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.


Image courtesy of

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  • Elizabeth

    This is all so true. For about a week now, I’ve been struggling with my fragile sinuses. Killer sinus headaches, ear congestion, sore throat, vertigo etc. I am on an antibiotic and a steroid to bring down the inflammation so I should be back in action in a few more days. BUT, while I was really down for the count last week (literally) and not able to do anything except lay on my sofa with ice on my head… I decided then and there that although I was feeling anxiety and OCD about some things that I could just let the thoughts be. I wouldn’t try to fight them or change them because my head hurt too much. I just accepted that my thoughts were going to drive me a little crazy (more than usual) for the next few days and that my main focus is to take care of my sinuses so I the vertigo will stop. I have been trying to relax as much as possible and my body sometimes will not allow me to do anything else except lay on my sofa and relax. I haven’t been able to take my vitamins due to my antibiotic but if I take my brain meds and my sinus meds, that is enough for me now. I too am a wimp when it comes to illness :-)

  • samantha

    hey i may not be sick to understand how you might be feeling but i do know how it feels to be down and how you let your gard down. i do suffer from depresstion but hey i am working on it. some days are hard then others sometimes it is hard to cope. that i do know. you wonder if you are going to make it to the next day. or i wonder that every minute of the day. when something inside of you wnats you to quit what then. well i may have depresstion but i do now that i will not qiut living becaues that somethin in side me is not going to rule me out. you could just kick the bucket in but in the end you are not hurting yourself but hurting the people you love you. that is why i keep living. keep moving. i tell myself that i am worthy but i know that it is just how i have to cope. you can to cope in what ever helps you.

  • Ciara

    Hi my name is Ciara. I have bipolar disorder, and I’m the writer of I was wondering if you could do a blog about a contest CABF (Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation)is in. If they win they get $250,000 in grant money to help kids with bipolar disorder and depression. The contest is based on how many votes they get so people have to vote everyday for them to win. However people have to know about it before they can vote for it. For all the information on it go to It’s a really good cause that everyone with bipolar disorder should be supporting. I wrote one on mine and I’m trying to get more bloggers to post so more people will see. If you could blog about it that would helpful. It’s a great cause that deserves to win. Thanks very much!

  • JoAnne

    I suffer from depression and anxiety. I hate it and most days I can not find a reason to go on. I see no future for me. The only thing that keeps me here is my two sons and the fact that I don’t want to leave them with that. Even the antidepressant I’m on fails me. I’ve told my doc that they don’t work anymore and I want a different one but he doesn’t want to do that so he just jacks the one I’m on a little higher. Does it help? NO!I really envy people who are (seem to be) well adjusted. I wish I was.

  • Deb

    Hi Therese and fellow readers:
    Good article. I can totally relate. I will tell you a similiar story that got to be so ridiculous & funny (in a way) that it took me out of my depression! This is my shortened version of my last 11 weeks:
    I volunteered to help wash/rinse/dry 40 dogs (4 of us girls) to raise money for the animal shelter in town. “How hard could that be?”, I said to Self. Self was too ‘up’ @ the time to realize…it may BE a wee bit difficult at age 60, with arthritis. But, it was the end of summer (I am so happy in the summer!)and I was in an “I can do anything!” mood. It was (kind of) fun, and difficult (very, on my back), and I sadly discovered over the next few days that I could no longer walk 3 miles around the reservoir w/ my walking buddy to get my endorphin high. OK I thought, this should not take too long to heal; must have pulled a muscle in my leg is all…I’ll just rest. My chiropractor agreed. 9 weeks passed w/ no healing. So we resorted to x-rays & an MRI to see if it was caused by a muscle/nerve combo or disc in my lower back or hip. (I just realized this is not a short version…how many words do I get here?)
    Well, I am being treated with needle injections (alternative medicine)in my back/hip/leg. After 1 treatment…no better. Now I am slowly getting more & more depressed over this period of time. This is when I decided to read your book, Therese, “Beyond Blue”. (Loved it, and YOU, girlfriend) So I did not feel ‘alone’ in my misery, just not good. I could not walk for exercise, I was in pain, I was gaining weight, getting crabbier by the minute, etc., etc.
    OK that was stage one. Stage 2: I get laryngitis and a cold last week. Definitely not feeling good on top of the leg injury and the depression. Stage 3: I sleep in the living room this past Mon, & Tues. nite, so as not to wake my husband with my coughing…my rt. leg falls off the coffee table, hits the floor funny, and I break my second toe on Tues nite. Ok, now I am limping on my left side from my injured (for 11 weeks) left leg, AND on my right side due to the broken toe on my right foot. I am realizing too that I am starting to post funny things on my FB page, as this is some kind of cosmic craziness! But I find I am not as depressed, which is a good thing! Stage 4: I am walking across the kitchen yesterday and my rubber-soled slipper on my right foot suddenly stops me cold, I lose my balance, I fall into a free fall on my left side, just like a big tree felled in a forest, (my arms are not helping me for some reason) and my head crashes through the sheet rock on the kitchen wall. Amazingly, I do not crack my head open (Huge lump though on the back of it, over my left ear), nor do I lose consciousness. I drive myself to the ER, feeling absolutely horrible all over, and the DR. says I’m fine & sends me home.
    So, somehow all these events served to help me work through my depression in some weird way…because it was all such a bizarre set of circumstances. I thought “Yes, God has a strange sense of humor, and I’m laughing with Him, for some reason”! Physically injured all over the place….but not depressed! Hey, that’s a great thing!!
    Take care all. I hope this brought a bit of humor into YOUR day! Deb

  • Cynthia

    Deb, I’m really happy that you found comfort in telling your story. You just brightened MY day so much, you have no idea! Gave me my best belly laugh of the day so far. I find humor to be such a critical component in living with depression. If we can’t laugh through this, what’s the alternative? Crying? I do hope you’re feeling better now and you should feel heartened by your ability to find humor in all that befell you during your “God wink” set of circumstances. Well done!

  • Deb

    Cynthia, thank you so much for your encouraging comments. This was my first post here, and I was a bit shy about doing it! I agree with you that humor is a big component in staying healthy!
    Yes, I am feeling better slowly, and the Dr. is trying a new treament on my leg; he did the first one yesterday. Also found out my ‘bad’ leg is 1/2″ shorter, so will get a heel lift…and start Phys. Therapy next week. I am hopeful this is all going to come together positively and I’ll be back to walking & losing weight again, in time!
    A ‘God wink’ indeed! Have a wonderful day! Deb

  • Terry

    Thanks. I wondered what the rest of the world did when their regular coping techniques were put on hold by a cold or virus, which kept them down. Thanks for sharing some techniques, especially keeping expectations lowered until feeling better.

  • Mary Agresti

    Thank you for this article. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Recently I have had some physical ailments and I never deal well with them emotionally. The time to heal seems to go on forever and sometimes I think I will never feel ok again. This time I had a bad allergic reaction to an antibiotic I was taking and felt so bad I didn’t take my anti-depressant medication for a few days. I just felt like crying all the time. Sometimes that awful bleak feeling starts to return and it is such a dreary place to be. Today I took my usual medications and I read your article and the very helpful comments from your readers and I think I am going to be ok again.

  • voyance par telephone

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