Thursday, March 8, 2018

Essay 8: What I Learned after Two Weeks in Bed With the Flu

To state the obvious: I am not invincible.

Though, I act like it.

This is not to be confused with immortal. I know I am not this. I know I will die some day. This is about me thinking I can do everything that I need and want to do in every second of the day and night. Even if it means I get little sleep. Eh, I think to myself, sleep is overrated.

And then the universe had other plans for me.

I came down with this season’s terrible Type B flu. An awful thing rife with aching so intense that it’s not the muscles that feel pain, but the bones. The only relief is sleep. And long Epsom salt baths. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can only go so far.

Okay, universe. You’ve got my attention now. I’m listening. I am still. (Not like I have a choice.)

I stayed in bed for two weeks. Mostly sleeping, but I wrote a little. I also read a little, only a few pages at a time. I re-read A Wrinkle in Time (because, well, the movie. Duh.). And I’m revisiting Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape, because, well, there was no escaping the flu, so I might as well work on trying to embrace it.

I got out of bed this past Saturday because my youngest qualified for Junior Olympics in swimming and I wasn’t going to miss that! Bone aches be damned! But oh, how strange it felt to be outside in the world, to leave my cocoon.

Being in bed for two weeks with minimal contact with the outside world was indeed a cocoon. It was like a long-ass meditation.

So here’s what I learned:

I need a new mattress.

Changing pjs every few days helps create a sense of improving health, even if it’s only an illusion.

I love wearing pjs all day and night.

It’s nice to be home alone in stillness.

I know who will come through for me.

Only I can heal and nurture myself. Yes, family and friends can attend to me through offers of hot teas and steaming soups, supplements and essential oils, but that only lasts so long. This experience of illness is mine alone. As is the case of any experience each of us has.

My relationship with time has changed. Because my recovery has been slow, I have been moving slower – I don’t want to risk relapse. Two weeks was good enough for me. I don’t need more. As a result, I am no longer trying to jam things into every possible minute. The things that I am trying to accomplish do not need to happen in an instant. I am trying to create and sustain more space in my life. I have only been “back” a few days, so I don’t know how long this change will last. I hope it is permanent. I will do my best to make it so.

I have gotten more clarity on what is truly important, on what really matters.

The dishwasher wasn’t turned on last night? Okay. Just turn it on now. In the past, I would’ve gotten mad about it and yelled at the nearest person. That was really about control, not about dealing with dirty dishes. Now, I think I’ve made some progress in letting go of some control. Notice: I said “some”. Haha!

Being present in the here and now means being still. I’m thinking about Pema Chodron’s invitation to a pause practice – where you take several moments throughout the day and just take a few deep breaths to notice the moment, to notice your surroundings, to pay attention to how you feel in your body. But also? I’m thinking about Tara Brach’s talk on FOF (fear of failure) and FOMO (fear of missing out), where she asks the question: “Isn’t what I’m longing for already here?” Which is another way of saying: be present here and now because in this moment, everything is as it should be – you have all you need.

Yesterday, I was scheduled to fly out to Tampa for a conference. They cancelled my flight on Tuesday due to the coming snowstorm. My new flight is tomorrow. I am missing half of the conference. At first, I started to get anxious about the snow, about missing opportunities to see friends, to make connections, to pick up a few new teaching ideas, to hear some poetry (it’s been so long! Oh, how I miss it so!). And to be in Florida sun. The anxiousness was more mild than usual (a sign of progress!), but I was still bummed. Then my friend Jen told me about Tara Brach’s talk and instantly, I was over my FOMO. “Isn’t what I’m longing for already here?” Because truly, what I needed was an extra couple of days to rest and recover. This conference is so insane and overwhelming (15,000 people attend) that I’m going to need to be as close to 100% healthy as I can get in order to navigate the melee (someone used this word to describe the conference and it’s so apropos! Hah!).

And the big lesson I learned and am continuing to learn: to trust in the universe. To stop grasping for things. Everything will unfold as it needs to.

How do I do this? Meditate. Keep that ego in check. No need to kill it, just keep it in check. Let the heart-soul remind it who’s boss.

What I need to do now is to be okay with the fact that my rituals and routines are no longer there. After two weeks, everything vanished. I need to create new ones. Ones that allow for more space, more breathing room.

Getting back to my meditation practice has been shaky at best. My mind wanders all over the place! I’m a little sad about this because it felt so good to be still, to acknowledge the thoughts (which were less active) and let them pass through. Now? Now it’s a running to-do list with full-on sports commentary. (“Here comes a hairpin turn into a narrow aisle. Sometimes these garment racks get pushed too close. Will she make it? Wait – here comes another mom, coming in for the same pack of tights. Who will get there first?? She steps up her speed, careful not to look too obvious. She grips the cart handle and drives it into that turn, pulling a hard left. She makes it without knocking anything over! She makes a grab for those tights. She scores!”) I guess this is how I was in the beginning – I just didn’t know it. Now that I’ve got more awareness, maybe that chattering will diminish in less time and I’ll be back to on track.

Getting back to writing has been hard too. I feel like I’ve forgotten my way. What am I doing again? What am I writing? I feel alone. Isolated. While writing is an individual act, it is still very much rooted in community. At least for me. So being sick in bed for two weeks only emphasized my isolation in an area that feels like an artistic desert. BUT. The lesson here is that perhaps I need to look in the not-so-usual places for community and connection with other writers and artists where I live.

Oh, the things I have learned!


This is "Deep Thoughts #6" for 2018. I have taken Vanessa Martir's 52 Essay Challenge, and tweaked it a bit for this year. Instead of an essay a week, I'm just going to write some so-called deep thoughts. (Sometimes serious, sometimes jokey.) :)

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