Earlier this afternoon, I felt the beginnings of a virus coming on. Turns out I had simply gotten caught up in my day and forgotten to eat anything, and I mistook a drop in blood sugar for the beginnings of sickness.
But in those few moments that I thought I was getting sick, I didn’t feel dread, or anxiety, or frustration, or anything like that. I felt relief. I thought, “Oh thank goodness, I can take a break.” And then I thought, “Geez, that’s a really twisted thought, what’s that about?”
Here’s what I think it’s about: Being physically sick is the only excuse my inner tyrant will accept for relaxing the constant pressure I put on myself to be an awesome mom, a perfect graduate student, an inspiring and skilled blogger and coach, a future best-selling author, a great friend, and a healthy, fit, and attractive woman, all at the same time. (Oh, and I have to keep my apartment clean too!)
Being sick means forces outside my control have intervened and therefore, I can excuse myself from my own self-imposed police state. Being sick is a temporary relief from the guilt of not being perfect in all aspects of my life all the time.
For me, this is a HUGE secondary gain that I get from being sick. In other words, even though I may think of being sick as only a negative thing, in truth I am benefiting from aspects of it. In fact, given how valuable I’ve made the meaning of sickness in my life, I’m surprised I don’t get sick more often. Common colds, MS flare-ups, whatever it takes to relieve the incessant pressure I put on myself to perform to my crazy standards.
If you are living with a chronic illness, it is quite common to get accustomed to the secondary gains that you may experience by being sick. So much so that you may not even be aware of them. For example, perhaps you receive more attention from friends and family when you aren’t well. Perhaps those close to you are more willing to do things for you when you are sick. Perhaps being sick gets you out of cleaning or cooking or going places you don’t want to go. Perhaps you feel that when you aren’t well, you receive more love.
If your illness is providing an opportunity for you to feel more loved, for example, then you have a very powerful reason to keep your sickness intact in your body.
Kinda crazy, huh?
So, if what you truly want is to not be sick anymore, you need to become aware of the secondary gains you get from your illness and find an alternative way to fulfill those needs instead. If you don’t, then your best efforts to heal – like eating well, exercising, and taking supplements – stand no chance at being effective.
Your deepest needs and wants need to be congruent with your desire to heal. But if you are getting something of great value by being sick, then healing will not take place, because at a very deep level, you don’t actually want to heal.
Which brings me back to my inner tyrant. If I want to fully heal my illness, I need to find another way to relieve the pressure I put on myself to be perfect all the time. If I can find an effective substitute, then I won’t need my sickness to serve the role of forcing me to be compassionate with myself. I won’t need an MS episode to cut myself some slack for once! I’ll be releasing a powerful motivator that is keeping my illness in place.
What secondary gain is keeping your illness in place?