mug and tissues

Everybody feels pretty crummy when they are sick.  Spending days unable to breathe easily or running to the bathroom, or coughing up a storm just doesn’t make anybody happy.  Getting sick when you have a chronic condition is an especially miserable experience.

I’ve been sick now since Friday, I guess. 

I had been planning and hoping to write a post about how messed up the US social welfare program is, and the mental and emotional damage the programs tend to do to their clients(though they do also help us not die), but my brain just wouldn’t let me stay focused on it. 

I’d write maybe a sentence or two and then my brain would wander off, or my torso would start jerking forwards and rocking. 

It was pretty bad. 

I do want to write something this week though, so I figured I’d share a bit about what I’m managing now – it might even be a little therapeutic.

Sometimes you can’t tell if you are sick!

So I wasn’t feeling stellar on Thursday – my nose was stuffed up and I felt a bit achy. 

I figured it was just my symptoms acting up a little and my allergies being stirred up by some cleaning we had done on Wednesday(I recently learned that I am mildly allergic to cats and dust – which makes it extra important to clean regularly, and increases my risk of a bad reaction whenever we do clean). 

I also talked to a few friends who also have allergy problems and they had shared that for whatever reason Thursday and the weekend had been extra-allergy inducing.

Friday, I was able to get a bit of work done, but not much – I was still stuffed up and had a bit of a headache.  I ended up taking a nap for much of the afternoon and going to bed early. 

I’ve been having periods lately of sleeping a lot, feeling exhausted, and had had a nap last weekend without being sick, so that also didn’t prove to me that I had a bug, but I was considering the possibility.

I took it easy all weekend, mostly sitting on the couch and watching TV(which I haven’t done much of in months because I have been so focused on my work). 

With my nose still stuffy, and having taken double my usual allergy medication on Friday to no effect, I started thinking that maybe I was coming down with something.

Monday convinced me that I had a bug – when Al and I went to the grocery store, I started feeling really hot, then suddenly cold, then sweaty hot again – even though I hadn’t moved much and was still in the same space.

I came home and tried to rest, but to no avail – I’ve been stuck in this feeling crappy but not sleeping well space for about a week now, and am currently waiting to see if the virus I caught has caused a bacterial infection(like a sinus infection or similar) or not…stuffed up nose and now bouts of coughing just don’t feel good.

Our immune systems are less effective than they used to be

So sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re sick, but also it’s now often easier to get sick than it used to be.

fence post leaning sideways
With many chronic illnesses, our bodies simply can’t keep the barriers up as well as they should

Our bodies interpret psychological, emotional, mental, and physical stress pretty much the same way – so with our immune systems on high alert all the time, our bodies are weakened and less able to fight off any germs that do get through.

There are some things we may be able to do to protect ourselves, but I think it’s important to recognize that with most disabling conditions, whether they are physical or mental/emotional our bodies are now much more frequently off-balance than that of the average healthy person, and so we run a higher risk of becoming sick after exposure to germs, and are more likely to get sick more severely and longer than the average healthy person.

I generally assume that when I’m sick, it’ll take me a month or so to fully recover. 

I spend the first week or so dealing with the virus and whatever effects it has, then I usually get some additional infection while fighting off the virus, which needs to be treated with antibiotics, and then once the antibiotics have run their course, it usually takes another week or so for my body to normalize and recover from the effects of the antibiotics, recover on the sleep front, and get me close to ‘normal’.

I hope the process isn’t as long for you, but it certainly is often longer and nastier when your immune system is compromised in some way.

Getting sick usually exacerbates already existing symptoms

My Functional Neurological Disorder(FND) is very much stress-responsive- I tend to have body movements in response to all forms of stress, including the physical stress on my body of fighting off an infection.

Since I have also been pretty excited and anxious about my projects and have been pushing myself a bit on them, I’ve also been under some emotional stress as well. 

In my case, all of that accumulated stress has expressed in the forms of unexpected and unusually violent muscle movements – my recent moves have included throwing my head backwards so hard that my head was pushing into the top of the couch cushion, having my whole body tremble while typing, bending at the waist so that my torso was slamming into my legs while sitting, and of course a nice variety of strange leg and foot movements, which have made my walking attempts pretty distracting.

At the grocery store on Monday, I was rocking so badly that I suspect the only reason nobody freaked out and held me down to protect me from my ‘seizure’ was that Al was with me and staying pretty calm about the whole thing.

I tend to refer to this as the ‘somebody else’s problem’ effect(yes, I did borrow the name from Douglas Adams), though in this case it’s more about bystanders noticing that I’m with somebody so they feel less inclined to try to ‘rescue’ me as that should be the job of the person with me, if I need it.

I’m really grateful for that effect when I have somebody with me – and for that reason alone, I’m happy to have understanding company wherever I go!

I also have occasionally had trouble with my body temperature, but nothing this severe literally for years – temperature dysregulation is a side effect of some illnesses(as my neurologist reminded me when I saw him today), so it’s more likely that that tendency was one of the ways in which the virus expressed itself, rather than me having a longer-term severe symptom relapse.

For most conditions, being sick makes achy body parts hurt that little bit extra, increase fatigue, decrease available energy, and so on.  Figuring that out isn’t rocket science, but it is important to recognize.

Treating yourself, and preventative measures you can take

Unfortunately, the treatment is the same as it ever has been: rest, drink fluids, and get medication if appropriate.  There’s no magic fix, no secret solution.

What you can do, though, is work to protect yourself to minimize your risk of getting sick.

slices of grapefruit, orange, lemon, and lime next to one another
vitamin C in some easily edible forms!
  1. Wash your hands regularly – I know this sounds silly, but it’s the same old advice because it’s useful.  Washing your hands minimizes your risk of spreading any germs you get on your hands to your face, where germs can more easily invade.
  2. If possible, keep yourself loaded up on vitamins that help your immune system – vitamin C and zinc are two of the most essential ones.  I often buy airborne or similar products and be sure I have some in my system before I go out for more than a few hours.  Replenishing your immune system can help minimize the risk of infection
  3. listen to your body- if you feel like you need more sleep, take it.  If you feel run down, make sure you’re eating well and resting properly – do meditations or other relaxation techniques if you are feeling very stressed – respect what your body tells you and figure out how to work with it
  4. Protect yourself from germs – besides washing your hands regularly, you can also get protective equipment if you think you need it.  A friend of mine ended up wearing plastic gloves and keeping her whole body covered when she would go out to minimize her risk of getting sick – to me that seems like going a bit overboard, but each person has their own level of risk they are willing to accept.  If you are either very vulnerable to breathing-related illnesses or are already dealing with a compromised system, it may make sense to wear a face mask at times to help minimize your exposure.  The more you think about when and how you may pick up an infection, the better able you are to prevent it.
  5. Protect yourself when in contact with children.  I love kids and have 4 nieces and nephews to dote on.  However, especially in the fall, it seems like I get sick after about every other visit I make.    Children just tend to get exposed to a lot of illnesses and carry a lot of different bugs home with them.  I don’t view this a reason not to spend time with kids, but be aware of the risk, and be extra vigilant in your self-defense(regular handwashing, don’t visit it you know they are sick, take vitamins before going.)  I don’t always do this, but when I don’t, that’s often when I come down with something.
  6. Be aware of crowds.  We tend to be socially isolated, so I am not saying ‘don’t go out’ but in large crowded spaces, the chance of airborne bugs spreading is high.  If you’re going to the mall for the day, do what you can to reduce your risk of catching something.  You also can choose to go during non-prime hours in order to minimize your exposure.  I always try to travel at non-peak times and go to places and events early(so I can find a good spot or do my moving around before things get crowded), or late(coming in near the end of the day can mean that most of the crowd has gone home or is done with the event, giving me more freedom to roam).  It’s generally helpful anyway, as crowds often can make mobility concerns more challenging or anxiety worse.
  7. If you take antibiotics, take probiotics as well.  Our guts are full of microorganisms that help us digest our food and absorb our nutrients – antibiotics do tend to kill them off.  So, if you must take antibiotics(and often we do), be sure to do the full recommended treatment(otherwise you help breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria), and take some form of probiotic to help you repopulate your gut appropriately.

Conclusion: Being sick while having a chronic illness or other disabling condition is pretty much guaranteed to happen at some point.

All anybody can do is try to minimize the risks and maximize the healing efficiency.  As I sit here, coughing and shaking, I am very frustrated about my current situation.  However, focusing on the frustration isn’t going to help anything.  Instead, I have been keeping up with my medication, drinking plenty of water, making sure I’m eating regularly, and taking my vitamins.

Although I usually am cautious and self-protective, I did get exposed to something, and my body was unable to fight it off before I noticed.

I’m making sure I get a good night’s sleep(medicating myself into that if necessary with OTC supports like Nyquil as well as doing sleep meditations), making sure that I’m eating reasonable food when I get up(I have been using spicy food to try to clear my sinuses and making sure that what I eat is reasonably healthy), drinking plenty of water, and taking things as easy as I can(either in bed reading or sleeping, or sitting on the couch watching TV and movies with Al).

I’m already feeling a bit stir-crazy, but I need to give myself a bit longer to recover before I push anything too hard.

What suggestions do you have in regards to managing an illness?  What have you done?  What did you find helpful?

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