Written by Elizabeth Boham, MD
Why Did I Get Sick? Is My Body Trying To Tell Me Something?

Why Did I Get Sick? Is My Body Trying To Tell Me Something?

Earlier this year, I got a sudden cold and lost my voice. For the past 15 years, I have been focusing on taking care of myself by taking the right supplements for me, giving my body time to rest, managing how I respond to stress, and getting enough sleep. Because of this, I don’t usually get many colds or flus. But this spring, I let myself get run down. I had a multitude of exciting opportunities and a lot of extra work to complete. I did not have enough time to rest, so of course, this illness came at the worst time. I was scheduled to be recording some educational videos, so using my voice was of utmost importance for getting the job done. I realized as I pushed through trying to finish the job that my body was trying to tell me something and that I needed to listen. I needed to rest, and I hadn’t even realized.

All of this brought me back 20 years ago to the first time I finally listened to my body. I was 30 years old, recently married, and planning to start a family. I was in the middle of my medical residency program and working very hard, excited to start working as a physician. It was at this time that I noticed a lump in my breast. A couple of weeks, a bunch of tests, and a surgery later, I was told I had an aggressive form of breast cancer. I was in disbelief. I had no family history and being a nutritionist prior to medical school, I paid strict attention to my diet and exercise regimen. I was young, healthy, and I did not have time to get sick, let alone deal with a life-threatening illness. I was confused and angry. I pushed through my treatment, and, as many people with a life-threatening illness do, went through the five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. It took many years for me to get through these stages of grief and finally take a step back to make sense of this illness.  

The body is so smart. It sends us signals periodically to let us know what we need to do to take care of ourselves. How often do we get one sickness, but then push through only to get another more serious illness a few weeks or months later? How often do we get upset with the illness and exclaim, “This is the worst time this could happen”? We need to think of getting sick, whether it is a cold or a more serious illness, as a way to reassess our lives. The trick is quieting the mind enough to hear and listen to our body.

Sometimes we need the physical signals to get so bad in order to push us into healing emotionally, and truly change our lives. A brilliant 88-year-old spiritual teacher and colleague of mine shared with me some of her work the other day.

“God whispers in your ear and you don’t hear,” she likes to say. “God yells at you and you don’t listen and then she picks up a two by four and she hits you on top of the head and gives you something so big and really gets your attention.” Gloria Alvino. Heart to Heart on health and happiness.

For me, getting breast cancer at age 30 and being told that even if I was by some chance able to have children, I may not be around to raise them, was like getting hit by a two by four. I realized that I needed to live my life differently. I realized that I was not very good at managing stress and saying no. I learned that I had to change the way I reacted to the world around me in order to improve the functioning of my immune system and work to prevent a recurrence. I started to meditate, and take more time to rest and have fun. However, even knowing this about myself, I sometimes slip into old patterns and do too much without letting my body recuperate.  Throughout the past 20 years, there have been times (like this past spring) when I pushed too hard and got sick as a result. Luckily, I have not had a recurrence of breast cancer, but I have had episodes where God (and actually my husband) has had to yell to get my attention.  

So the next time you get sick, maybe with a cold, stomach infection, or even cancer, try to think of it as a time of learning. What is this illness telling you about yourself? What is it telling you about how you are living your life? Do you need to reassess your priorities? How are you spending your time? Have you been taking the time for self-care? Have you been sleeping enough? Making time to prepare healthful foods? Taking time to stop and rest? Our bodies send us many signals, and sometimes the answers to our burning questions about our health can be solved if we just listen.

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