Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Staying Well When You’re Sick

“A family that vomits together stays together.”

That’s a modification from Father Peyton’s famous line–“A family that prays together stays together”–and sums up our Thanksgiving two years ago, when the whole family (parents and both little virus transporters) caught a nasty flu within ten minutes of each other.

My sister’s bathroom had never been so coveted as that evening. (We were traveling, of course.) I sat on the hide-a-bed with two paper bags, one for Katherine and one for me. Eric hugged the toilet with David at his side and an extra paper bag in case both got the urge at the same time.


I’m a wimp–a total pansy–when it comes to colds, viruses, infections, and stomach flus.

I despise blowing my nose, swallowing what feels like shards of glass, feeling my intestines grumble and kick like a fetus inside my womb, and eliminating everything I consume before I’ve had a chance to taste it. The rest of the six billion people in the world probably feel the same.

What’s different for me is that, as a depressive, I rely on lots of techniques to stay sane: a healthy diet, exercise, regular sleep, getting outside, vitamins and minerals. When I’m ill, most of them go out the window.

On sick days, my heart rate (that on normal days I try to raise to 160 beats a minute for at least an hour) rises to no more than 85 for three minutes as I climb the stairs; I can’t count on the endorphin buzz or the antidepressant effect felt after my run. The thought of eating turkey and broccoli makes me gag; I’m lucky if I can stomach a few saltines and Sprite. Along that line, the only pills I take are my antidepressants and my mood stabilizer; the vitamin and mineral arsenal have to wait for a stronger digestive system.


So what do I do about my depression on the days that my body won’t cooperate?

I lower my expectations. Way way way way down. Like if I fold a load of laundry, that’s monumental! If I can get down a half of a bagel (with or without cream cheese), amen!

And I avoid absolutely everything that could possibly trigger anxiety. Like the newspaper headlines about what’s totally messed up in the world. On my healthier days, I can read the print and, at least partially, filter out the fear and paranoia the words generate in my fragile brain. When I’m sick, I don’t stand a chance. So I let the paper go directly from the driveway to the recycling bin.

Similarly, I steer clear of the people in my life with a high probability of setting me off. It’s a boundary thing. (Always is.) I will be forever working on boundary issues. Even in my coffin I suspect I’ll be saying things like, “I really don’t want to upset you, but this space is set aside for my corpse.”


On my good days I use my words to communicate effectively (try to anyway) and don’t take things personally (try not to anyway). On my bad days (or sick days), every negative (and positive) comment gets filed as a personal attack. So if my guards are down, and I can’t defend my fledgling sense of self, better that I not speak to anyone on the big B (for boundary issue) list.

On sick days I also concentrate on anything positive I can do from my bed with a pan at my side.

Like slowing down my breathing. When people get anxious, they breathe quickly and shallowly, from the upper chest. The body responds with an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones. Breath work can be as simple as relaxing your belly and taking a deep breath from the lower abdomen. One exercise is counting to four as you inhale through your nose, and counting to eight, as you exhale through your mouth.


And I can surround myself with people who are on my “H list,” for healthy relationships). All I need is my cell phone and a few numbers programmed into it to have an instant support group. Or, if I can avoid the temptation to read negative stuff online, a decent internet connection will immediately connect me with friends and websites (like Beliefnet) that can feed my spirit.

Of course, books were designed to cuddle up with too. Ah, the wisdom in my printed pals. And they are so agreeable. If one say anything remotely disturbing, all I have to do is stop reading. They don’t talk back! Not the adult versions anyway. And chances are my paperbacks won’t give me the sniffles, unless my two little virus-transporters have touched them.

Check out more suggestions for staying well this winter in Beliefnet’s special Winter Health Week package!

  • http://HASH(0xcf0ad44) brownidgirls2

    thank you so much for providing such insight on depression. I’m a professional who suffers silently(except for my husband). I happened upon this sight and I’m so grateful for you! I’ve read through a bunch of your thoughts and feelings and they could be mine or any of us I guess. I especially liked I have a dream. I too would like to wake up one day and not have to whisper that I take medication to keep me sane! I know its not something I caused or can control, but get me to speak about it openly FORGET IT! I will keep reading for inspiration and companionship! thank you so much! k

  • http://HASH(0xcf0be48) Andrea

    I’m glad to have found you. I’m 49 yrs. old and live alone. I’ve suffered with depression and bipolar disorder since my teenage years. I’ve been on so many different medications that I could not possibly name them all. I stay in a perpetual blue funk. Thanks so much for reminding me that I am NOT alone. I will continue to read you on a daily basis.

  • caroline gamelo

    Your 12 -step program is a big help for me to begin seeking help for my teenage daughter 15 years old just recently accompanied her to have an abortion (7 weeks).
    I supported her all the way and be at her side with the procedure and everythng went well. I feel very concern the emotional impact of what would develop after this.
    So far she is back to her old self and started asking for food like she never had eaten before.
    I will continue to read this site, it was an eye opener for me.

  • Lynn

    Thanx for sharing this, your ideas are great!
    Like you, I am fumbling forward by the trial and error method and have found similar coping strategies to your own. I was especially interested to learn about your body’s non-response to exercise when it hits as I have similar experiences with muscle tone, and no one has been able to explain that yet. When it hits, I notice that my thighs flatten out in the chair (and all my muscles are similar, also heart seems weaker, so I push less) but when I’m doing better, I get the normal muscle tone of a person who exercises fairly regularly. I also have this come-and-go problem as depression seems to have a life of its own and I can lay all sorts of plans that I can easily carry out for a couple hours or a couple of days or a couple of weeks and then suddenly the black cloud returns and everything inside me seems to fall apart and I can do nothing. Sure makes it hard to keep a job and I am really in despair about this as I am a single parent with 3 teenage children, and finances are a constant problem and worry, and I imagine that this stress also makes the depression more difficult to cope with. Regards,

  • Marlene

    Dear Therese,
    Thank you so..oo..much for these great tips to stay on top when you are sick.

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