If you’ve read my book (and if that’s a true statement, THANK YOU!), then you know that I preach self-care—a lot. And yet this week was an example of how even the most carefully crafted self-care plan can go awry. Last Saturday I woke up feeling wonky, and it worsened as the day progressed. I skipped my workout and started to shiver. My fever went up to 103 degrees and basically stayed there for the next 4 days, even on medication. This would have been an inconvenience at any time, but I was leaving Monday on a plane for a gig in Chicago. So, I kept resting and meditating, thinking that things would get better. I usually have a kick butt immune system, and I rarely get sick (except for that whole cancer thing).
As I got sicker on Sunday, my husband said, “You need to cancel.” To which I replied, “I can’t! The gig is on Tuesday; it’s too late. This is an amazing opportunity, and I can’t cancel.” He looked at me in his Yoda way, and said, “It’s up to you.” Monday found me moving through airports with a hankie in front of my mouth and bathed in anti-bacterial spray. I told my daughter, “You know how Mommy always takes care of everything? I can’t today. You are in charge, honey. I know it sucks, but you’re a very capable 14 year-old; I know you can do this.” And she did. She directed us from gate to gate and kept me hydrated. My husband and older daughter took different flights, so we all met up in Chicago. I was so sick, that I don’t remember much of the ride to the hotel. I went to bed at 4 p.m. and stayed there.
We all went to the WGN station for the interview, and hung out in the green room. I was sucking on cough drops and meditating within an inch of my life. When the assistant producer came to update me, she said that the anchor had called in sick, so I had a substitute for the interview. I didn’t miss the irony of this. The news anchor thought enough of her health to cancel, but I flew across the country feeling like I was a character from Les Miserables. The interview was fine; not my best (click here to see it). I felt well enough to go to dinner with our relatives, and the meal was super fun—even with me hacking into my napkin.
On the way back home, things got worse. I was so weak I couldn’t carry my purse, and my heart felt like it was flopping out of my chest. I remembered that I hadn’t really eaten anything for 2 days, and I was drinking water like crazy. So, I downed some Gatorade (yuck) for the electrolytes, thinking that’s why my heart rate was so high. As we boarded the plane, my heart kept flopping in my chest, even as I meditated. My pulse rate was 90-110 bpm, when it’s normally 50-60 bpm, and I couldn’t get it to settle down. The pilot said we were going to be grounded for 45 minutes for maintenance, and we could deplane. I couldn’t calm down; I kept feeling that something was REALLY wrong. I finally listened to my body, ignoring the inconvenience, and told my husband, “I need help. I think something’s wrong with my heart.” I told the gate agent, and she called the EMT’s. I felt stupid as they were hooking me up to the monitors and telling me that I was having a panic attack. Yes, the irony of the life coach having a panic attack was not lost on me either.
As I started to go down the well-worn path of self-reproach, I realized that wouldn’t help. As the shame was starting to make my stomach hurt and my breathing shallow, I “came to”. I realized that I have tools, now, and I’m very good at using them. I called upon the highest and best version of myself for help. Then I took 3 deep breaths, like I tell all my clients, and focused on love and compassion. Love for the sweet EMTs, who said I looked 35 instead of 50, making me giggle when they turned to my husband and said, “Now, YOU look 50!” Love for the gate agent, who held the plane for 5 minutes without making me feel like a nuisance (if you’re reading this, please accept my sincerest thanks! You are an angel on Earth). Love for my family, who were supportive and kind, even as they were also frightened and maybe a little embarrassed, when it turned out to be just a panic attack—or maybe that was just me. I focused all that compassion as I re-planed. As I walked in love, I could feel the atmosphere lighten. Anxious stares and fidgety glances at watches stopped, and everything went back to normal…just like that. Because I chose to stop the shame storm before it started to really blow, sunny skies returned quickly.
If I had known on Sunday that I had pneumococcal pneumonia (that’s what it turned out to be), I definitely would have stayed home. In the future I will ignore the voice of the Viking who tells me “the show must go on”, if that means endangering my health. But I don’t regret going. I got a very valuable lesson about loving myself in the eye of the shame storm, and I will never think of shame the same way again. I know that the power of love and compassion is even greater when you turn it on yourself. I’m not really a hypocrite if I don’t practice self-care perfectly, I’m just a work in progress—we all are.