply working from home versus working in the office (because at the end of the day, work is work and your body is pretty much put through the same washer cycle no matter where your office is), nor is one day of complete rest enough to recover from the flu, even if you did get your flu shot. It finally hit me today, on Day 3 of Being Sick, that recovery requires complete dedication of the mind and body, in order to occur.

So as I have been confined to the bed with little energy to do more than watch BBC nature documentaries and nap, I have also learned four valuable lessons that I should transfer to my daily life, even during my healthy days:

  1. Learn to be still. My first day of being sick, I was in denial of how ill I really was. I thought I could work from home, and my employer took me for my word, giving me no breaks and expecting me to put the same amount of effort working from home as I would have had I been there in the office. Big mistake. When you’re sick, you’re sick and recovery demands you not only slow down, but that you actually take time to be completely still, both mentally and physically. I finally got that today when I realized I had effortlessly taken three naps. And while I still feel kind of guilty about it all (I had to cancel my attendance at a dinner party as well as other plans I had made to see a friend), I know deep down inside, this was the right thing to do. There have been times today when I was not sleeping, but I wasn’t doing much of anything else either, simply because I had no energy. Being sick has literally forced me to be still, mentally and physically, but in the process, I can honestly feel my body internally repairing itself, and I know this is needed.
  2. Learn to slow down. Not to be confused with learning to be still, learning to slow down in this case, is not just a metaphorical lesson, it is a literal lesson. Because I’ve been so weak, I obviously have been forced to move at a slower pace. I’ve been walking more slowly, talking more slowly and altogether moving my body more slowly. My thoughts come to me much more slowly than they normally do, and I literally feel like a tortoise with every step I take. But it’s been okay. And after today, I now realize I need to be like this in order to get better. But why can’t I incorporate some of this philosophy into my daily life as well? Surely there is no need to be always reacting and running around like a big ball of stress (even if everyone else in this town is).
  3. Learn to be quiet. During this recovery period, I’ve unplugged for the most part. No Facebook, no cable news, no political debates, very little conversation. Ok, so the main reason for this is because for the past three days, I have had no voice, but temporarily having no voice has opened my mind to the value of taking a voluntary vow of silence once in a while. Yes, the squeaky wheel almost always gets the wheel (personal experience has taught me this), but why can’t we just let it all go sometimes? Why do we always have to be talking? Why must we be in constant communication with each other? Why is being a hermit, even for a few days, so frowned upon in our society? Being quiet, even if my physical condition has forced me to be silent, has been quite refreshing, actually. I’m removing myself from the rat race. I’m reconnecting with myself and finding alternative ways of self-expression.
  4. Being still, slowing down, and being quiet can all lead to moments of creativity. I think there is a reason why authors, artists and poets like to leave their homes and travel alone to far away places for periods of time; why sabbaticals or fellowships are so highly sought after. It’s because such opportunities allow people to be still, slow down and be quiet and all this can lead to moments of inspiration, creativity, and a different, but very positive sense of energy folks may not otherwise find. I’ve felt that these past few days, even though I haven’t left home. In my hours of confinement, I’ve had some inspiring ideas, refreshed perspectives, and creative moments, none of which would have come to me had I kept going at the pace I was going at before I caught the flu.

I truly do believe that minor illnesses are God’s way of telling us to slow down, take it easy, and become reacquainted with our true selves. I believe He knows that some of us can’t be trusted to do this on our own, so He finds ways to intervene with minor colds, viruses, or injuries. (Notice how I am using the word “minor.”)

So as miserable as it can be to be sick (and believe me, I’ve been pretty miserable these past few days), trying to see the positive in the situation truly does open your eyes to the important things in life and can help you fill in the gaps you have been ignoring in your race to succeed, live, or merely survive. I’ve been listening to my body a lot these days and even though it took me a while to do so, I’m now responding appropriately and am noticing improvements.

So why can’t we take these lessons and incorporate them into our everyday lives? I think we may find life to be much happier if we do.

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