It started at 1:38 am. I know this because it was my one-year old’s second waking of the night and I checked the clock. I could feel a weird dryness in the back of my throat. I noted it while Aidan nursed, then went back to sleep five minutes later when he did.
At 4:03, again nursing Aidan, I noticed the dryness had turned to minor pain. Shit. I was getting a cold.
I’ve never had the opportunity to track so diligently the onset of a viral infection. I guess I can add that to the list of gifts I’ve gotten from my son’s frequent wakings.
I meant that sarcastically — you know, gifts like permanent black circles around my eyes and chronic mush for brains — but actually, there are true gifts, like sweet time spent with him and witnessing his maturing ability to put himself back to sleep. Last night’s “gift” could be considered genuine because, believe it or not, I hauled my exhausted butt out of bed to down vitamin C and spray my throat.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have helped. I definitely feel sicker this morning.
But last night, at 4:32 (Aidan was up again… He had a rough night), I got to thinking about why I was getting sick.
Yes, of course, I know. The cause of my sore throat was/is likely a virus. But there are viruses around us all the time and mostly, I don’t get sick. (Though, I have to admit, I’ve gotten sick SO much since Aidan was born.) (Probably another gift from those frequent wakings.) So, why this time? Why now?
The usual answer to that question (yes, it’s a habit of mine to ask and has been since my parents taught me to as a kid) is I’m doing too much and I need to slow down. Another common one is that something is making me deeply sad and I need to more consciously grieve. As a kid, it was often about being afraid or otherwise wanting to avoid something. Getting sick has always been tied closely to my emotional state, and it’s nearly always serving some purpose.
Well, when I asked myself this question last night, as my little son slurped comfort as fast as his mouth could go, a super clear and immediate answer surfaced: I’m upper limiting myself.
A few months ago, my business coach recommended I read a book called The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. It resonated so deeply I near fell over from the vibration. The premise is this: In the scope of human history, we have only very recently begun to enjoy relative ease of living. The vast majority of our existence has been fraught with frequent and life-threatening peril (think starvation, exposure, saber tooth tigers…). Consequently, we are not wired, in a literal, evolutionary way, for trusting our good fortune and reveling in good feelings. Such goodness, in fact, freaks us out, and we do all manner of things to bring ourselves back into more familiar (and therefore, comfortable) feelings like worry, doubt and dissatisfaction. Hendricks proposes that we each have an upper limit to how much goodness we can tolerate and, when we exceed that limit, we do stuff to bring ourselves back under the line, stuff like worry obsessively, criticize ourselves and others, deflect compliments, hide significant feelings… and get sick.
Well yesterday, I was feeling REALLY good. With a nod to Elastigirl and Edna as my copilot, I was exercising my super powers and taking steps to live my purpose. And I was LOVING it. I think the word I chose in last night’s blog was “exhilarated.” So a few hours later, when I discovered myself getting sick, it seemed incredibly (pun intended) clear. I’d crossed my upper limit and it was time, according to my ancestral programming, to pull back.
In fact, if I look back on the last few hours of my evening, I can already begin to see it. First, I was craving (and eating!) cookies. This is unusual for me. I typically don’t eat white sugar and if I have something like a cookie, it’s one or two tops. But last night, I kept going back to the fridge, one cookie after another.
Well, the reason I don’t normally eat stuff like that is because I feel crappy when I do. Sure, there’s twenty seconds of pleasure in my mouth, but then I feel jittery and spacey long after. But last night, even though I was feeling the effects of my mini-binge, I kept going back for more. Seems kind of obvious, in hindsight, that that crappy feeling was, in fact, the point.
Then, after staying up too late (new rule: no Facebook before bed), I had an impulse to take some Vitamin C before I turned in. And I talked myself out of it. That’s the one that really gets me. I mean, seriously, what good reason is there for not taking a little Vitamin C when you’re feeling a bit off? But I squashed the thought almost before I’d finished thinking it. Hard to believe feeling yucky wasn’t actually my subconscious goal.
And here’s the real kicker. As I was thinking about this in bed last night, I did what Hendricks recommends when you catch yourself “upper limiting.” I turned my attention to all the good feelings I’d been having and practiced savoring them, just sitting in them and stewing for as long as I could. And every time I did, I’d find myself taking a glorious deep breath and the soreness in my throat would vanish.
Of course, the moment I stopped consciously focusing on enjoying my good feelings, the soreness would return. And I couldn’t keep that up all night. I eventually fell asleep (as did Aidan, thank heavens). But all these things put together have me fairly well convinced that this little bug is merely a brave soldier in service to my upper limit.
I’m hoping that realizing that will, at least, shorten the duration and severity of whatever I’ve got. It has already empowered me to get my butt in gear and start pumping all the goodies I use to fight colds.
And one thing’s for sure. Embedded memories of saber tooth tigers aside, I’m going to spend as much time as possible indulging all those good feelings. Because that’s the only way to raise the upper limit. And I really want to feel good, more and more of the time. There’s really no reason not to.