Posted in Learning, Life

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There is so much we can control in our lives; so much more we seek to control; and then there are things we simply have no control over.

It rains for days on end, rivers rise, towns are flooded, 300 cows are washed into the ocean.

A low pressure system gets lower, the wind increases, a hurricane/typhoon/cyclone strips trees of their bananas, houses of their roofs, power lines of their energy-carrying capacity.

A volcano spews lava down its mountainside causing mayhem to those at the foot of the mountain and those on flight paths above it.

We are reminded that there are some things we still cannot control; some things are bigger than us, they are beyond us: we are not as powerful as we thought we were. We don’t have dominion over the earth and all that lives on it.

As with the planet, so too with our bodies.

I have been raised to believe that I am in control of my body, in the same way that as thinking, intelligent, problem-solving people we think we are in control of the earth. Mind over matter. If you think you’re going to get sick, you will. To avoid getting sick, you just have to resist it; you have to be strong in mind and not give in to it.

I haven’t vomited in more than 30 years because I refuse to do so.

When I feel the first tinglings of a cold, I simply tell myself that I do not get sick, and most of the time that’s enough. I do not get sick. I do not give in to sickness.

When I feel pain in my body, I remind myself that my mind is stronger, and the pain dissipates.

Sickness is a weakness of the mind. Both of my parents hold firm to this view, and it has become part of the fabric of my being. (I have written about this attitude here.)

I felt this way until Tuesday 25th October at 3:34pm.

It was at that point that I came out of a meeting with Phil and Jo (two new colleagues) and noticed that I was shaking slightly. I felt a bit cold. I went back to my desk and for the next 47 minutes wrote an abstract for an article on workforce planning for beginning teachers. My fingers skittered across the keyboard in often uncontrollable ways, the shaking intensifying the longer I sat there. I tried deep breathing as a way of calming myself, in case the meeting had somehow agitated or excited me; I walked quickly to the toilet and back as a way of warming myself, in case it was the sitting that was making me cold. I didn’t think about getting/being sick … I was just cold. And shaking uncontrollably. And feeling slightly off my game.

One hour and forty seven minutes later I was in hospital. Admitted straight into emergency, even though the woman in the queue ahead of me had been told that she would be waiting at least an hour to be seen by a doctor.

I stayed in hospital for a week.

In that week, I had no control over what my body did, or of what was happening in my body. I couldn’t think my way out of my sickness. My mind and my body were two separate entities: one did not control the other.

Or rather, my mind did not control my body.

I lay in my hospital bed for a week and my mind was quiet (I am toying with using the word ‘blank’): it is usually busy narrating my life, having conversations with a host of others, skipping from thought to thought, involved in a rich array of experiences, ideas, images, connections. My inner life is integral to who I am and while I am quiet on the outside, on the inside my mind is loud and always on.

I realised, though, on my sixth day in hospital, that my mind hadn’t been on for the previous six days. I lay in my hospital bed under six blankets, sheet up to my chin, neatly tucked in, eyes shut against the light, and my mind was quiet. Nothing. No thoughts, no conversations, no ideas … quiet. I’d sleep (a lot) and when I was awake my mind was quiet.

My mind seemed to know that it had to be quiet so that my body could recover. It seemed, for the first time that I can remember, that my body was in charge, rather than me being in charge of it.

I am home from hospital now, and my mind has switched back on. But it’s now more willing to listen to my body. I lie here, in my own bed, with the blankets piled high, neatly tucked in, watching the clouds flit across the sky, and drift off to sleep, my mind on but quiet enough to allow my body to recover.

I am thankful that I am generally healthy: I had no list of medications to give to the doctors, no bouts of ill-health to share, certainly nothing like the 40 heart attacks and plethora of other ailments the woman in the next bed talked of. Even so, I was not in control. Something was happening to me, and I was unable to stop it.

On day 7, the day of my release from hospital, I thought about my/our lack of control. I had just as much control over the bugs wreaking havoc in my bloodstream, as we collectively do of controlling the force of the wind, the amount of rain that falls, or the size of the wave after an earthquake. We are reminded that there are some things we still cannot control; some things are bigger than us, they are beyond us: we are not as powerful as we thought we were.

It’s an unsettling thought, but allowing it is not a sign of weakness.

Posted in Life

On illness …

My sister and I were talking yesterday.  In person. (We can do that now that we live closer to each other.)

We were discussing how like our mother we are in relation to illness. Mum has no truck with people who are sick. It’s all in their heads. If they wanted to get better they would, and if they’d been more determined they wouldn’t have been sick in the first place. You sneeze and say I’m getting a cold and Mum would respond with ‘stop it. You’ll talk yourself into getting sick’.

Deb and I are like our mother. People allow themselves to get sick. They don’t talk themselves out of it. We have an absolute conviction that illness can be stopped with the right attitude. In fact, Dad used to say it a lot when we were kids: mind over matter. We developed strong minds.

Deb and I are doomed – it comes from both parents.

I felt good yesterday to discover that I wasn’t the only one with this attitude (besides my mother). Deb has it too. We joked about it, and felt good about being so self-aware as we wondered down the main street of Bright, laughing that it was only in this that we were like our mother.

Our self-awareness hasn’t changed our attitude though.

And without wanting to jinx ourselves, Deb and I tend not to get sick. And neither does Mum. Everyone around us might be burning up with fever, coughing and sneezing their hearts out, have throats red raw, be laid flat with whatever’s going around and we tend to sail on through unscathed.

When we do get sick though, we get sick. Mum was sick earlier in the year. Her and Dad were visiting Tasmania and then our new place and she wasn’t at all well. But would she take it easy? Not on your life! No giving in to a cold, no spending time resting up … taking it easy is for wimps, and by golly our mother is not a wimp.

Sickness is for the weak, and she is strong.

Let me just say, as an aside, that people who have this attitude are very bad patients!

Deb and I have, it seems, inherited her attitude. And thankfully, her constitution. We rarely get sick.

We joke about our attitude, and in mixed company pretend that we really don’t think that sickness is for the weak and that if you really wanted you wouldn’t get sick in the first place … but in our hearts we know that it’s not pretend. It’s a truth we live with.

It’s not an easy thing to admit so openly. Turn it around for a moment and imagine how hard it must be for us, having no patience with a loved one curled up in a ball on the couch, red-nosed and sounding like Shirley Bassey on a bad day. Imagine how difficult it is for us to make soothing noises, to make chicken soup, to fuss over the pain-ridden … oh forget it, you obviously didn’t look after yourself properly and you’ve let yourself get sick. Stop giving in to it.

There, I’ve said it. It’s out there.

But, we know about our attitude and we are pleased that as we get older we’re better at biting our tongues and being sympathetic.

Or so we think.

Our husbands, it seems, think differently.