Can I share a personal story about sickness with you?
Almost everyone has someone in their life that they struggle to see eye to eye with- to connect with and understand. I consider myself extraordinarily blessed to be married to one such person.
I often say that when my partner and I are not deeply connected to our highest selves, we can’t connect with one another. Our human psyches are just so very different. But in silence and in stillness and in the universal language that we all speak deep inside ourselves, there is frictionless communication.
This only happens though when we’re both grounded and centered. If either of us are emotional – telling some sort of story about what the other person said or should have done – if we’re blaming or accusing each other, we’re in separation and we’re simply not able to see and connect with one another in that moment. Our relationship is a really great barometer of how connected we are to our deeper selves.
Earlier this week I was feeling physically ill with flu-like symptoms. I had a sore back and throat, an achy body, and throbbing temples. My whole body hurt just laying down. I very rarely feel sick these days so I forgot what it’s like to feel uncomfortable in my body and then to behave unkindly because I don’t have the capacity for higher-order cognitive thinking in that moment.
So when my husband was making a request for something, which I typically would see as a reasonable request, I was a bit harsh in my reply. My grumpiness catalyzed his and so I was met with irritation from him. And that only served to provoke even more frustration inside me because I thought, “Well, why is he being irritable with me? He has no reason to be. I’m the one that’s sick! I have an excuse for being grumpy. Why is he speaking to me like that?”
When we’re sick we can numb ourselves with pills and keep pushing on, or we can take some time to rest and reassess. I gave myself space to recover and the next day I felt fine. And it was in that state I realised that if someone is being grumpy to me, they’re sick too. It’s just not a physical thing that I can see. When any of us get struck by fear – when we’re in separation or disconnected from our inner knowing – that’s a form of sickness. We’re unwell.
This might be quite confronting for some folks considering that stress and agitation seem to be their default setting. It was mine too before I learned what I teach now.
Mental illness is a form of sickness. It can last for moments or it can last for decades. Just because there aren’t the same kind of physical symptoms as the flu doesn’t mean that it warrants any less compassion. Though of course, we cannot give what we haven’t got. If we want to be gracious with others, we must learn to do that for ourselves too.
Here’s what an alternative reality looks like:
I ignore the feedback from my body and just push through with my “to do” list. The illness lingers for somewhere between days and decades and I get continuously more run down and irritable. I become increasingly tired and overwhelmed.
I act snarkier. I forget behaviour is a reflection of our state in the moment. So I criticise myself for my snarkiness because my behavior is in conflict with the story I tell myself about being a kind person. Then, because I’m not being nice to myself, I judge others for not being nice to me.
Sound familiar? I’ve lived this one previously so I know very well how it goes. And if I ran that same script again I’m fairly certain the disagreement between my partner and I would have turned into a full blown fight. I didn’t let that happen. I was able to see his sickness underneath, and be as compassionate towards him as I was towards me. And that is a feat I am proud to share with you today. Yay for celebrating our personal progress!