Sick With Grief
Last month I disappeared for a while. In the middle of a week of trainings I came down with the flu, even though I had a flu shot last October. I wasn't surprised that I got sick. I always get sick this time of the year, at least since moving to Denver. So for the third year in a row, I became terribly ill during the early spring with the worst cough ever and the intense feeling that my life force and intelligence had been completely drained away. For three weeks I coughed so hard my brain would hurt, as if I was concussed, and I couldn't help imagining the brain damage I might suffer from it. I took the best care of myself, drinking 15 units of 8oz of fluids daily, I consumed bone broth, I used a humidifier and my diffuser with essential oils, I went to the doctor and got a prescription medication for my cough, and I slept for hours and hours. As my health began to improve, I thought about why I kept getting sick at this precise time for the past three years. I thought about what links I might make if this was a client's story. It was simple. I was grieving, or I AM grieving. It makes perfect sense to me. This time of year is when my grief is at it's most vulnerable because this is the time of year when everyone I am grieving for has died. Between Feb. 1st and the end of March is when they all passed away. Taking that into consideration and adding the fact that since moving I do not have the same kind of support system I used to have, well, the vulnerability just keeps adding up.
I always warn my grieving clients to watch out for illness. Grief can chip away at our immune systems and illness can make us feel more vulnerable and poke at our grief. Who hasn't felt inexplicably tearful during a nasty cold? Some of us may even start thinking about a lost loved one or a failed relationship with particular longing and sadness as we sit alone and isolated in our sick beds.
We try to protect our loved ones, coworkers, the general public, from our illnesses. That is, after all, the conscientious thing to do. But in protecting others, we can make ourself vulnerable to a different kind of illness, an illness of the heart and soul. So it is important to keep that in mind and do what you can to stay connected to the rest of your world. Text a friend to let them know how you are feeling, announce what you are binge watching on Netflix while you are on Facebook. Take artsy pictures of your sick little world and post them, showing others how you are taking care of yourself. I was lucky, I had my dog, Hank, to keep me grounded and stave off loneliness and total boredom while I was ill.
My point is, do not underestimate the power of grief and how it links with physical illness. Maybe you are grieving and finding yourself more sick more often. Maybe you experience more emotional pain while you are sick. Please be aware of what is happening for you and take care of yourself and reach out to others who you trust to help you through it.
Nissa Jackman LMFT, ATR