Today I’m going to tell you a little story about my summer. The moral of this story is to a) engage in regular self-care practices, b) listen to your friends when they give you motherly advice, and c) know that sometimes shit happens and there’s nothing you can do about it except let people help you. The truth is, we learn these lessons time and time again during the course of our lives. We hope that the messages stick long enough for good to come from the experience (because, let’s face it, most lessons we learn are tough). For me, this summer, shingles just so happened to be exactly the lesson I needed.
Now, as you may or may not know, I suffer from Silent Reflux. I have this pretty well-managed at this point thanks to some lifestyle changes but I’m human so I mess up sometimes. In June, I had enjoyed too many late evening snacks and the symptoms of a flare up were evident, namely: I was coughing — a lot – for no reason. This has happened before so I knew all I had to do to fix it was stop my late-night ice cream parties and have some patience while my larynx and pharynx healed. Easy as that. Except this time, it wasn’t.
I had this deep pain in my left side which, at first, I assumed was a strained muscle from all the coughing. After a few days though, and after my cough had started to subside, the ache persisted. I complained to my partner about it but we both thought it was just a pulled muscle healing slowly since I hadn’t taken a break from my daily Pilates to let it heal (I know, I know, rest days are important!).
One morning, with this pain in my side worse than before, I stood in the bathroom in my bra and saw a little rash right where it was hurting!!! I knew my body was trying to tell me something, but what?!
I ignored it (rookie mistake) and went to work. At work, I tell my dear friend Jenny that I’m thinking about maybe going to the doctor since it had been a week of this pain getting worse. Then, I lifted up my shirt (we’re close and we were hiding in her cubicle so I’m going out on a limb to say this was socially acceptable) and she said, “Call the nurse line. Now.”
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So I let Jenny act like my mother and boss me around about my healthcare and I called the nurse. The nurse says, “Hmmm… sounds like shingles. Can you make it in to the office to get looked at? If we catch it within 24 hours of the rash showing up, the antiviral is much more likely to work.” So I tell my boss that I probably have shingles and she’s like, “What?! You’re way too young to have shingles!” and I say, “Thank you! Also, I need to go to the doctor, like, now.”
So… yeah…. I got shingles. I had nerve pain that tingled and stung my insides from the surface of my skin down to my spine on the left side of my body for weeks. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed. There were days when I’d start out doing okay, make it in to the office, and then have to beg my front desk staff to cancel my afternoon appointments so I could bail. There were days it hurt to move – days it hurt to even breathe! I stopped going to yoga. I stopped my daily Pilates. I stopped sleeping on my left side (which is what you’re supposed to do when you have Silent Reflux, darn it!).
Here’s what I learned: my kids can get themselves their own snacks, meals even, sometimes. My partner can handle the laundry. My clients can make it till their rescheduled appointments. My coworkers will handle things for me if I ask nicely. My parents will watch the kids for an hour if I beg. My mother in law will text or call me every other day to check on me and I will be more than okay with that. It will sometimes be painful (physically or otherwise) to laugh, but that’s when I need it most.
I AM ALLOWED TO GET SICK.
And when I do, there will be loved ones there to care for me.
So much of what we perceive as “self-care” is pretty darn demanding of ourselves. We must exercise regularly, eat well, pay our bills on time, go to therapy, paint our nails, take a bath, buy ourselves coffee, take deep breaths, etc, etc, etc. And yes, all of this is good stuff and we should definitely be riding that self-care train all the way to enlightenment or wherever it’s supposed to take us BUT, another part of self-care depends on others and our capacity to a) recruit them to help, b) actually let them help, and c) be gracious and grateful when they step in to save the day in whatever way they can.
What’s more, our loved ones want to help us. They want to be there when we need them whether it’s to take the kids to the park so we can nap or to drop off takeout so we don’t have to cook the family dinner. Our friends and family want to help us to be our best selves in the same way we want to step up to serve them.
So this summer, I felt like shingles took my life away for a couple of months. The truth was though, looking back, it gave me a gift that has made my life that much better. I now hold a present, of sorts: the knowledge that part of self-care (which I thought I had mastered, by the way) is accepting care for yourself from others. So consider this my thank you. Thank you to my family, to my coworkers, to Jenny for acting like my mommy when I needed it, and to shingles (which I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy so try your best to learn this lesson by way of my lesson so you don’t have to experience it yourself).