Going to seek health care services during COVID-19 can be very scary right now. The threat is real. Somehow, we must also set that fear aside if we need to seek health care for something other than COVID-19. Give yourself permission to take of yourself. Give your health care provider a call first and see what steps you need to take, you’re worth it! We are fortunate to have professionals taking extra precautions so they can continue to care for you.
When I worked in Human Resources, a large part of my job was working with benefits and employee wellness. I made sure the companies I worked for provided resources, policies and accessible health care to employees so they could take care of themselves to be productive at work. I was fortunate to work for employers who saw the value in this; its sadly not always the case. In my office, I had many heavy confidential conversations about all aspects of employees’ lives. It was my job to listen. Sometimes the truth came out that an employee was dealing with a major personal problem at the time of a performance conversation. More often than not, I heard that employees were suffering from significant health problems that they were not dealing with for a variety of reasons. They couldn’t afford the time off, they couldn’t afford medications, they didn’t believe in health care, they were scared to know what was wrong. Health care visits can be viewed as weak to those who value that strength is “sucking it up.” At first, this seemed insane to me. If something was wrong, you have the opportunity to take care of it! My eyes were opened to so many other reasons why people don’t participate in health care. I also have come to realize this can be a privileged and closed perspective.
I remember one of the situations clearly. At the time, I worked at a large health care organization. Many of the top executives had clinical backgrounds and were now leading at the corporate level. One of my co-workers was a strong, outgoing, kind, incredibly smart, driven woman. Obviously, something had been worrying her. She finally came to me one day and confided that she had been experiencing intense pain and urinating blood for months. For months! If you have ever experienced this (hello super fun bladder infections); it’s horrible. As a health practitioner herself, I was shocked she had let this continue for so long. Wiping the deep concern off my face, I tried to understand her situation and asked her what was holding her back from getting it checked out. She opened up and said she was terrified. What if it is cancer? She couldn’t face the fact that something terrible may be wrong with her; even though she knew deep down that whatever she had could be getting worse if not treated. Fear can hold us back and keep us in intense physical and emotional pain; like getting stuck in deep quicksand.
Seeing that she was in a large state of fear and seeking someone to talk to; I put on my coaching hat and asked some questions to see what she could come up with. What if it isn’t cancer? What would you do if it is cancer? What happens if you never get it checked out? What else is holding you back? What do you need to take care of yourself? Tell me what your pain rating is versus your fear rating? How can I help?
Like in many coaching situations, after we spoke, I had no idea what the outcome was. Especially in work circumstances, I always respect someone’s privacy. I can follow up to make sure someone is OK, but its up to them to tell me the details. She had told me she was fine and I left it at that. I trusted (and hoped) she was.
Later, I found myself in a similar situation. I had just had my second daughter with a c-section delivery and recovery. My then husband had to have major back surgery two weeks after she born. My dog jumped off a deck to chase an Elk and tore his doggy ACL, had surgery and was in a major recovery.
To say I was stressed and depleted on my care giving output would be an
understatement. I started having intense stomach aches that would totally take me out and lasted for hours on end. I have had periods in my life where this happened in the past; going in and out of hospitals. But never like this. A daily occurrence of debilitating stomach aches. I became afraid to even eat with the fear I would end up keeled over for hours; unable to care for everyone else. This lasted for months. Months. Every part of my being was depleted and my milk supply started decreasing. My daughter was losing weight. My husband finally said to me; “you know you don’t have to deal with this, right?” I couldn’t believe what he was saying. I finally got in touch with and spilled out all my fears and emotions. I don’t have time to go to the doctor. I have to take care of everyone else. What if something is wrong with me? What if they can’t figure it out; I don’t have time to go to doctor after doctor. What if we have to spend a lot of money on it that we don’t have? Once I got that off my chest and also realized that I was worthy of getting help and feeling well (and tucking away the martyr of sacrificing myself for everyone else), I made an appointment. I ended up discovering that I am severely gluten intolerant and had to embark down changing my lifestyle. I’ll save that for another blog. While it was all difficult, my life is SO much better. It has been years since I have had a stomach ache related to food allergies. Each minute that I don’t have a stomach ache like I used to, is better than the months I spent living in pain and fear. And let me tell you, it had a greater effect on so many other things in my life. When you are living in constant physical pain, it affects every part of your being.
It’s crazy, but true, how much courage we have to have just to take care of
ourselves. It can be very real to not have the external support, time, stamina, or financial resources to get the health care we need. Sometimes we are afraid of the unknown in our own bodies. We doubt our capabilities. Mortality can come to look us in the eye. There are certainly means to support us in all the resources we lack, if we can muster the courage to ask for help. Both of these stories showed me that support and being heard and giving “permission” inspired courage of self-care. Most importantly, we have to have the courage to prioritize our well-being. Can you think of a time in your wellness where you avoided health care out of fear and emotion? What is the impact of living in the stickiness of fear for you? When did the idea of feeling better outweigh the fear? What support do you seek when reaching for your courage?