Man Plans, God Gives You Shingles – Kveller
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Man Plans, God Gives You Shingles


After all the late-night/early-morning work I did covering the Winter Olympics (in addition to my standing freelance assignments and that whole parenting three kids thing), I promised my husband that I would take some time off afterwards and not do any work at all. (Well, except for my standing freelance assignments and that whole parenting three kids thing).

My husband didn’t believe me. God, apparently, didn’t believe me, either, because, literally less than 24 hours after the Ladies’ Long Program ended in Sochi, God decided to make certain I kept my promise to take it easy by striking me down with a case of shingles.

For those unfamiliar with shingles, it’s caused by the chicken pox virus that has been lying dormant inside you probably since elementary school flaring up and making one half of your body feel like it’s on fire. There are also some blood-red blisters (in my case along the back and above the rib-cage; but that can vary from patient to patient) that eventually erupt and scab over for visual effect.

It isn’t pleasant, but it is educational. Below, in reverse order of importance, are the three things I learned (or technically, am still learning) from my particular case of “Man plans, and God… gives you shingles.”

1)    Sometimes, it is worth going to the doctor, after all

As I wrote in My Soviet Immigrant Father vs. Modern Medicine, I grew up in a home where common childhood illnesses, accidents, etc, were handled via folk remedies and keeping a stiff upper lip. I run my own household the same way. As our pediatrician said, “You guys aren’t hysterics. If I see your name on my roster, I know I am going to see a really, really sick kid.” (This is also why it took 48 hours to realize our son had a broken arm and several years to notice his brother had a hearing problem; read all about it ). I probably would have dismissed my outbreak of painful hives as just a rash and ignored it if my mother, who’d suffered through it herself, hadn’t insisted I consider the possibility of shingles. And, even then, I’d heard there was nothing that could really be done about it, so why see a doctor? It wasn’t until I’d Googled and learned there was now a medication available that could lessen the symptoms–but it was only effective when administered in the first 72 hours–that I broke down and sought medical help. They gave me a prescription and, while I don’t have a “Control Alina” to test if it actually did any good, it didn’t do much harm. So, perhaps, in the future, I won’t wait quite so long. I’m not making any promises.

2)    When you never take a sick day, taking a sick day really freaks your kids OUT

“But Mommy never gets sick,” my 7-year-old daughter sobbed at the sight of me in bed, having trouble moving.

I actually get sick quite a bit. I just muscle through it (see: Stiff Upper Lip, above). I wrote earlier about how, despite a lifetime of near-debilitating depression and anxiety, my goal is to never let my kids see me incapacitated. That applies to physical as well as mental ailments. I suppose, if I’d really wanted to, I could have hidden this from them, too. But, I decided not to… just to see what would happen (or because I lacked the energy to fake it anymore). Apparently, what would happen is that it totally threw them into a panic. However, as we enter Week Two, they seem to have adjusted admirably–even to the fact that Daddy is sleeping on the sofa in the living room and they can’t play there in the early mornings (my husband is, as always,  the most amazing man ever ). Though they’re all kind of ready for the whole thing to be over.

3)    I need to reevaluate my entire life

Shingles is caused by stress. Last month, I was very, very stressed. Too stressed. I even told my husband, “Intellectually, I realize that I am seriously overreacting. But my body is going haywire.”

I couldn’t sleep. I had no appetitive. I was exhausted way beyond the physical, and even mental effort that I was expanding. At times, I was shaking uncontrollably. I’d lie in bed at night (awake) and feel my muscles literally vibrating from tension.

On the one hand, I am happy to have the shingles diagnosis because at least I know that some of my symptoms had a physical cause. On the other hand, I brought it upon myself. (If, as the saying goes, depression is anger turned inwards then, right now, I am bitterly, morbidly, insanely furious at myself for not managing to keep this from happening. After all, I was just producing some Olympic coverage, I wasn’t doing anything truly important for humanity or anything actually worth getting this worked up over.)

I can’t allow it to happen again. Maybe that level of insanity is something I could have handled when I was younger with minimal ill-effects but, like the “Lethal Weapon” movies, I am getting too old for this #$%&. The consequences are getting greater. Today it’s shingles. Tomorrow it’s… what? A heart attack? A stroke? A full body breakdown?

My kids aren’t getting rid of me that easily.

I’ve got to get myself under control, and I’ve got to do it now.

The question is: How?

Doing Less? (That’s my husband’s suggestion. I’ve tried it. All that happens is I stress about not doing enough.) Meditation (Carla Naumburg? I keep thinking about you!)? Biofeedback? Drugs? Lobotomy?

I’m open for suggestions.

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