Are You Making Yourself Sick?
This past winter I watched in horror as normally healthy, resilient friends + co-workers succumbed to a string of illnesses, from bronchitis to pneumonia to mystery stomach bugs. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve also never been sick so frequently despite my usual precautions of hand-washing, flu shots and exercise. We all thought spring would put an end to the madness, but we’re all sick all over again. I know that germs and bacteria are a real thing, and that I have zero scientific data to support this, but I have to think that we are all more susceptible to sickness because we are simply doing too much. And I don’t just mean working. I mean everything: Thinking, worrying, stressing, talking, traveling, coming, going . . . it’s all too much.
I’m as guilty as they come and I don’t even realize it half the time because I believe that this intensity is completely normal. In fact, I worry more that if I stop, everything will come crashing down—my career, my following, my reputation, my relationships. So I keep going, with short, designated breaks for relaxation. I call it hurry-up-and-relax time. But all of those massages, bubbly-laden nights out and weekend getaways are really just a very concentrated last-ditch effort to avoid collapse. It takes getting sick, as I have been these past few days, to snap out of my ineffectual, unsustainable way of being.
Our bodies always know, and when they don’t like what they know, they shut down. Sickness is the final straw when we haven’t been paying attention to other signs, like being irritable or lonely or anxious. Sickness literally stops us in our tracks and forces us to cut back to the bare minimum. At which point I always realize, with a mixture of relief and unease, that no one REALLY needs me at work and I don’t REALLY need to respond to every single email and Instagram will still be there when I return. So why are we killing ourselves? Or, as my father asked me not long ago: What is the point of all of this work? What exactly are you working toward?
I opened and closed my mouth a few times and couldn’t answer. Yes, there are times when life gets crazy and we can’t control all of the jobs/kids/activities we need to attend to, but if the most tangible outcome of all that doing is stress and sickness, then we are doing something wrong. Even goals like promotions or more money aren’t reason enough if they only lead to more doing and consuming, less freedom and inner peace. In the past, I’ve kept busy because it made me feel important or distracted me from what I was really feeling. Lately though I’m testing a theory that if I put my relationships, health (both mental and physical), and the things that make me genuinely happy ahead of this imaginary need to stay productive and get ahead, I’ll wind up exactly where I’m meant to be.