My body was desperately trying to tell me something, but I did everything I could to block out its voice. It started with the typical cold symptoms: runny nose, sore throat, and a headache. Maybe I also had a low grade fever, but it was nothing that couldn’t be treated with a few cups of coffee and a morning run before work.
That’s what I usually do when I get sick and it goes away. But this time my body wasn’t cooperating. After four cups of coffee and as many miles of running I could manage, I didn’t feel better. In fact, I felt worse. Every minute something else seemed to hurt. I had the chills and was also boiling hot. My muscles ached. For the first time in years I crawled into bed and could not get up.
Every time I stood I was dizzy. The smallest tasks in my life looked insurmountable. Carpool. Grocery shopping. Project outlines. The fatigue was so deep, it felt like I was falling down an endless tunnel. It was just the flu but it felt like an avalanche had knocked me out without warning.
Helpless and weak, I tried calculating just how much longer I would need to rest before I could proceed as usual. For sure by tomorrow morning I’ll be able to make it to my 5am gym class and then meet my work deadline. How could I just lay in bed when the kids’ snacks still needed to be packed, the laundry still needed to be done and dinner still needed to be made? I had to get up.
I crawled under the covers and wondered: Who am I if can’t work? Who am I if I can’t take care of my family?
But when I tried to stand I finally heard what my body was now shouting: Stop fighting. You need to rest. And because I had no choice, I listened. I crawled back under the covers and began to wonder: Who am I if can’t work? Who am I if I can’t take care of my family? What happens when I subtract all the busyness and distraction that fill my life? What am I left with?
The questions were unnerving but I didn’t try to find quick answers. I just sat with the questions and faced the fear that’s so easy to submerge into the routines of daily life, the fear and ultimate truth that I am not in control.
It’s easy to delude myself that I’m in control when I’m healthy and everything is going my way. But now I had to come back to the only two things I knew that I could control, even while confined to my bed: my effort and my focus. I could still put effort into the most important relationships in my life. When my children brought me cards and came to tell me about their day, I wasn’t distracted by a million other things that I was doing. I wasn't glancing at my phone. I was listening. Really listening. Even listening to the robot stories my son makes up, the stories that I usually listen to for only the first few seconds.
And for the first time in a long time, when I spoke to my husband I didn’t have one foot out the door. I wasn’t standing at the kitchen island with my thermos of coffee and a quick list of what we needed to plan for the week. In fact, I wasn’t standing at all, and I could hear others so much better when I sat. I could hear myself too, the whispers of the pure, infinite soul within me that transcended my work, my roles and all the to-do lists that make up my days.
No matter how limited I was, I could still say thank You. And that became my focus as I learned to stop fighting the flu. Gratitude. Thank You for my home. Thank You for my children. Thank you for a warm bed and for the tea. And as I began to become stronger, I was deeply grateful for all the daily movements I had so often taken for granted. Thank You for the ability to stand. To walk. To make dinner for my children. Thank You for keeping my body’s temperature at the degree that it needs to be for me to be healthy again.
Thank You for knocking me out so I could rise up stronger. Thank You for teaching me how to stop fighting and start listening. Thank You for showing me that our lives are so much more than what we do. When I’m down for the count and nothing is going my way, thank You for showing me my inner light that can’t be extinguished.