Over the past few weeks to a month, I’ve seen reports of hospitals around the nation overfilled with people suffering from the flu. And it seems like nearly every person I’ve come in contact with recently has either been sick, or just getting over being sick, or just starting to feel sick.

Hospitals and emergency rooms are so crowded that I have heard paramedics suggest to a patient that perhaps going to urgent care in the morning would be a safer course of action.

And this week I’ve been feeling pretty crummy too.

There’s something about being ill that brings self-care out of the woodwork, that same self-care that seems such an elusive goal so many days. But when I’m sick, suddenly I know how to do it all.

For example, most days I struggle to drink as much water as I know I should. I drink lots of water, and I like water, but I could do without the oh-so-frequent trips to the ladies room. But when I’m sick, it’s as though my inner voice turns into a nurse, advising sagely, “You need to make sure you are hydrated so your body can heal itself.”

Of course the same brain offers the same sage advice every day of the week, just without the oomph lent by feeling like crap and wanting to feel better. And somehow it’s easier to listen to that sage advice and follow it when I want to shorten the length of my illness by days and even hours. It’ll make me feel better? Count me in. Pass that broth, please.

When I feel lousy, I still try to move my body around a little bit if I can. I know that makes me feel better, you see. There’s only so long I can stay in bed before the simple act of lying down starts to make me ache. So squeezing in a tiny bit of dancing or even just walking back and forth in the house when I feel low—I’m on it.

I think in some part, this reaction I have is because I spent so long nursing a family. It’s almost second nature to know what to do for a headache, for the chills, for the aches, for a fever. And yet, most days of the week, when I feel hale and hearty, I don’t care for myself at the same level.

I said for many years that I was coasting on good health and youth. Now that I’m in my fifties, I guess I can only claim good health on that, but I do rely heavily on the fact that I’ve never been significantly ill beyond the odd cold or flu here and there. When I am laid low, it always makes me think of this difference in my attitude.

Obviously, I need to make sure to drink enough water every single day, and not just on the days that I don’t feel well. Not just on the days when I can feel that lack of water, but also on the days that I feel great. Only I never seem to think of it much on those days.

Obviously, I need to take care with the things I eat. Will this thing make me feel better today, or worse? When I feel great, who cares? Even if it makes me feel worse, I’m still going to be feeling pretty good. When I’m sick, I weigh my options carefully and I usually make pretty good decisions based on what will make me feel better quickly. I cut down on things like coffee and sweets almost without thinking.

What is the lesson here?

If my overall goal is to feel better, that is, to be healthier and more physically fit, that’s really no different than feeling sick and wanting to be better. It’s simply a matter of degree. I could, for instance, push my bad eating habits (and it wouldn’t take much) toward diabetes. This would have disastrous effects on my health and it’s one of the reasons I started this journey in the first place. How do I keep that in mind on the days when I feel great? I wish I knew.

I believe the body will tell us what it needs, from food cravings to restless legs. My challenge always seems to be learning how to listen, then applying what I learn through action. So this week I’m paying attention to all of that sage advice—and I know if I persist, sooner or later this will become a habit.

Do you learn about self-care when you’re sick? Contact me at leota@lobo.net or 505-286-1212, or by finding my Facebook group, “I’m Losing It!”