I Feel Terrible
I’ve always been a bit of a baby about colds. To be fair, I get them a lot – I had 4 colds in a row last fall, until I invested in some serious immune support. And if I don’t deal with a cold quickly, it turns into a deep cough that can last for weeks. My parents say I spent my childhood coughing myself to sleep – and that’s only a slight exaggeration. I remember my humidifier as an almost permanent fixture in my room, and at some point I coughed violently enough to cause some permanent internal damage.
So, while a cold isn’t going to kill me, they are bloody annoying things. They drain me of energy and make everything more difficult. They cause congestion headaches, so that I can’t get any work done. And they make putrid fluids issue from all the orifices in my head, making me disgusting to myself and to everyone around me. So no, I do not like getting colds. I don’t like waking up in the middle of the night feeling like I have razor blades in my throat. I don’t like having to excuse myself from classrooms, clinic rooms, and church services in order to hack up a lung. And yes, I will bundle myself up in bed and drink hot fluids and segregate myself from society as a whole if it is at all possible while I recover. I will brave the eye-rolls and condescending tones in my lovely sisters’ voices as they tell me it’s probably for the best that I’m not a mother.
I love my sisters. But sometimes, they don’t make it easy.
The Value of Compassion
On the bright side, I think this makes me a better clinician. When a patient asks for my help dealing with a cold, they get help. And how. I am one (almost) doctor who takes colds seriously. I will go over symptoms with a fine-tooth comb, and prescribe something to help with every one of them. Most importantly, I will recommend rest. We may not be able to cure the common cold, but we can certainly help your body deal with it better and heal more quickly.
Unfortunately, this sucky side of my nature that emerges when I’m sick does make it more difficult to exercise self control in regards to my eating.
The Danger of Compassion
I have a good theory as to why this is. I think my whole food addiction is very childlike. It is a needy, overwhelmed part of me that wants to hide from the adult world because she doesn’t understand how to operate in it. I’ve read that the vast majority of women with eating disorders picture their disorder, or the critical voice in their head, as a domineering male partner. But when I picture mine, I see a little girl. She is alone, and confused, and scared. And she is never more pitiful than when she is sick.
This is why she is so hard to resist. I am naturally suspicious of authority, and tend to rebel against it, so I would not respond well to a dictatorial voice. But a child, especially a girl, brings out every nurturing instinct in me. I may refer to this side of me as devious and deceptive, but I don’t really think she’s doing it on purpose. She’s crying out for what she believes she needs. Saying no to her is like denying a starving infant.
How do I harden myself against such plaintive, desperate appeal?
I’m reminded of the advice my mastermind group gave me, before I weighed myself. They suggested I think of myself as a patient. To be as gentle and forgiving in my judgements of myself as I would be with someone who had come to me for help. I took this advice in, considered it at length, and decided it made a lot of sense. As silly as it seemed, I went as far as conducting that initial weigh-in on a scale in my school’s clinic, and I believe it helped. I was able to remain detached, to look at the number professionally instead of personally. Logically, instead of emotionally.
I think I need to adopt this perspective in all areas of self-care.
Self-Care, not Self-Denial
If I feel sick and sorry for myself, and my addicted brain is crying out soothing comfort food, the solution is not to simply plug my ears. I can’t just point at the rules, or tell myself that if I cheat I won’t get to place a checkmark next to my name for that day, or that I’ll have to confess a less-than-perfect week to my mastermind group. The child in my head doesn’t care about those things. Her needs are more important, and denying them for the sake of saving face is just cruel.
No. The way to deal with this situation is, once again, to view this little girl as a patient.
Self-Care, not Self-Indulgence
A sick child may ask for sweets. They may be the only foods that look appealing. But I know that sugar will not help that child get well. Sugar is detrimental to the immune system, and beneficial to the infecting organism – with few exceptions (cholera, for example, where simple carbs are absolutely necessary). The body often decreases the appetite naturally during sickness, for this very reason. Gentle, building foods, like soups and broths, should be offered to a sick child; but if refused, it is misguided to tempt them with sugary confections. It would be better to leave the child alone to follow their instincts, fasting if necessary. Liquids are vital. Food, in the short-term, is not.
Withholding foods that would be detrimental to the child’s health is not cold-hearted or neglectful. It is loving and wise. Parents can nurture their sick children, providing comfort and real help, in a number of different ways, depending on the type of illness. They can hold cold cloths on hot foreheads. Draw warm baths and steep warm drinks. They can read stories, apply herbal compresses, and rub away aches and sores. The ways in which you could pamper that child back to health are nearly endless, so the most doting and overprotective parent could be kept busy and happy for days, without ever resorting to unhealthy treats.
This is the kind of counsel I provide to parents with sick children – tailored, of course, to specific illnesses. I go to great lengths to ensure that parents realize that withholding sugar is more loving, more caring, and more beneficial than providing it. That their children will not suffer for it, or hate them for it. And to remind them that they are the parents: that they, not their children, are responsible for the decisions they make. That sometimes, parents need to make decisions that their children won’t like. This isn’t pleasant. It is difficult. But that’s what being a parent is.
I find it difficult to deal with parents who refuse to see this. Who are too tender-hearted to make those difficult decisions and stick to them. I have more patience with the parent who disagrees with me on the basic premise: who simply can’t be convinced that the best cure for what ails their child isn’t Tylenol and lots of carbs. At least those parents are acting on their sincere beliefs for their child’s best interest, not just choosing the easy way out.
But when I give in to myself, I am worse than a misinformed, weak-willed or lazy parent. Because I know exactly what that food is doing to me. And giving my addicted brain what it wants is causing more harm than was ever inflicted by feeding a feverish child Jell-O. I know better. And I need to be more responsible.
Unfortunately, I am not just the doctor, or even the parent, in this situation. I am also the sick child. Separating that part of me – that voice that I have to ignore continually in order to stick to my bright lines – if more difficult than ever, because I am actually sick. It is my own body that is not only experiencing the cravings, but also feeling run-down, beaten-up, sleepy and weepy. I am at my very weakest.
This is where I most need support.
Asking for Help
I need people to call on. People who care about me, who are able to think clearly when my own thinking is clouded. Whose advice I can trust when I can’t trust myself.
This is why I love my Facebook group. Why I see a naturopathic doctor. And why my mastermind group is so vital. I may be an extreme introvert, whose instinct is to hide away in the remotest corner of the earth; but I could not do this alone. I don’t know that any of us can. We’re not built that way. We are not self-sufficient.
We need each other.
Don’t try to go it alone. It is so much harder, on your own, than it has to be. Find support, and give support to others – you might find that even giving help away is building, rather than draining. I need the help of others. And when I help others, I end up teaching myself, as well. So don’t feel bad about reaching out. You are not an inconvenience. You are part of a community, and we all need each other.
I’m going to go take care of myself, now. And drink some more hot lemon water (thanks for the suggestion, Barb!).