“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
[Kathryn Stockett, The Help]
1. Only the Flu is the Flu
I knew this one already, but this flu (let’s call it The Flu of April 2016), reinforced this truth. Ever since I had The Flu 16 years ago, I have been careful not to call ANYTHING else ‘the Flu’. Colds, yes. ‘Viruses’, oh yes. Tummy bugs, ‘flu-like symptoms’, feeling s**t… yes, yes, yes. But never The Flu.
When I had the flu 16 years ago I remember my mum mopping down my 20-year-old brow in the middle of the night, and it occurring to me that perhaps I was dying. I remember my friends had it too and we were supposed to be going to a Travis concert (!). Our parents stretched landline cords to hold phones to our ears while we assured each other that we would definitely be better in a few days and definitely be going. We weren’t better and we didn’t go. My dad put an advert in the Belfast Telegraph and somebody bought the tickets via a rendezvous at Lisburn Leisure Centre, because that is what you did 16 years ago.
Previously, there was the Beijing Flu of ’93, the highlight of which was when my brother puked while on the phone to his girlfriend.
The Flu of April 2016 reminded me that, other than the Travis Flu and the Beijing Flu, I had never really been sick in my life. ‘The Flu’ becomes your new standard of illness. Your ‘soldier on’ button gets stuck and even though it’s your husband’s Sunday morning lie-in, he has to get up because you genuinely, honestly can’t get out of bed.
2. Never be jealous of a sick person
In the weeks preceding The Flu of April 2016 I heard people mention that a husband, or wife or so-and-so had a terrible dose and spent the day in bed. I thought that sounded amazing. A whole day in bed! An excuse to opt out of life with small children for a day. But then I got the flu and learnt…
3. It is possible to NOT enjoy a day in bed
When I am tired, but well, I don’t really believe this, but it’s true. I did not enjoy bed or the sofa. I did not enjoy back-to-back Nashville or a Scandinavian crime marathon or even 5 Star babies. I could not read a book.
My husband went around saying “You know Sharon’s sick when she doesn’t even want a cup of tea” … so, really, a day in bed without tea or a book… what’s the point?
4. Recognise your Shame gremlins
This is a serious one! I have been reading a lot of Brené Brown recently and learning about the ways in which shame is present in the most mundane and visible aspects of our lives. To identify your own shame-triggers she suggests writing out how you want to be perceived, and how you don’t want to be perceived. I realised from doing this that being sick (or even tired) is a shame-trigger for me, particularly as a mum. It is desperately important to me to be seen as someone who will ‘soldier on’. So when I got the flu, and I couldn’t, my shame gremlins (as Brené would call them) were quick to make me feel panicked and embarrassed about how much help I was needing from my husband and parents. But the critical awareness Brené teaches meant I could recognise these shame gremlins for what they are, and be kind to myself.
One of my friends included those lovely words from ‘The Help’ in a text to me while I was sick and I needed the reminder: rest up, you is important. In contrast, if you have a friend (or great-Aunt or nosey neighbour) who practices a shaming brand of sympathy: don’t communicate with them when you have the flu, or ask your husband what they said. You will not be better tomorrow and your husband is going to do the school run, even though theirs never did.
5. You DO Something!
Finally, the best thing I learnt from having the flu recently is that I do something! I had been so focused on both the embarrassment and the logistics of getting people to do the things I normally do, that I missed the fact that maybe I’m a *little bit* important to some people!
I am on a Career Break this year and one of the benefits of being a ‘Stay-At-Home-Mum’ is that there is no hassle when your kids are sick. Early morning puking? No problem, no panic about work and child care. But my husband and I were both panicked on the Sunday night of the Flu of April 2016 when we realised I was the one sick.
One of the damaging sides of being a ‘SAHM’ is that you can struggle to see what you have to show for your day. You discount the importance of the school run and making dinner and only notice the things you aren’t getting done.
What I learnt, from having the flu, is that those things – the school run, making dinner – seemed much bigger and more important when I had to ask someone else to do them. My 3-year-old’s day seemed like something, when it depended on someone else.
Did anyone else get the Flu of April 2016? Or the cold or a mysterious ‘virus’? Or do you remember the Beijing Flu?! However you’re feeling, remember that we can feel shame in the most mundane circumstances, and that you is important.