Do you give yourself permission to be ill?

mother waking her daughter to administer flu and cold treatment
Photo by Ron Lach on

At the end of last week, I tested positive for Covid 19. I then found myself having to tell friends, family, clients, students, and all whom I had been in contact with.

SHAME came screaming at me…The shame of having caught it. The shame of potentially spreading it. The shame of being ill itself. The shame of not noticing I was ill.

For years I carried this belief that “I do not get ill.” I know rationally that I am a human being like the rest of us, who is liable to catch viruses and infections. However, at some point in my childhood, I developed this belief about myself, and therefore as an adult I often didn’t prioritise my own self-care. When and if I became ill, I would suppress it. Not even acknowledge it and push on through.

This period of enforced isolation has led me to reflect on how a child’s experience of being unwell may shape and influence their relationship with illness and how they look after themselves.

How does a child learn to take care of themselves when they are ill when they do not experience that care first-hand? A child may be in a Boarding School where there is no parent to check in with them, to feel their forehead for a temperature, to ask how they are feeling. Or the parent may be an overworked single mum who desperately needs to get to work each day so it is far too inconvenient to have a sick child. Often parents are stretched emotionally and physically and for various reasons may be unable to offer that soothing that child may need.

Many children therefore learn to push aside their illnesses and get on with it. Yes, this may create resilience but it may also create adults who do not notice the symptoms they have because they do not want to make a fuss and would rather keep that shame of exposing their vulnerability away.

It can be hard to rewire these brains to let them know that it is okay for them to rest and recuperate when they are ill. Sometimes as adults, there may still be that small child part inside of you who desperately needs someone to tell them that it is okay for them to rest and look after themselves and they are not an inconvenience. You have permission.


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