Over the years, many parents have written to me when their children are sick. They themselves are worried sick. I cannot provide internet diagnosis of children I have never met, nor can I offer medical opinions based on a few lines that worried parents write. I wish I could do more for these worried parents, other than tell them to take a deep breath, calm down and see a doctor again if you are still worried (another one if you are not happy with previous diagnosis). A lot of times, it is nothing more than parental stress that heightened a simple cold into bronchitis or flu, fever into hospitalisation, tummy ache into food poisoning. We spin small things until they grew monstrously big in our heads. I see kids hooked on drips so needlessly. Oh, we have such complicated relationship with illness. And our children’s illness – and its treatment – always starts with us. Here’s about learning how to be sick. So that we can heal.
I, who don’t run away, ran away when I was ill. I ran away from my family and shut myself up where they could not reach me. My aunt and my two friends were the only people I did not run from, out of necessity. I had needed these three women on a daily basis, for practical purposes.
Everything I did was about fighting my sickness. I went to church everyday, often straight from hospital, to pray to God to take me away from all this. Please, God, take me back to a month ago; please God, take me back to anytime when I was not ill, even when I was unhappy. Please just take me back or take me forward to a time where I had control over my body.
My partner fought to catch me, to stop me running away, to get me grounded. I didn’t want to go to farking meditation sessions with a bunch of earnest strangers, but he made me, against my will. He had climbed over fences and hammered violently on my door. I ran, metaphorically, but he always caught up.
The turning point came when he showed up unexpectedly at the hospital and nonchalantly threw a bag of adult diapers at me. “Put one on and we’re going for lunch,” he said pleasantly. “No excuse this time. I’ll carry you if I have to.”
The first outing was a disaster. He had to carry me up the stairs. It was awful. I burst into tears and he knocked the wine glasses and cruets over. So was the second outing. But after a few, it became good. Wearing adult diapers, having bald patches on my hairline, feeling queasy, perpetual tiredness and itches on my skin became something that is part of my beautiful time in London with my partner. We even went ice-skating outside the Science Museum London on wintry night. It was magical. That night, he had said to me, “This moment is worth a thousand lifetimes, Jac” and I believed him. It was.
I think that was when I started getting better: when my mind and emotions were fixed. And my mind and emotions got fixed when I stood still, looked at my illness in its face and accepted it, thanked it even. If I hadn’t been ill, I would not have known what it was like to ice-skate at 11pm with a beautiful man and a hundred other lovely memories he had given me. I no longer feared my illness or got angry at life.
Toni Bernhard wrote a book called How To Be Sick–A Buddhist’s Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers. In the book, she wrote:
It can feel as if our lives and, indeed ourselves, are nothing but distressing symptoms. When this happens, the first step is to acknowledge whatever emotions you’re feeling at the moment – anger, frustration, fear. If you deny their existence it only strengthens their hold on you. You can even try to open your heart to these painful emotions because they are all part of the human experience.
“Then from a place of calm, I can take measured, concrete steps to improve the care I’m getting. This might mean finding a new doctor or contacting the patient advocate for the hospital or other medical facility from which I received poor care.”
So breathe deeply, dear parents ❤