Yesterday I slept 27 of 36 hours. I haven’t slept that much. EVER. The last time I was this sick was in La Paz, Bolivia last March. I was bedridden for over a week with an extremely bad cold/flu. It felt like I had a golf ball in my throat and hurt to just swallow water. I’m not a hypochondriac but I thought, “What if I die from this?! In this foreign country, in a foreign hostel full of strangers? Why am I not with the people I love most?!” I felt like Rudolph the red-nose reindeer, my raw nose dripping non-stop as I built a tissue paper pyramid to bury my misery. I plied myself with herbal teas, chicken soup, water, NyQuil and Bolivian cold remedies, and eventually began to heal. From that experience I learned I could pick myself up from rock bottom and care for myself in almost any situation.

This time, thankfully I’m in the comforts of my own home, cared for by my incredible mother, drinking her nourishing Chinese vegetable soups, soft egg custards, bone broth and so much more. It is such a rare luxury to heal in a place of complete comfort, love and safety, so I can focus completely on just healing myself.

My M.O. is to do everything 110%. I forget sometimes that I need to slow down so that my body can keep up with my mind which although is very resilient and fast, does need time to recuperate. I’ve had this pattern of running myself to complete exhaustion, until my body finally hits a wall and demands I stop. NOW. That is exactly what happened two days ago. There were many ingredients that culminated in this feverish fluidly conscious-unconscious state. But the most impactful piece was my internal struggle. I don’t intentionally run myself into the ground, but it’s because I have a huge bandwidth and work well under pressure that it happens. I knew I had a lot on my plate but stress piles on in a malicious and insidious way. Stress is like a little pebble. You start out carrying just one pebble. Each day you add a pebble but it’s so tiny, you don’t notice any more added weight than the day before so you keep carrying the pebbles thinking, “I did it yesterday, it should be fine today.” Until one day, you stumble or something knocks you off-kilter and you realize your little pebble collection has magnified into the weight of the world. You feel overwhelmed and broken, puzzled about how you could have let your pebbles snowball into this self-induced avalanche.

I’ve always been both cerebral and empathic but my analytical mind has run the show for most of my life, helping me cope in this wild, achievement-driven society of ours. This past year I’ve connected more with my heart-center, feeling into decisions more than deciding with my brain. But I realized the reason I’ve been stressed about Safe & Solo and the next steps I’m taking this year are because I’ve been muscling through these decisions with my mind. I’ve forgotten to lead with my heart. When I was in Bali, it was very easy to be heart-focused since most people were relatively spiritual and open-minded. However, after being in physically and emotionally intense Bangkok training in Muay Thai 22 hours a week, I moved back into my head and my body, a place I’d remained upon returning home for the holidays.

A dear friend of mine reminded me yesterday of this essential shift back to our hearts from our heads. She encouraged me to follow my heart rather than my head because our hearts will never lead us astray, but we can rationalize or justify anything. I had been so concerned about moving too slowly in making Safe & Solo happen, feeling like I should have pushed it out yesterday. But my friend gently reminded me that there is no rush. “Time is an illusion. There are no ‘shoulds’ or ‘shouldn’ts’,” she advised. Those are cerebral creations, not heart notions. If we lead with ours hearts, we will follow our right path without all the strife. So I’m now moving back from my head into my heart which relieves a ton of the stress I’d been holding onto within me and my psyche. Similarly, I am politely declining any hitch-hiking pebbles I come upon along the way. 

And so it comes full circle. My stress helped cause my sickness, but this sickness also forced me to just BE, not DO. I need to be fully in this moment, and put on my own oxygen mask before anyone else. If I’m not whole and healthy, I can’t possibly make the greatest impact possible. There is something strangely cathartic and grounding about being sick, even with all the ickiness. Something about returning back to the first tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, fulfilling only our most essential needs which we sometimes neglect when we reach for higher and higher echelons. Something in the stillness of just being, noticing the little nuances of things. Since all my movements are slow right now, I notice my mind shifting in and out of consciousness, the textures of different objects on my fingertips or food on my tongue in ways that I don’t when all of my faculties are completely intact. Maybe it’s why I liked studying Psychology so much; right now I feel like a third party observer watching myself being sick– noting how I feel, what I do, how I act– it’s all extremely fascinating.

While fading in and out of consciousness, I hear the chatter of people speaking in this realm mingle with the whispered words of other worlds altering my perception of time and space. Time has a strange elasticity, like wading in a pool of thick, warm molasses. I could be in a dream for what seemed like hours or days, but awaken and sense in my body that it had only been 15 minutes or two hours. I’d look at the time, and my body’s inner knowledge would be completely on target.

I lost my sense of smell yesterday and that shifted my normal mantra of “live to eat”. Without my sense of smell, my world’s colors were muted, life a bit more lackluster than usual. I could understand why some people “eat to live” which I always thought would be a sad existence because eating is a crux to my personal happiness. Today, my sense of smell and taste is slowly trickling back, like my black and white world is shifting into sepia, with dabbles of color splashing in moment to moment!

But just being on the cusp of my fully-loaded life is a treasure in itself. I get to explore the corners of my mind, the little nooks and crannies where I’d previously stashed away forgotten gems or where new jewels had blossomed. I feel like a little 5 year old girl on my quest to unlock all the flavors in an endless box of chocolates. Giddily I flip over each chocolate, poke in the bottom to examine the filling inside before I move on to the next one. “Ah yes, caramel!” It isn’t that I have to eat each chocolate or relive each memory, it’s more just to remind me of the essence of an experience or thought. There lies the true joy for me. And sometimes, I stumble upon a rare, new specimen, something I haven’t seen before. What a marvelous adventure it is reveling in the grooves of my brain!

Being sick really makes me appreciate my technicolor life when I’m fully healthy, and I can’t wait to be 100% again. But no matter whether you’re in sickness or in health, I hope you’re exploring your own box of chocolates and following your heart. And if by chance you pass any pebbles along the way, perhaps offload a few of yours to keep them company 😉.