Here at Heart Sisters World Headquarters, it has come to my attention that there seems to be a divide between two types of recuperation styles when women get sick. I don’t mean urgent/call 911/another-freakin’-heart-attack kind of sick, but more like your garden variety feeling-like-hell when you’re knocked flat in bed with a flu, a cold, or recovering from a bad flare of chronic illness symptoms.
The two most common responses from my Heart Sisters blog readers (always a goldmine of data!) are these:
- Leave me alone: I’m sick! I feel awful. I look worse. I want to hide under the covers with the lights off and not have to talk to anybody. I’ll come out when I’m ready.
- Take care of me: I’m sick! I just need a little TLC. Can you please fluff my pillows/bring me some tea/run me a nice bath/get a cold cloth for my forehead?
Which category fits you best when you’re feeling sick? Take this poll:
Either recuperation preference is absolutely correct for you. It’s the expectations from others that often get in the way, because we tend to treat those who are under the weather the way we would like to be treated when we’re feeling sick, and we also tend to expect precisely that kind of specific care from others around us.
Here’s an example. I once heard the late author Dr. Leo Buscaglia (often known as “Dr. Love”) tell a story about how he grew up equating caregiving with love.
When he was a little boy, he told us, his own mother was a cold and distant woman – except when he was sick. During those times, she would sit at his bedside, stroke his head, spoon-feed him hot soup, fuss over his fever and become the kind of caring mother she rarely was when he was healthy. Those were the only times he remembers feeling truly cared for by his mother. Sometimes, he admitted, he even feigned illness or injury in order to get a hug or a gentle word from her – and it always worked. And when others he cared about became ill, he fussed over them, too, just as his mother used to fuss over him.
But when Dr. Buscaglia got married, he was shocked by his wonderful new wife’s behaviour toward him whenever he got sick.
Instead of stroking his feverish brow like she was supposed to do, she seemed to have zero tolerance for his sickly ways. She didn’t hover over his sickbed, didn’t offer to bring him special things, didn’t have a shred of sympathy for his moaning, and in fact, she mostly left him all alone – until he felt well enough to be up and around again, at which time she resumed being her usual kind and loving self.
He gradually learned that “Leave Me Alone!” was her own personal preference whenever she felt sick. If he tried to fuss over her during those times, she’d often react with hostility and annoyance as she hid away from him under the covers until she felt better again. She simply needed to hibernate, rest, and be quietly alone to recuperate.
Trouble is, as Dr. Leo discovered, we have to understand that not everybody expects or offers the same care we’d prefer during an illness.
As Toni Bernhard, author of the excellent book about chronic illness called How to Be Sick, wrote:
“Remember that people’s abilities or lack thereof to be good caregivers are not about you; they reflect their own life history and perhaps their own fears about illness. I used to get upset when people didn’t behave the way I thought they should. Then I realized that getting upset about it only made me feel worse.
“I feel better emotionally when I graciously accept whatever support is offered and let the rest go, including my views about how people should act.”
Q: As either a caregiver or a patient, have you experienced a difference in ‘being sick’ styles?
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote much more about expectations when we (or others) are sick in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease . You can ask for it at your local library or favourite bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).