Do you give yourself permission to be ill?

ex-boarder illness shame Feb 15, 2024
White woman with dark hair, holding hands to side of face with eyes closed

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...

Shame of having caught it.  Shame of potentially spreading it.  Shame of being ill itself. 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 Boarding School, the experience of being ill there and how this may shape the adult ex-boarder and their relationship with illness.  How does a child learn to take care of themselves when they are ill when they do not experience that care first-hand? When there is no parent to check in with them, to feel their forehead for a temperature, to ask how they are feeling.  What does the child do?

The child may have an option of a stern matron to go and visit or least favourably a sanitorium where they could go. If we were really ill we were put in a hospital ward style dormitory in the school grounds called “The Sicker.”  It was white and clinical and separate from everyone else and you were put in there to recover.

There may be so little comfort and care offered, that many children 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 that had to grow up independently from such a young age without the love and care of a loving parent.  As an ex-boarder, there may still be that small child part inside of you who desperately needs someone to tell them that they are ill and it is okay for them to rest and look after themselves. You have permission. You deserve to be cared for and looked after and it is safe to receive.


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