For six months in a row, from last September until this February, once every four weeks with almost clockwork precision, I would fall ill with a really bad flu that would last over a week. Not just runny nose-feeling-a-bit-out-of-sorts-flu but proper, high-temperature-stonking-headache-can’t-get-out-of-bed-for-at-least-a-couple-of-days stuff. And because I couldn’t work out why I kept getting ill, I didn’t know how to prevent it from happening over and over again. Initially I assumed I was picking it up from the pesky germ vectors that are my three small kids: after all, being sneezed and coughed on continuously and regularly blowing their noses definitely doesn’t boost the immune system. Then I thought it could be my ‘restricted’ diet (I turned vegetarian in April and rarely eat animal protein and there’s nothing more a meat-eater likes to point out than how your meat-less diet might be causing ill effects). But somehow I knew there was more to it than that: this was not just physical but psychological too. First there was the timing of each episode: always a couple of days before my period or on day 1. For those that don’t track their cycle, this is known as the transition between ‘autumn’ and ‘winter’ and should be the time for physical and mental rest, introspection and quiet time so that the body can compost what is not needed, preserve energy and gather strength to create anew next month – a reflection therefore of the natural world outside. I say ‘should’ because for me, it absolutely wasn’t. Ever. My vigorous, multitasking exercise / mothering / working / entertaining schedule would run continuously: there was no let down, no fallow stage, no off button, regardless of how I actually felt deep down. I would ignore the ‘weak’ inner voice that told me it really didn’t want to push on through and instead, I would switch on the turbo boost. And it was the precise synchronicity of the manifestation of ‘dis-ease’ that made me realise that I was being MADE to slow down once a month because I wasn’t doing so independently.
(The female body as a mirror of Nature to whom it is intimately connected, is still a relatively new concept to me. I only started tracking my cycle a year ago having had previously no idea what that even meant. This was partly explained by the fact that my most recent past has been spent either pregnant or lactating so that cycles were not even on my radar. And yet it has been such an eye-opener to experience how we women do indeed follow the same rhythm as the natural world, if only we listen closely enough to our bodies in order to allow them to mimic it. Being aware of these inner seasons and respecting the various phases they represent for my body has made me more understanding of my changes of mood, energy and temperament and as a result, more energetic and, dare I say it, productive!)
So noticing in November that I was definitely being sent a message to slow down, to become a human BEING instead of a human DOING, I cut down hugely on most of my physical output: I ditched the hour and a half weekly run, stopped the daily pilates exercises, halved my weekly sessions of hot yoga, rode the cargo bike full of three kids to school only once a day rather than twice and cut out all strenuous activity whatsoever on the first and second days of my period (the time during which you are meant to DROP). This was massively uncomfortable for me – someone who thrived on getting things done, achieving and of course receiving praise and admiration for doing so. And it didn’t even work. December came along with its own special variant of sore glands and chest infection.
So I took a different tack: the immune system. I started a new daily routine of taking every single supplement and vitamin I could think of: a mug of boiling water first thing with fresh ginger and half a lemon (balances the body’s acidity levels but wrecks the teeth), a teaspoon of turmeric with cracked pepper and oil to diffuse it (a wonder drug and great for swelling in particular), bee pollen (yet another wonder drug so wonderful that it can be consumed alone without any other food for months!), magnesium (for sore muscles and tiredness), liquid iron (to alleviate fatigue), multivitamin (why not?), omega 3, 6 and 9 (for a healthy brain and who knows what else), flax seed oil (more omega – can’t hurt, right?), vitamin B complex (in case I wasn’t getting enough protein?), acidophilus (healthy gut = healthy body), barley grass powder (yet another alkaline food), echinacea (to boost the immune system), vitamin C (anti-cold), not to mention the seeds: hemp, chia, poppy, sesame and linseed. Merely keeping on top of taking the right supplements at the right time was exhausting. And that didn’t work either: January was spent half in bed with a temperature, half out.
Next I took a slightly different look at my energy output: instead of cutting down on just the physical exertion, I examined it in terms of yin and yang. I realised how so much of my life had been full of masculine yang energy – pushing, exerting, stretching, straining. I needed more yin in my life! Of course! Here was the answer! I took up restorative yoga (was this seriously yoga? It felt like resting in 6 variations of lying down with my eyes closed for nearly an hour – bliss), renewed my love of colouring in (the new yoga!) and started up on the self-care: a weekly hot bath, guided meditations, going to bed when I felt tired not an hour after I felt exhausted. SURELY this was it? No. February brought a particularly drawn-out, over-two-week affair full of sinus infection and ear-ache.
By the end of that month I was desperate. And pretty angry too. What exactly did this damn body want from me? To “rest” comatose on my bed all day long like a vegetable? Was I not allowed to do anything I wanted to do? I was sick of being held ransom by my immune system. My enforced passivity was making me feel totally inauthentic. And then the penny dropped. Finally. That it wasn’t about HOW MUCH I was doing but the WAY in which I was doing it: my day, my approach, my existence had always been full of high energy, adrenalin, excitement, anxiety. My body fed off that charge like a drug and I needed another drug - alcohol and a huge dinner laden full of comforting carbohydrates - to come down, to numb out.
I realised that I needed to see life in a different way: without the in-built struggle. To see it less as a challenge to be overcome and more as an adventure to welcome and explore. To be strong but also flexible, to flow rather than to push. And so that is what I did. How I actually achieved this is a whole other blog post - watch this space - but the result? Good riddance flu! For nearly seven weeks now I have been dis-ease free. Despite being in contact with last month’s variety via all three kids and several friends, despite dropping all - yes every single one - of my daily vitamins and supplements and despite reinstating my rigorous exercise regime. I’ve kept up the self-care because it feels great and I still try to go to bed early a couple of nights a week but the main difference between before and after is that I am no longer MANIC. The high energy charge has dissipated. The intensity of life’s impact has lessened. I now value and listen to my inner voice rather than ignore it. I act on what it is asking me to do. I feel things rather than being consumed by those things. I realised that I can feel, authentically, without those feelings being extreme; that emotions can be moderate and still truly felt; that life can still be full of ups and downs but no longer needs to be full of DRAMA.
To my surprise I learnt yesterday that this has a name: modulation. It is something that should be learnt as a child. In my case, it was only learnt this winter, thanks to six bouts of flu. Sometimes there really is a silver lining...
For more info on the female cycle check out Jewel’s Wingfield’s insightful Celtic Womb Mandala teachings
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