Saturday, 5 December 2015

Sickness, meditation and outbursts

I have been sick for the past two weeks. It might well be that this is the annual winter flu bug that is doing the rounds and that nowadays, no-one seems to be sick just for a day or two and then recovers. It takes a week. The bloody thing lingers! Then again, it may have been work stress coming out. Now that I have holidays until the end of the year, I have time to be sick and my body somehow senses this, then WHAMMO! I get a really bad dose. First, sore throat, lost voice, general malaise, followed by lots of snot and phlegm (love that word!) and it all goes down onto my lungs and I am racked with coughing for several days. Lovely!

I have seen this delayed reaction to stress manifest itself before when doing my Ph.D. Student colleagues of mine would work insane hours over the final months of writing their theses, often sleeping at their office and eating poorly. Yet, they didn't get sick until the work was done and the pressure was off and then they got a really bad dose of flu which knocked them out for 2-3 weeks. I sort of dodged that bullet in my case because two days after handing in my thesis, I was sitting in the warm September sunshine in southern Finland, watching grasshoppers on the lawn and clouds scudding across the indoan summer sky. And I didn't get sick.

Now that I really know how depression and work stress can negatively affect someone (burnout), as well as environmental stress, i.e. Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD-kaamos/winter blues), I am convinced that stress, like money, can build up a debt. And boy does it need to be paid back, often with interest! Finnish winters can be fantastic IF there is a suitable amount of snow, the weather is below at least minus 5 degrees (dry cold) and most importantly, that there are enough sunny days to maximise the light available. Sadly (pun intended), the last few winters in southern Finland have not seen much snow, the days are short and grey, and the temperatures are around zero most of the time. This is when kaamos or winter blues strike. For some it is the darkening time up to the winter solstice, for others, like me, it is that long painfully drawn out drag through February-March that depresses me. Even with the extra light, there is still no life, everything is brown and dead. While it can be equally grey (and wet!) in Ireland in this period, it is at least green throughout. The first flowers start appearing alreading in February. In Finland nothing happens until May, then within a week, nature goes POP! and suddenly everything is green again. I love it when this happens, I just wish it would happen sooner!

As part of my climb-out from burnout, I need to be able to feel feelings rather than shutting down and trying to suppress or ignore them. This has been difficult because I think I have nice-boy (kilttipoika) syndrome.  I don't like to say or do anything to cause conflict, so I swallow my feelings and feel it afterwards as anger and frustration and shame. There are no good feeings or bad. They are just labels to describe what we feel. And yet those labels are what help us to realise what we feel. Following an interesting blog by Guy Windsor on using meditation to mindfully observe feelings and so better deal with them, I have decided to start meditation again. This decision is timely. I had a temper outburst today, something I don't normally do. I felt the anger bubbling up and just let it come out. It was something I decided to do and it felt good. Afterwards, when I cooled off (after solo training with a sword for a half hour, try it, it helps a LOT!), I felt some shame that I had let myself go. I think it is ok to get angry when boundaries are crossed but it is not so good to pop your top for no good reason and you can be angry without being aggressive. I don't think I handled myself so well, I was aggressive and rather than using my brain to state my case properly and respectfully, I was almost willing to use my fists instead, hence the shame. Anyway, long story short, I apologised, shook hands and drew a line under it. Done. The sooner I start meditating, the better!

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