What to do when being sick changes us

A few weeks ago I was sick. Not drastically sick, just bad head cold, sore-throat, walking-from-room-to-room-requires-a-nap, long-time-to-get-over-it sort of sick.

Was the experience pleasant?


But it was helpful, so, so helpful.

Whenever I’m sick there’s something I realise – and then promptly forget as soon as I am better:

Sickness distorts your thinking.

At least, it has that effect on me.

When I am sick:

I forget what it’s like to be well. I forget that I normally have the energy to do things. I forget that I normally enjoy certain activities. Sickness has the habit of swelling, like a waterlogged drain, to encompass everything. It makes it hard to see beyond sickness. It makes it hard to be happy.

I forget about the wider world. Sickness forces retreat. Whether that’s self-imposed isolation in a household full of annoyingly healthy people, or simply the result of not being able to go to work or school or normal activities, sickness tends to mean we don’t socialise. At least, not on the level we might be accustomed too. This can mean two things:

  1. Tiny incidents in our ‘sick world’ take on epic proportions and seem lot more significant than they actually are. Meaning, if we run out of milk it seems like the end of the world.
  2. Incidents – real or imagined – in the wider world seem a lot more important, or worrisome, than perhaps they actually are. Meaning, we might stress about something at work which we would not normally worry about, simply because we are not there to see it (or fix it) firsthand.

I forget who I am. Not in a literal ‘oh I think my name is Bob today’ way, but in a much more subtle manner. You see, when I am not well, there’s a lot I can’t do. And when I can’t do it, I begin to wonder who I am, what my life is, and other existential questions. I’m convinced this is the result of me placing my value and my identity in the components of my day and life rather than in my life itself. For example, when I am sick, I am no longer ‘a worker’ or ‘a useful contributor to the household’ or ‘a carer’ or whatever it is we might call ourselves. I may not even be ‘a dreamer’ or ‘a thinker’ or ‘enthusiastic’ or ‘outgoing’ – I am a shell of who I normally am, and thus discover that I’m not actually in essence, any of those things. This is a rude shock, and it hurts.

I forget what I do is unimportant. I get frustrated when I’m sick because often there’s so much that I want to do. Hobbies, work, celebrations, friends catch-ups – they’re all things I miss out on when I’m unwell. And yet, the truth is, they are lovely, but essentially unimportant. Sickness teaches me that. It pares back all the bells and whistles of life and makes me realise that I can survive on a lot less. In sickness there is simply me and God. That can be very, very hard – but it is also very, very good. I don’t shrivel up without these things. God is sufficient.

Truths I dare not forget


For these reasons, there are certain truths I try and hold onto when I’m sick. I’m slowly (ever so slowly) trying to remember them, so that as soon as I fall sick I can pull them out – my first aid kit for the common cold, or something like that. Unfortunately, my memory or desires are rarely that good and I tend to have to relearnt them each time I become unwell. Nevertheless, when I’m sick it is wise for me to:

Not make any big decisions – because sickness has altered my perspective, and I feel sick-me is a lot more dramatic and emotional than well-me, as well as a lot more easily misled.

Not give into any feelings of isolation, lost-ness or sadness – because sickness changes my emotions, amplifies situations, and makes me see things that aren’t there. The less time I spend mulling over them the better. It’s far more helpful if I simply make a list of my worries or thoughts and plan to think over them and see if they are true once I’m better.

Acknowledge that my body is weak – sickness is profoundly humbling. I was reading something the other day which mentioned that ‘we’ve forgotten how to be unwell’. Often when I’m sick I double think myself: ‘am I really sick? Or is it all in my mind? Should I go to work? What if I’m just being lazy? What if people think I’m just being a wimp?’ How ridiculous. The fact that I’m even thinking these thoughts means that something is not right physically – because normally work or life is not something that I shirk. Yes, I’m sick. Yes, I ought to rest. Yes, my emotions and identity and a lot of what I hold dear can actually be completely destroyed and disrupted by a tiny bacteria or virus. It’s part of being human.

Cling onto the fact that everything I am is God – that is, even when I can’t do anything. When I can’t read my Bible, when I can’t leave the house, when I can’t produce works of beauty or even struggle to speak words of love. When I am not impacting anyone else’s life – God is there. And who I am – who I essentially am – cannot be shaken. Because it is not housed in my fragile, sweating, sore body, but dwelling in the shining body of the Almighty.

I am a person who has been saved. And that person lives in Christ.

Yes, but..

Of course all these concerns raise questions about what it’s like to live with a chronic illness. Do these feelings ever go away? How do you live with them day in and day out? I’m still thinking about what this all looks like, but I’ve written a little at calledtowatch.com if you’re interested.

Any thoughts? How do you deal with the common cold (and other less common varieties?)

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