Monday, 1 December 2008

Still sick!

Woke up this morning feeling like shite, again. I've been ill now for nearly a week. First off it was a sore throat which became chills and sweats then developed into a mild dose of laryngitis and a chesty cough. Admittedly going to the Salle Christmas party in Helsinki was probably not the cleverest plan, but I'm very glad I did as I had a lot of fun and although I'm still ill, the sheer enjoyment of the party and getting out of the house was great. As the saying goes: "A change is as good as a rest". This got me to thinking about the effect of mental state and other less concrete factors on health.

As I've written before, this time of year gets to me, the darkness, the GREYNESS, the lack of snow, the lack of sun. I don't mind the cold, doesn't bother me at all actually. So, I guess my immune system gets a good kicking during winter but isn't best reinforced by my mental state, making me more prone to getting sick.

I've practiced chi kung for the past five years. This involves daily practice (pretty much) or at least every five days out of seven. Some of the effects of chi kung include immune system boost, clearer mind, lowered stress etc. In line with being a bit apathetic over the last month or so, I stopped practising chi kung, with the excuse that I couldn't be arsed doing it. Now it seems I'm paying the price for that apathy. I don't mind if readers believe in chi/chi kung or not, that's their business. All I know is that when it comes to health, I usually don't get sick. If I do, I can kick it in about two days. This tells me that either I generally have a good constitution or immune system and/or practicing chi kung augments it.

Nevertheless, I think it might not necessarily be just one thing which contributes to getting sick or the speed of recovery. This also includes physical injury. I subscribe to the idea that sickness is caused by a combination of factors, in my case, mental tiredness, winter blues, lack of daily preventative measures, not enough sleep, poor dietary choices and worry related to work and daily life. As a good example of how our bodies can be super-resistant to sickness, I remember back to when I was finishing off my PhD. In the last 6 months I slept badly, worked 20 hour days and was stressed to the max. Amazingly, the high stress burden, primarily mental stress took over and did not allow me to become physically sick with flu or anything else. I was aware of this and knew that as soon as the stress ended, there would probably be a health price to pay, because my body would have "time" to be sick, once the degree was completed. I'd noticed this with quite a few colleagues who'd been in the same position and who were completely knocked out for up to 3 weeks by simple colds and flus.

As luck would have it, I managed to dodge this health "bill" by moving to Finland as soon as I'd done my degree. The weather in Finland at the time was glorious, very sunny and much warmer than Ireland. It was a total change of scene, new and exciting and I was very aware of being able to slow down and return to a "normal" pace of life. I remember sitting outside in the sunshine and marvelling at having the time to watch clouds and count grasshoppers on the lawn. Time seemed to move much more slowly! Sounds daft, now I describe it :-). I sometimes wonder that the novelty of my first autumn, winter, spring and summer in Finland helped to alleviate or at least delay the stress effects. However, as I stayed here longer, the novelty and "rose-coloured glasses" came off and like everybody else, I had to deal with the usual stresses of finding work, paying bills, relationship stuff etc. As a result, winters started to have their blues effect on me and the longer I'm here, the worse it seems to get. The piper must be paid!

I've hear it said that when mentally tired, some physical activity can have a good and refreshing effect on the mind. If the body is physically tired, sick or injured, adding an extra physical tax doesn't help at all. In this case, the only remedy is rest. The super-resistance described above is a stress-state effect and not something I would want to be in for an extended period of time. It's really burning the candle at both ends. I reckon that people who suffer burnout at work often become very sick after they are forced to take a step back from their working lives and try to recuperate.

In conclusion, although a single factor may be responsible for making one sick, I think becoming ill is a sort of process. Suffering the symptoms of that sickness is the endpoint of a net of circumstances, e.g. immune system, lack of light, amount of sleep, diet, mental health, stress, overwork, physical fitness, etc. These circumstances can be internal or external but they all interact to produce a person who is somewhere on a spectrum or sliding scale of unhealthy/sick to healthy/wellbeing at the physical, mental and even spiritual/energetic levels.

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