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.


A Bereaved Child at Boarding School

What does September evoke for you?

Many ex-borders have spoken of a level of melancholy that comes over them at this time of year. Grief. Their body is reminding them of how they experienced pulling out their trunk and packing again to return to boarding school, leaving their family, pets, and all that is familiar behind.

The summer holidays may have been long enough to have adjusted back to being their “home self,” and then they have to pack that self up, along with their trunk and pull on that armor and adapt back to being their “school self.” This pattern is repeated over and over again, which can cause a split in personality and a disintegration of the self.

Many young children will be feeling “homesick” for the first time over these next few weeks as they are left by their parents to begin life at their new institutions.

Advice online by the Independent Education Consultant encourages parents to “not give in to emotional blackmail. You have made this choice for the right reasons so try not to take seriously any miserable communications from your child, which may imply that you do not care or are in some way cruel. Quite the opposite. You have made a selfless decision in giving your child what you believe will be an amazing opportunity.”

Reading this and various advice given on present-day Boarding School Website pages to parents on how to manage their child’s feelings, as well as their own reads like propaganda. Joy Schaverien in her book “Boarding School Syndrome,” claims that the term homesickness does not do justice to the depth of losses to which the boarding school child is subjected.

The broken attachments of the first days in boarding school amount to a significant, but unrecognized form of bereavement, and the child must learn to live without love. Often children’s losses are minimized and glossed over as insignificant and therefore many children hide these feelings for fear of being seen as childish and pathetic and subjected to bullying.

The term homesickness encompasses a complex system of unprocessed grief and many children are emotionally wounded (traumatised), exiled (homeless), and bereaved (grieving). Suddenly children are abandoned and have to adapt to the abrupt and irrevocable loss of the childhood state. Children lose their role, their sense of themselves as people who belong in a family group and they have to prematurely appear grown-up.

So, what do the children do with these emotions? Not wanting to upset their parents who want them to be happy…? It is not uncommon for the repressed distress to come out in symptoms such as bedwetting and vomiting as tears do not appear permitted.

If you are an ex-border and this resonates with you, try and do nourishing things for yourself this September. If you notice your mood dip as the season changes, think what that little child would have wanted and needed to express. Try and give that to yourself. xxx