January’s Life Lessons
February is the least favorite month of the year for many people, with the holidays well behind us, spring and summer vacations too far out in front of us, and the typical cold, gray weather hanging heavily. But for me, at least this year, I’m very glad to turn the page on January and welcome February in. January was filled with an unexpected series of life lessons for me this year, and I need these slow days of February as time to rest, recover, and reflect.
I started the year feeling physically not all that great, although I was optimistic and full of plans. Unfortunately, my body decided it needed more of my attention and my health went downhill quickly — I found myself without the energy or mental clarity to do even the simplest of activities: prepare a meal for my family, run errands, read or write. For several years now I have been struggling with what I thought was a not-so-serious condition that compromised my immune system, but ever-increasing symptoms toward the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 drove me to seek out more information and help from other sources in the healthcare community. Now, after several weeks and many appointments with MDs, naturopaths, and nurse practitioners, I am on the road to understanding what is going on (a little more serious than what I originally thought) and am working with a practitioner who I trust to help me figure out the rest.
So, the good news is that over the past few days I’ve begun to feel slightly better, and even though (or really, because) I still have to spend most of my day sitting, my mind is clear enough for the first time in weeks to reflect on what I’ve been going through and begin to understand that there are some important life lessons to be gleaned from my recent experience. The first, and most important, is that nobody cares about my health more than I do (nor should they!). Yes, my family cares and my doctors care, but I’m the one who needs to push, and question, and drive, and push some more — nobody else can do that for me. My husband certainly tries, and deserves a medal for how well he has supported me, taken care of me, and even filled in for me when I was too weak or tired to do so, but the ultimate responsibility for my health rests with me. Knowing what’s normal for my body, educating myself, asking lots of questions (even when they are discouraged), and not allowing someone’s strong opinions to sway me from what I feel to be true or helpful are really important.
Which brings me to the next of January’s life lessons: healthy skepticism is, well, healthy. If someone’s opinions or recommendations don’t seem right, even if they are an “expert” (actually, especially if they claim to be an expert!), you need to be skeptical, and take the time to do your own research, get other opinions, and ask as many questions as you need to. I consulted five people from different areas of healthcare over the course of six weeks, and each one, without fail, told me emphatically why their diagnosis and recommendations were right, and why the other opinions I had gathered (and asked them about) were wrong! Had I gone against my own judgment and intuition, and just stopped with any of these first assessments, I would be much worse off right now, and risking further and more serious health issues. It turns out that each of them had a piece of the puzzle, but the person who is now treating me was able to see all of the pieces together (and identified a few others, too).
And the third life lesson of the month? We are not built to live in a constant state of stress. Our bodies and minds are designed to help us survive short periods of fight or flight situations — to kill the bear, or run from the tiger. We are not designed for the non-stop, worry-filled lifestyles we all have. This is not news to me, as it probably isn’t to you — magazine articles and other sources of health information are always warning about the negative impacts of stress. And even though I’ve really tried to be aware of this and make healthier choices, I still have more to do, I guess, because the severity of my current health issues are a direct result of too much stress. So, as I continue to recover, I’ve decided it’s time for a whole new operating system. What does that mean? It means living differently, from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed; it means basing my thoughts and behavior on a new and improved set of beliefs and expectations. I’m thinking about it as “reformatting my hard drive” — loading a whole new operating system whose functionality and features I will consciously choose. There’s no doubt this will require a lot of soul-searching and tough choices, but for me it’s not an option, and I’m actually (kind of) looking forward to it because I know I will feel better, and I also know that my kids will benefit as well.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, both of my boys are very emotionally aware, and I’ve noticed how my emotional states impact theirs, both positively and negatively. When I am calm and centered, they are much more relaxed and happy; when I am rushing around or frazzled from doing too many things, they become more emotional or quiet. Whoever first described children as sponges was entirely correct, and I tend to forget how much of an impact the example my husband and I set has on them. I’m hoping that the changes I make now result in our days moving at a slower, more peaceful pace (which I can already see happening), but I’m also taking a longer-term perspective. The choices I make and tools I employ will hopefully set an example that the boys will remember when they are adults and making lifestyle choices for themselves and their families. So, even though the weather outside is damp and gray this month, it’s perfectly-timed for me — I have lots of thinking, and even more resting, to do!