For the last week, I have been paralysed with illness. If I’m honest, I haven’t been well for a few weeks but like every other mother, I just kept going. I’d feel run down and tired and in response, I might cancel a night out then, the next day, I’d get up and keep going at a million miles an hour. In between I’d pop a few Paracetamol and Ibruprofen to keep the headaches at bay. I drank my body-weight in water, did yoga when I could and ate my vegetables. I figured that would be enough to keep me going. It wasn’t.
The fact is, we don’t stop. From the minute we wake up until the moment we go to sleep we are running around working, doing, ferrying, carrying, cleaning, cooking, entertaining, and all the other things parents do. We can all count on one hand that amount of times this week we got to sit down and drink a cup of tea uninterrupted. We exist on 6 hours sleep a night if we are lucky and we have zero time to rest ourselves properly. We eat as we go, grabbing what we can and if we do have any energy to cook ourselves a proper meal at the end of the day, it’s unlikely to be a superfood salad.
For weeks, I’d been existing on about 5 hours sleep. I’d been fighting something but nothing at the same time. I’d recognised a general feeling of malaise and an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. I was stressed – partly because I had a lot on, mostly because I didn’t feel that I was physically able to manage it all. In my heart of hearts I knew that I was operating on the edge; I knew that I needed to rest but I couldn’t bring myself to ignore the enormous To Do list that I had on my agenda everyday.
After a while, that general feeling of ‘bleurgh’ started to evolve into a real feeling of illness. I felt feverish, achey. I was sneezing about 35 times a day. I developed a cough but the paracetamol and ibuprofen kept it more or less at bay so I thought I’d be ok. I figured it would just pass and then, last Thursday, I realised I’d underestimated the whole damn thing.
I woke up shivery, cold, sweating, coughing up a lung and unable to move. Even then, at that point, I was sure that I could work from bed if I just took enough drugs. Eventually, I conceded and tearfully walked into the nurses office at my GPs and suggested that I might need some antibiotics. As I sat there and cried with exhaustion (I also had two kids and a husband at home suffering with an unrelated stomach bug), she told me that my chest was rattling like an old man’s and my fever was just over 40. She sent me home with a prescription and strict instructions to stay in bed for at least three days.
Finally, I gave in. I got into bed, shut the door and left the world outside to collapse as I was sure it would without me holding it together. I’m pretty sure I passed in and out of consciousness throughout the day but by 5pm I was scared. I could barely breathe, I was obsessing about going swimming (delirium brought on by a sky-high fever). My cough was violent and I was throwing up. I called NHS Direct and as I tried to talk to them, my breath tugged and within 30 minutes they’d sent an ambulance.
I was quickly taken to Northwick Park. My husband got to ride in an ambulance. My fever was well over 40 by this point, I had zero clue where I was and I was pretty much unable to hold myself up in a wheel chair. My back had gone into spasm from coughing so violently and my breathing was still laboured. I was really sick.
After numerous test, I was told I had flu with bronchitis and a urine infection. My body was fighting infections and viruses galore and frankly, I was drowning underneath it all. I wasn’t fit enough, nourished enough or rested enough to fight it so they pumped me full of antibiotics and fluids and as my fever came down, I started to feel more normal…really sick, but normal. Armed with a bag full of pills and potions, I was again sent home and told to rest and this time, for the first time, I listened.
I’m still listening. It’s over a week and I’ve only been dressed for two days. I’m yet to make it through the day without having to go back to bed for a rest. I’m feeling better but I only have to fold a batch of laundry before I need to sit down again. Cleaning the kitchen nearly kills me; doing bedtime by myself? Well, I don’t need any excuse to try and dodge that.
The simple fact is that we need to get over ourselves. As mamas, we’re strong, vital, powerful life forces for those around us but we’re pretty shit at looking after ourselves. We believe that the whole system will come crashing down if we’re not there to orchestrate it all and frankly, that’s bollocks. I would suggest that you schedule in time to stop – at least then you can manage it and make sure all that life admin and adulting stuff is covered. If you don’t look after yourself, you will burn out. The universe will conspire to bring you to a halt and while they’ll all cope, it’s best to not let it get to that stage.