“Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”
-Don Miguel Ruiz
When we are sick and alone and we have a cold, flu, or whatever other condition zaps our energy, even reaching across the table for our own medication/healing herbs can sometimes seem like quite the task! When we are alone, we have no one to rely on except ourselves as our own caregivers. Yes, some of us can call upon a friend or family member, if we really need someone to come over and help. However, most of us either hold back from asking for a hand so as to not an inconvenience. Yet some of us don’t have any support system to speak of, thus we find ourselves bravely struggling on our own.
I became inspired to write this article based on my own experience of getting the nasty flu this past season which went on much longer than normal one anticipates. Although I did have friends and family bring soup and cough medicine now and then, they themselves and their children eventually were also caught up with this flu that was going around. Living alone made me think about others who live alone too, and what can be done to prevent situations where you don’t have any support available, and how to handle self-care.
I hope that a preventive game plan, as well as several ideas and suggestions that I’ve outlined in this article, can assist you to be prepared for that morning when you wake up all achy and feeling like you were hit by a ton of bricks.
THE PHYSICAL BODY: COMING DOWN WITH SOMETHING
On a physical level, we know that symptoms may begin with a runny or stuffed-up nose, a headache, a sore throat, a cough, or your body just aches all over. You initially put it off as “just a cold”, but, at the same time, you immediately reach into your medicine cabinet and pull out whatever you can find that isn’t expired. The cold medicines, the vitamins, the cough syrups, throat sprays, and maybe eye drops – anything to take that edge off and make you feel better, and expedite the process of healing!
THE MENTAL BODY, WHAT HAPPENS WHEN…
On a mental level, it’s a different story. We may find ourselves still trying to honor any commitment made for that day, hesitating to give in to the initial warning signs that our body is demanding rest, and even saying to ourselves, “What’s a little cold, after all? Am I sick “enough” to take off work?” – if you’re working. As humans we may have the tendency to stress ourselves a bit too much at times, we let ourselves get rundown, commitments, work, goals, obligations and duties just pile up. We do these things because we say that there’s “no one else who can do what I do, because I am the only one who knows how to get it done, and I like it the way I do it”. Therefore, I guess the first thing, at the very onset, is to be aware to slow down, and to be aware that the energy used to “finish stuff up”, may actually serve better to prepare a bit for your self-care, if you know you’re alone, and can’t really count on family and friends. It’s worth taking a moment to really realize that you too may NEED someone to help you.
In that initial instance of awareness, it’s important to allow yourself to BE, without judgment or self-blame – no analyzing on where and why you caught the flu. Leave yourself alone and avoid belittling what you are experiencing. The focus is on doing everything to give the body the best chance to get better and heal. Self-blame is of no use, and recrimination never did make anyone feel better. Distract yourself with thoughts that make you feel better, get cozied up in bed with the remote control and watch TV, and see about possibly getting friends or family to bring in food, extra tissues, vitamins, and soups, even though you may feel “fine enough” to get all of these yourself.
Like many others, I too am fortunate to have a wonderfully devoted daughter. However, she and her husband do have their own lives and responsibilities as a family, and their hands are full. Even the kids came down with the flu and in spite of caring for her three kids, she still offered to bring me whatever I needed. I declined as much as I could, knowing that her plate was full already. Although I felt quite sick, I still didn’t consider myself to be an “emergency”. In hindsight, though, I could have used more help, but I didn’t want to take my daughter away from the three kids. So even if we have a little support system in place, it doesn’t mean we can rely on it 100% of the time. Unfortunately, due to certain logistics and other considerations, relying on family to help is not always possible.
As I continued to feel lousy from the flu, my compassion grew into thinking of those who are either chronically or even terminally ill and have no support system to assist or to help them. How do they make it through alone? Who can you rely on in time of need? It’s definitely a challenge when we’re alone.
There are many issues that you must face when living alone in our retirement years, yet still healthy… whether we’re single, divorced, or widowed. It gets even harder when you’re sick. Psychologically, you can feel pretty blue, just because you wish you had someone in your life to take care of you, to care for you and about you, someone who can make you home-made chicken soup or a cup of hot tea and honey, someone who can prop up your pillows or give you a hot water bottle. That’s not uncommon nor unreasonable. But what is the personal resolve? How can somebody draw on their own resilience to overcome being alone? Is there a possible plan that could help alleviate such feelings of loneliness?
When my friend Toni was ill, I put together an email list, called, “Toni’s Village”, composed of people whom Toni loved and who loved her, and even though she didn’t have family of her own, there was a group of caring individuals who wanted to help, but they didn’t know how. Some of them lived in other cities, but some lived not too far away. I came up with a schedule for delivering meals and picking up groceries, etc., and gathered their email addresses to keep them in the loop of her experience. They were all grateful to have updates on her health status. This was also a system to avoid Toni being bombarded with calls from caring individuals every day causing her to repeat the same updates over and over – seriously sapping her energy.
So, here’s a game plan you can consider. How about creating a special kind of “friendship group”? Establish this group by first setting out a clear mission and vision of finding a few (new and existing) friends who socialize in good times yet would be interested in sharing and caring for each other if/when one of you got sick. A friend indeed, if you wish. You could find people from your spiritual community, your co-workers, friends, or family members who could come by and help each other when someone is not well. One way to get this going is to start your own Meet-Up group for people who are alone and want to create a synergistic friendship group, attracting others who are like-minded, kind, caring, and alone who may even be living in your own neighborhood. There are hidden gems of people who are just like you, giving and compassionate, who would be willing to step up to help someone in need, lending a helping hand in time of need.
Preparing yourself for when you happen to get sick is one way of caring for yourself in the kindest of ways. Looking for others who are like-minded or who have common interests by creating a local network of those individuals that can come to each other’s house uncovers like-balance for help and assistance, and creates a friendship group for companionship, pledging to each other a common denominator to be there for each other, defining and clarifying the directives, so that everyone is clear. Call the group anything you like as long as the main commitment each one makes is to be “A Friend in Need is a Friend in Deed”. Develop your own mission and vision, come up with a motto for the group based on mutual camaraderie and friendship. Keeping the group to about 10 people should be a good enough buffer that at least one person will be able to help in time of need. Everybody needs somebody. We are not made to be islands unto ourselves. Create your friendship circle through your synagogue, church, spiritual community, or senior center, and begin recruiting people that have the same synergistic energy/desire. Make sure you communicate with your family and friends, where everyone has everyone’s contact information. It’s all possible – who said people over 50 can’t find new friends?
When you create this friendship circle, you can even come up with a list of taskings that could be listed under help, such as driving to the doctors, picking up medicine, shop for basics like tea and tissues. Divvy up the jobs, one person can even be good at making soup, and another person doesn’t mind delivering it. Come up with a plan and cultivate it, and you will find that where there’s a will there’s a way. Maybe they are your next-door neighbor and you come up with a pact for a preventative aspect, so when you do get ill, there will be someone there.
Step up and out in your life. Reach out to people who you don’t speak to often. You’ll find that people are willing to help and are very happy to be asked to help in a situation. It gives them a sense of being needed. Then the group forms a bond through laughter and social things, maybe even meeting at different people’s houses with the ability to call on each other in a time of need.
And, don’t forget about Uber and Lyft and other car/delivery services to use when you either need to go to the doctors to have groceries delivered. There is a multitude of other possibilities, so you never have to feel alone or isolated without help. Here are some additional ideas you can implement to help you PREPARE before and after you get sick.
THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU GET SICK:
- Take the time to go through your medicine cabinet, get rid of expired medicines, and stock up on the essential over-the-counter medicines that work for you.
- Buy some of your favorite packaged or canned soups that you like, so you don’t run out of food.
- Make sure you have plenty of tissues on hand.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Stretch and move your body.
- Take a “daycation,” and do something fun for yourself, taking some time for YOU. Make a list of all the funny movies you always wanted to watch. Minimizing stress is a good way to stay healthy and relax each day.
- Make yourself a big pot of homemade soup and store it in plastic containers and put them in the freezer. (I have done this for years, and I just love to heat up the yummy soups – these came in really handy when the flu hit me. The warmth going down my throat really hit the spot).
- Keep your house as clean as possible by sanitizing your surroundings to minimize your exposure.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water. (I was taught to sing the Happy Birthday song and that would add up to the 20 seconds.) If anything, you are singing something that makes you happy.
- Write a list of emergency numbers and give them to your closest friends and neighbors.
THINGS TO DO AFTER YOU GET SICK:
- If you’re not retired, give yourself permission to take time off work. Use your sick days. (If you make yourself go to work, just know that you could be pushing yourself to stay sick even longer, not to mention, you would be contaminating others and putting others at risk. And, you won’t really be able to focus and function at your best, so you might as well stay home).
- Let yourself stay in bed under the covers and sleep as much as you want/can. Let your body know you are doing something beneficial and you will function better after you heal up.
- Cancel any social appointments (for now) so you give yourself adequate time to heal up. It’s okay to reschedule.
- If it is comforting, keep the curtains/shades closed and just hibernate. Let yourself “be” sick and accept it without judgment.
- Keep a wastebasket by your bed with a plastic liner, so you can easily discard those used tissues.
- If you are able, binge on TV shows that make you feel good or watch that movie that you’ve been wanting to watch for so long. Just think, no work distractions, just YOU, your sick self, and hours and hours of uninterrupted TV-watching, unless of course, you get even more of a headache and you might also just be ready to doze off too.
- If you are up to it, use some relaxation techniques that you know to prevent your mind from going a million miles an hour on the things you “have to do.” It’s time off for your brain too.
- Use your breath as a way of focusing in and relaxing, inhaling 6-8 counts and exhaling the same. Remember, your breath is your life force.
- Use visualization to let go of any tension that you might be holding. I use a healing and soothing white light, sending it around to all parts of my body. That seems to work well.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Now is the time to ask your friends and family to do even the simplest tasks that you are not able to do.
o Be specific, because no one is a mind reader.
o If you need a prescription picked up at the pharmacy, say that and give them instructions.
- And, you can still email people, so you don’t isolate entirely (if you are up to it).
- Ask a neighbor (if you have one) to pick up your mail.
- Hydrate – drink plenty of fluids, as your state permits
o If you’re not hungry and your stomach is upset, eat what you can, but make sure you drink lots of fluids, including warm tea with honey, and ginger is really good for an upset stomach.
o Don’t forget warm soups.
- Eat lightly… and if your stomach is upset, crackers are a good option.
o Use a vaporizer or humidifier as the moist air relieves congestion.
o Oh, and don’t forget the good old heating pad on your tummy. That feels comforting and does relieve cramping in the stomach.
- Look outside every now and then to see the sunshine. I know it may be hard to focus on the positive, because you may be feeling so lousy, but it does reduce stress levels.
- Rest, Rest, Rest. Sleeping is really good to help the healing process, so it’s important to sleep at least 7-8 hours a night, (and throw in a couple of extra hours to help the body repair itself).
- If you have a cold and cannot breathe easily, prop up the pillows and sleep at an angle. I bought one of those wedges and put my pillow on top of that. It really helped.
- If you have enough energy, keep a few areas clean, like changing your bed sheets regularly, and your dishes and the trash out.
- If your symptoms or condition don’t go away after a reasonable time, go back to the doctor or find someone in the health field you can trust.
- When you are ready, play some soothing music or take a bath with rose petals in the bath (that will help to detox negative energy in the body).
And, DON’T SPEND TIME WITH WORRY! One definition of “worry” is a prayer for something bad to happen. Worry doesn’t do anything positive. It only makes you feel bad. (But, I have to admit, when you are sick, for longer than you think is reasonable, it’s not uncommon to have thoughts like, “Is this it? Is this how I’m going to die? Will they find me in 3 weeks bundled up on the floor? What if I just died and nobody cared? Maybe it’s a good idea to go back to online dating. I wonder if I will ever be healthy again?”
Let yourself have these thoughts without judgment. Know that when you are not feeling well, your thoughts will reflect those ill feelings, so don’t get down on yourself for feeling the way you do or engaging in the thoughts that come up. Having a slight pity party isn’t all that bad, and if you can add these two words (“for now”) to the ending of every limiting/judgmental statement, you might just find yourself feeling better because it makes it temporary.
And, as Don Miguel Ruiz states in the above quote: “Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”
When you’re healthy, BEing alone can be quite an exciting and fun journey, but, BEing alone and sick is quite another story. We have to muster up our strength, our fortitude, our resilience, but not without challenge, for sure. BEing sick and BEing alone can drain our energy and ability to function or think properly, especially if we’re in pain or feeling lethargic. It’s important to find ways to be as kind and gentle to ourselves as possible.
One thing I learned from my friend Toni. It’s never what you think it is. By allowing yourself to be sick without judging yourself, something may come to you that wouldn’t have otherwise. Hear whatever messages you need to hear and let those messages be healing. Know that there is a healing taking place, even though it doesn’t look like it or feel like it. Let yourself believe that something deeper is taking place. Talk to your body. Ask your body what it wants to tell you. Be your own best friend. Take care of yourself in the best possible way. Create that friendship group and make the best of what is.
Henry David Thoreau said: “There is one consolation about being sick, and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before.”
It’s your life. Enjoy the journey. And, remember to bring love into everything you do.