Believing your own nose

Duvet cover collage

I’m on my fourth day at home with not-quite-flu and thought I’d capture a quick post about how complicated self-care can be. I’ll have forgotten once I’m better. Here’s why…

Being able to tune in to what your body is telling you is not the same for everyone. I find it very hard to understand the messages my body sends me (and working to improve this has given great results.)

Let’s take a very simple example. It’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I can feel very irritated and not myself for a couple of hours. Eventually I realise that what’s at the bottom of this is that I actually need a trip to the loo. Yes, I just admitted that publicly. When I worked that simple thing out, it made a huge difference. This is especially true in an unfamiliar environment where the loo might be as yet unmapped. Like a baby learning object permanence, if I don’t see a loo, then the concept of loo has vanished from the universe, and I’m left careering aimlessly through corridors like Danny in The Shining towards heaven only knows what.

I’m exaggerating for effect, but it’s a good illustration of how taking care of basic needs can help to manage stress. Learning to factor in loo breaks has made a huge difference to my overall anxiety levels. I can’t rely on my body to send me signals in a timely way that connects to the appropriate action, and so I have to build in exo-reminders.

When I think back to my childhood, I worried about what my body was doing a lot. If I detected something in me was off-kilter, I needed advice about it. It probably looked like hypochondria, but was actually requests for information. Why have two of my toes turned a deathly green? What’s making me wheeze all of a sudden? How is my nose producing all of this… You get the idea. It helps that human biology is fascinating, and miraculous. All children have this natural curiosity about themselves. I suppose some are just better able to connect with the changing weather inside their own system, and adapt to it naturally, whereas others are left hot and bothered without making the connection that their experience would improve considerably if they just took their jumper off.

So here I am, a grown adult, in bed surrounded by lemon drinks and tissue boxes. It took me a full 36 hours to discern that the reason everything in life had suddenly become ten times more difficult was simply that I had a cold (followed by a little period of wondering whether it’s socially acceptable to have a cold and what the correct response might be, but that’s a whole other can of Lucozade.)

However old and wise I get, I’m still alarmed when my body misbehaves, and it takes me a while to connect the dots.

If this resonates with you, my advice is:

  • Learn how human bodies work. You’d be amazed how much something like a basic understanding of the sympathetic nervous system can help you in the throes of a panic attack.
  • Check in with yourself often, using an external reminder if necessary. Are any of your systems misfiring? Is anything painful or uncomfortable?
  • Forgive yourself, over and over and over. It’s really bloody irritating to need this level of micromanagement of your own body. Getting annoyed with yourself won’t help. You’re a warrior for keeping at it every day.

I’d usually link to resources to help readers, but will save that for another day when I’m feeling better. For now, I’m noticing my sore throat and fuzzy head, and going back to sleep.

(See? I’m learning!)

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