What Illness Can Teach Us about Taking Care of Ourselves

Lurgy visited our house big time and wiped us all out. This has never happened before. As terribly considerate British expats, we usually stagger our illnesses to ensure that there is always a sane, vaguely responsible adult at the helm. Terrifyingly, this role was taken by our eight-year-old daughter this weekend. She was sweet and understanding, and thankfully she didn’t burn the apartment down. She stepped up because there was no one else: her parents were snotty and asleep at the wheel.

This is the harsh reality in the life of expatriates and often the most terrifying: realising that no one is coming to rescue you. Your homeland is thousands of miles away and your family cannot fetch food and make you soup via Skype. The best they can do is say, “You sound so ill,” which, despite being true, isn’t terribly helpful! It is at this point that it takes all our self-control not to book flight tickets back home and abandon the whole idea of being an expat.

When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water. – Benjamin Franklin

We also realise that if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one else will. The buck starts and stops with us, so we MUST take self-care seriously. We all have boundaries: our mental and physical limits that we must honour, yet often we fail to do so. These boundaries act as a container for our energy and therefore our health. When these boundaries are breached, our energy leaks out and the consequences are not pretty – neither for ourselves nor for those around us.

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. – Bertrand Russell

Self-care is about knowing when we are reaching critical internal pressure and then taking appropriate action. Picture a scene in a disaster movie: the gauge on the diabolical device-that-will-blow-up-the-world is moving from amber to Red Zone. Before a meltdown (Red Zone), our minds often contain the clues that we are heading for trouble:

  • Thoughts seem to go faster and faster.
  • Our self-talk gets meaner, nastier and very inaccurate.
  • Thinking becomes increasingly cloudier.
  • There is a clear sense that everything on the to-do list has a sense of urgency and anxiety.
  • Events that seem benign when you are relaxed transform into personal attacks – the world seems to be conspiring against you.

These signs make it clear that our internal pressure gauge is moving from green to amber and is about to hit red! We are on the edge of exhaustion and illness. In an ideal world, it would be advisable never even to enter the amber zone. For many of us, however, just being a parent and juggling all the other “stuff” in our lives causes our pressure gauges to flick into the Amber Zone on a regular basis. Once you know you have entered the Amber Zone, it is vital to know how to get back down to Green to avoid exhaustion and illness.

Ask yourself: What do I need to STOP doing, or say no to, in order to honour my health?

It is surprising just how many things you can say no to, if only for a short while. This may seem near impossible, but allow me to ask: If you were ill, right now, what would you have to postpone from your schedule and to-do list? I will bet that quite a lot from the list could be dropped. In the light of illness, as priorities shift, the “shoulds” and the social expectations have a tendency of magically disappearing! You can’t do it if you can’t drag yourself out of bed! Wouldn’t it be amazing to make these changes before being surrounded by flu medication and tissues? Start today to take action to plug the energy leaks that happen everyday in your life!

Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel. – Eleanor Brown

By Tammy Furey

Tammy is a coach, educator, writer and blogger who lives in St. Gallen, Switzerland with her husband and daughter whilst attempting (badly) to speak German, fold her paper recycling in the correct manner and finish writing her book (www.thegratitudepapers.com). Visit her at www.fureycoaching.com

Illustration by Lemady Rochard

Lemady is an artist who also runs Storycraft classes for children aged 1½ to 8 years in Ruschlikon, ZH. She is currently studying for a master of fine arts and also has a background in theatre arts and children’s literature. Lemady lives in Thalwil with her two young children. Contact her at: lemady@mail.com

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