Have you ever felt like you’re in a rut? Spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere? Then getting down on yourself on top of that? Well then, you can relate to how I’ve felt over the past 2 ½ weeks. I got a nasty head cold that hit me like a freight train – couldn’t breathe, hacking cough all night, and achy all over.
Prior to contracting this viral ailment, I was feeling strong and confident – going to my personal trainer twice a week, stretching, and eating a healthy diet. I had a goal to lose 10 pounds before heading off to Tulum, Mexico which is where I was going to relax and reward myself for my hard work. Vacation, here we come, right?
Things didn’t play out as I had planned. It was the perfect storm – I was not getting enough sleep after making the trek to visit my mother in Mammoth Lakes, stressed about her significant decline and frustrated that I couldn’t do anything about it. Then it hit me, a sore throat, nasal congestion, foggy brain and achy joints. I hadn’t gotten sick all winter season, feeling so proud of that fact, especially since I am exposed to everything when seeing my patients. Apparently, when I go down, I go down in flames.
What was supposed to be continued exercise and weight loss, combined with healthy eating transformed into a lengthy hiatus with no exercise and a strong dose of self-pity. Why now did I have to get sick? I noticed that I was getting angry at myself for getting (and staying) sick. I started to not watch my diet as closely, thinking the Snyder’s Sourdough pretzels might help heal me. Clothes that previously were loose on my waist now had a snug fit. I felt bloated, tired and had lost all motivation. I started not to care of how I might look in a bathing suit on the sandy white beaches of Tulum. I had set a goal and failed.
For 2 ½ weeks, my inner-critic chastised me for not keeping with the program. Self- effacing comments circulated in my head. How could I have gotten so off track? I realized that I wasn’t helping the situation but only making it worse with my self-judgment. I knew then I had to stop this self-denigrating behavior.
Do you remember the famous quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?” I was repeatedly telling myself “I shouldn’t have gotten sick. I am weak. I am not exercising. I can see that I lost muscle tone.” Repeating these thoughts over and over in my head only reinforced the insane behavior. My attitude was definitely not helping matters.
A light bulb went off in my brain and I remembered some of the amazing work done by Dr. Kristen Neff in the field of self-compassion. We are usually hardest on ourselves when we need to be the most gentle – Providing self-compassion, not promoting self-judgment during these times. Speak to yourself as you would a young child or a close friend in pain.
Adding stressors to an already stressful situation is never a good thing. Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or short-comings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. Instead of ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you need to stop and tell yourself “this is really difficult right now and ask how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”
Wow, what a concept. As a doctor, I am compassionate with patients all day. But, why was I not being compassionate with myself? I’ve always tried to fight through things and “get over it” because that is what I thought I had to do – what I was expected to do. Now after many years of self-denigration, I’ve realized that if I’m not good to myself, who will be?
By having compassion for myself, I realized that I was honoring and accepting my humanness. It was not my intention to get sick with a viral illness that knocked me out for so long. It wasn’t something I consciously told my body to do. Did I really have to get that down on myself about it? Would I speak to a child, close friend, or patient the way I was speaking to myself? Never.
Dr. Neff goes on to say, “Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.”
Physician, heal thyself, also comes to mind. When we don’t stop and listen to what our bodies are telling us, we are losing that inner connection. By not being compassionate during times of stress and/or illness, our immune systems weaken, making it harder to heal.
The good news – I’m on the mend and going on my trip! I can breathe. The hacking cough is all but gone and I feel far less joint pain. I am talking to myself with a much friendlier, gentle voice. I’m feeling better about myself and realize that we are not always in perfect health – this is just part of life’s experiences and challenges.
More good news – I will send pics from Tulum so you can vicariously enjoy the experience in this beautiful town on the Yucatan Peninsula. Maybe someday, we’ll even do a retreat there… any thoughts?
In health and happiness,