None of us are immune from ever being ill/ getting sick/ coming down with something/ catching a bug/ getting a disease, and we have many phrases that reflect that this is an everyday part of life. We cannot always prevent ourselves from getting sick, but is there a healthy way to be ill?
It does not always feel like illness is under our control: we think it came from that kid at preschool/ school/ university/ the soccer team/ the person who sneezed on us in the bus/ the person who was coughing on the plane/ our mum or dad/ our genes/ God – but the way we are with ourselves in life, including when we are sick, is certainly something we can master.
In fact, it is a wonder that we are not all sick, all of the time, given the world we live in, what we are surrounded by, and the organisms that live inside of us.
The micro-organisms that infect us are all around us and within us; in the air that we breathe, on and in our bodies and on everyday objects. So why do we get sick with one and not the other? Why do we fall ill with this particular one at this specific time? And why do some of us get the flu every winter and others never do, or only this year?
Is there something about us that has a bearing on all this?
Most of us are born with an immune system, which is designed to work in a way that allows us to live in a world that is full of micro-organisms. We are exposed to them, develop an army of antibodies with long memories and mount a defence when we come across them again. Generally, this process works very well. Sometimes it does not work at all and sometimes it goes awry, and the antibodies that we make attack us, leading to auto-immune diseases.
Our immune system works best in a body which is being cared for by its owner. A body which is fed fresh wholesome food, has plenty of clean water to drink, gets good quality rest, is exercised in a way that suits that body, and that works as it is designed to, with regular breaks for rest and play.
We know we have to treat our animals well, or they will get sick and die. We know we have to treat our cars in a certain way, or they will break down and we won’t be able to drive anywhere. But somehow we seem able to override this knowing when it comes to our own bodies, even when they send us loud and clear messages to remind us!
We work too hard, we go to bed long after we feel tired, we stress about things constantly, we feel tired and use coffee and sugar to keep running instead of resting, we feel sad and use chocolate and sugar and milk to numb ourselves instead of talking about it and releasing the sadness, we feel angry and drink alcohol to numb ourselves and escape from how we are feeling … and the list goes on of all the ways we override our bodies and our feelings.
So is it any wonder that, sooner or later, we get sick?
When this happens, we are offered a great opportunity. Illness literally stops us in our tracks, giving us a chance to reflect on why we were ill, on how we were living up until that point that led to our feeling sick. It gives us a chance to review our choices in life, and to see which ones are harming us and which ones are supporting us. It offers us the opportunity to make different, more supportive choices that not only help us to get better from this particular illness, but allow us to live in a more loving and caring way with ourselves from that moment on. This is a healthy way to look at being ill.
We can take it, or leave it. We can keep living the way we have been, which will probably make us sicker. We can override the illness with remedies so we can keep carrying on doing what we want to do. We can ignore the messages our bodies are sending us, so that they have to keep sending louder and louder ones until we are finally brought to a stop we cannot push through.
Or, we can gracefully accept the opportunity that is being offered. We can rest, recharge, recover, review our life choices and reconsider how we want to live from this moment forth.
When seen in this way, what a wonderful opportunity our bodies offer us, every time we are ill, to expand our worldview and our way of living to one that offers us the potential of a return to true health, living with true vitality and joy.
Dr Anne Malatt is an eye specialist, or ophthalmologist. She trained as a medical doctor at the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital for eight years, and then trained for a further five years at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital as a specialist in diseases and surgery of the eye. She undertook postgraduate research, and has a Master of Surgery degree from the University of Melbourne. She is a Fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
Anne has been in specialist public and private practice since 1992 and participates in continuing medical education, surgical audit and peer review programmes, to maintain and improve her clinical skills. As well as her commitment to professional development, she is committed to her development as a person and a member of the community, for she sees life as one whole, of which her work is a great part.