A beautiful portrait of me with a swollen eye.


This is the story I am telling myself…

Early in the new year, I contracted some kind of super virus that has knocked me out for weeks. It started with what I thought was “pink eye” and then turned into the flu and a sinus infection with a touch of laryngitis every few days. I had a very high fever for almost a week and my energy has been completely sucked from me.

Once the swelling in my eye went down, it became apparent that I couldn’t see properly. I figured it was nothing but after a week of blurred vision I decided I better see someone. It turned out that I had an infection in my eye from a virus which had created some scar tissue on my eye and that was what was impacting my vision. After a course of steroids and the ophthalmologist scraping the scar tissue off my eyeball, my vision has almost returned.

But in the meantime, being off work and incapacitated for this long has played games with my mind.

This is one of nine sketchnotes I did while taking the course. The rest can been seen on my Instagram account.

While off, I took an online course with Brené Brown, Daring Schools: The Four Pillars of Courage. Like all of her courses and books (I have taken three courses and read all of her books) the messages hit home.

One of the points she made that I loved was that our brain rewards us when we create a story, regardless of the accuracy of the story. Brené suggests that in the midst of our storytelling we need to reality check. Sometimes we do this with someone if the story is about them and our relationship with them and sometimes just with ourselves. We need to recognize if we are in emotion because that is precisely when we create the stories.

So what was the story I was telling myself through this latest illness? There were several.

  1. I left my eye too long because I thought it was nothing and now I am never going to have my vision back.
  2. I cannot see well enough to read or draw. Will I ever be able to do either one of those things that bring me such joy again?
  3. I have been down for four weeks and my energy will never come back.
  4. I can’t walk without breaking out into a coughing attack. I will never be able to go to the gym again.
  5. Since my surgery five years ago I always seem to get these illnesses and they are never simple. My immunity seems to be compromised and I am no longer strong.
  6. Work has moved on without me quite easily. I am not needed there.

Are any of these stories true? Not sure about all of them but some of them may be. I know that numbers 1 and 2 have been proven false. I am hopeful at this point about 3 and 4. Not sure about 5 and if it even makes sense. And number 6? Well, one friend at work reassured me that they just wanted me to get better but that there will be a lot for me when I get back. I have eased into work by calling into meetings.

I have been given clearance to go back to work on Thursday. I am looking forward to feeling useful again but I also worry about my stamina. It’s a funny thing being sick. I know it isn’t anything too serious. I have been through a serious illness five years ago (I wrote about it in my first blog, Creative Forces). But at the same time, it makes me feel weak and weary.

I am reminded of one of my favourite childhood poems…SICK by Shel Silverstein. She has every ailment until she realizes that she doesn’t have to go to school and then she is totally fine. I am sure I have not made this up but there is certainly some anxiety in the mix here just like little Peggy Ann McKay.

I have been off for almost three weeks tacked onto two weeks of holidays and I already feel anxious about my return as indicated by my emotionally based stories I have told myself over the course of the illness.

Another one of my sketchnotes I made while taking Brené Brown’s Course, Daring Schools: the Four Pillars of Courage.

As I worked through the Brené course, I questioned my self-doubt. I often create stories where I am the bad guy…it is my default. The typical, “I am not enough…” Brené asks us to consider if we are sitting in our own critics’ section. As you can see from my sketchnote, I am quite evolved in that area…

But then I stop myself and work through a little self-compassion. Yes, I was hit hard but I am surrounded by amazing people who care for me…my mom who came by every single day and gave me sponge baths when my fever spiked at 104 degrees. My dad who called and visited to make sure I was okay. My friend, Lisa, who not once, but twice, brought me over her delicious Hot and Sour Soup with only the best ingredients. My friend, Fern, who covered my carpool for me when I couldn’t get out of bed and sent me ridiculous snapchats to make smile. My friends, Frankie and BJ,who texted to make sure I was okay. My friend, David, who texted and called and checked up on me and reassured my friends at the gym that I was okay. My friend, Denise, who called and checked on me. My friend Rashma, who offered to come visit with some doubles and love. My friend, Mark, who checked on me every day with a caring text and always offered to bring me a tea, take out the garbage, pick up the kids and anything else he could imagine would be a help to me. My friend, Nada, who called and checked on me and made me laugh every time. My friend, Dara,who called and offered any kind of help I need. My friend Ravina who called me and texted me from her new home in Barbados. My team at work (Ann, Leah, Stuart, Geoff, Chelsea, Hamal, Nicole, Matt and Chris) who checked on me daily and sent me happy spring flowers to lift my spirits. My superintendent, heather.sears, who was supportive and understanding. My friend, Greg, who called and texted and called again. My friend, Janine, who called and offered anything I need. My friend and work partner, Rick, who texted to check on me. My friend, Sharon, who checked on me a few times. My friend, Wayne, who texted me and made me promise to take care of myself. My friend, Brenda, who texted to make sure I was okay even though she just had her second knee replacement. My friend, Kathy, who called and texted and worried when I wasn’t on social media. My sister, Carolyn, who called me and texted me and got my first course of eyedrops. My brother, Mark, who called me whether he was in Phoenix or San Francisco. My brother, Michael, who called to make sure I was okay. My sister, Judy, who got me into an ophthalmologist in two days rather than the usual wait for months. My kids, Rachel and Max, who were incredibly loving and helpful with everything around the house. And of course Jeff, who helped me when my car died and cleaned the whole basement when it flooded even though it wasn’t covered by insurance and he cut the carpet out and carried it out of the house (ya…that happened too while I was sick).

It isn’t easy to feel sorry for oneself long when you are surrounded by so much love and support.

As Brené would say,

My worries are grounded in my insecurities about my worthiness, ability, strength and body. I have heard that if we don’t listen to what our body needs, our body screams back at us. Hopefully this time I heard it.

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