By Ciel Patenaude —
It’ s not likely that many of us will escape the winter season without getting the cold and/or flu at some point. Maybe it hits us early (and hard, as it has been for some people locally already), or maybe we will make it almost to spring before getting knocked out, but it’s fairly inevitable that it will happen.
Given this, and given the reality that this has been happening to us roughly once a year since we were children, you would think that more of us would be ‘better sick people’ by now, experienced as we are in the art of being ill.
However, in our culture being sick has far less to do with accepting what is happening and learning how to deal with it well than it does with pushing through and getting back to our regularly scheduled programming as quickly as possible. Nothing about being sick is seen as a meaningful or (dare I say) ‘good’ thing in our society; it is viewed a nuisance that we should vaccinate and medicate away in totality.
But what if getting our yearly cold was not just an annoying blip in our life experience, but instead held possibility for personal awareness and physical healing that we have yet to understand? What if getting sick is actually something our bodies – and minds – need to do, like sleeping?
Current research seems to point in this direction. No longer perceived on a simplistic Germ Theory level, viruses and bacteria – and the illnesses they encourage within us – are being studied to understand their positive and ‘meaningful’ effects, and the larger purpose they may actually hold in our overall health.
(Prior to beginning this discussion, however, please note I am not speaking here about life-threatening illnesses, or sickness occurring in those with highly compromised immune systems: this is about the average cold and flu that will likely keep us away from work for a few days, stuffed up and miserable.)
So what does it mean to be a ‘good patient’ in the art of being ill? Empowerment, knowledge, personal emotional development, and an ongoing commitment to resist the norms of Western culture when it comes to sickness.
1.Educate and heal yourself:
This is reflection that comes mainly from Western doctors: people need to know how to take care of themselves better. In the US it’s estimated that around 11 percent of doctor’s visits are for the common cold, something a doctor can do absolutely nothing about. Learning how to boost your immune system and heal well is something the common folk used to know many years ago – chicken broth, anyone? – and yet we too often hand over our ability to take care of ourselves at the slightest sniffle.
Some proven natural ways to treat yourself include extra doses of vitamin D, at least 30mg of zinc each day, 2000 mg of vitamin C (or more) daily, lots of garlic, elderberry syrup – take this through the whole winter if you can – and broths, which contain countless necessary immune-supportive factors. And rest: that which we resist the most.
2. Get philosophical:
We all know being sick isn’t entirely pleasant, but to sit around and be sick and then think on how much we hate being sick is a somewhat insane thing to do when you think about it, layering discomfort over more discomfort.
The capacity to be a mindful patient and choose your response to being ill is always, no matter what, within your grasp. The mind is the one thing we can control when feeling rough, so it would seem meaningful to do so.
A thought to help it out? When we get sick it is because viruses invade the weakest and most vulnerable of our body cells, causing them to be removed with other waste that has been accumulating. Viruses are, in many ways, helping us to get rid of garbage far faster than we could, and illness is therefore highly useful and necessary.
Getting sick is also an opportunity for psychological and emotional ‘downtime,’ if we take it. In Scientific American, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California said, “Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives, and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself.” We all need to slow down, and sickness is often your body’s way of telling you it’s time to take a pause.”
3.Understand the ‘enemy’:
Germ Theory postulates that humans get sick only because of exposure to bacteria and viruses, and this theory has driven much of contemporary Western medicine development.
However, Terrain Theory, a now more widely accepted and highly reasonable perspective on illness development, suggests it is also whether a biological environment (a body) is hospitable to infection that determines which entities may invade. In essence, it is not the ‘fault’ of the infectious agent that we get sick, and taking antibiotics and antivirals without building our innate immune strength makes little sense. From this perspective, getting sick is a message from our system that we have perhaps been going a little too fast with too little support for too long.
Taking mucus and fever suppressing medications has also been labeled a health- negating choice, for those reactions are necessary for the body to develop and maintain an immune response. Mucus actually contains countless numbers of ‘helping’ viruses called phages that invade any bacteria lingering about, preventing bacterial infections that may result when a cold lasts for a long time. To wipe the mucus out actually detracts from our innate immunological response.
In short, attempting to fight the sickness – either the manifesting symptoms, the pathogen involved, or the overall emotional experience of having a cold – does nothing but prolong and increase the discomfort of it all, simultaneously decreasing our sense of potency and power as individuals.
May we all take responsibility for what we can do in improving overall health through diet and lifestyle choices, but then learn to release into the moment when sickness occurs, trusting necessary processes are occurring and health will return, if we will slow down enough to let it happen.
Ciel Patenaude is an Integrative Health & Shamanic Practitioner based in Williams Lake, BC. A highly trained and naturally gifted intuitive healer, Ciel holds a BSc in Biology, an MA in Integrative Healing, and is a certified yoga teacher & wellness coach.