“Girls blush, sometimes, because they are alive, half wishing they were dead to save the shame. The sudden blush devours them, neck and brow; They have drawn too near the fire of life, like gnats, and flare up bodily, wings and all. What then? Who’s sorry for a gnat or girl?”
~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning
This was always going to be a post about kindness, but interestingly, when I mentioned on facebook yesterday that I might be blogging about vomit, it raised quite the controversy. Some people were all for it, whatever I wrote, and others were deadset against any mention of bodily functions.
Well, I was never one to step away from controversy.
So now it’s a post about acknowledging our humanity, as well as about kindness. I’ll get to the kindness part in a minute, after I’ve dealt with the humanity bit.
It’s a fact of life. As humans we are all bound to experience episodes of illness, and at times that’s going to include vomiting. Some of you might be cringing right now. After all, vomit is gross, vomiting is gross, and cleaning up afterwards is grosser (if there is such a word…) Vomit is not a topic to air in polite company.
So why am I doing it today? I’m doing it to honour all of the people who have to deal with the horror, shame, distress and inconvenience of having a bodily function over which they have no control.
I’m not talking that self-induced ‘I drank too much’ situation. I’m thinking about the people who ate the bad food, who caught the nasty stomach virus, whose kids got sick while they were out shopping, and those people so stressed or overwrought in their lives – whose anxiety so overwhelming – that their stomach became a battlefield.
I’m also talking about the silent army of people with medical conditions (including pregnancy) that cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Believe me, it’s a much bigger group than you may realise, because, of course, we don’t talk about these things in public.
And then there is the spiritual phenomena of ‘clearing’ where our body shifts energy and vibration (yes, think vomit, poo and flu!) through our body in ways that make us purge ourselves as we heal and ‘let go’ of what is no longer needed in our lives…
A girlfriend of mine has cystic fibrosis. She’s been through the wringer on numerous occasions on account of her illness, including a double lung transplant and a few rounds with cancer. Vomit and poo are things she has had to deal with often. She’s even had to endure a colostomy bag for a time. Vomit and poo are part of the currency of her daily life. My friend is a friend who understands what I’m going through.
We have often laughed together about the horror of that sudden urgency – and our ability to locate and hold in our heads a map of every public restroom in the area. It’s like we share a secret language, and when we find another member of the ‘club’ it’s a relief to be able to talk openly about where we are at.
It’s not really funny though. Humour is just the way we cope. Sometimes if you didn’t laugh you’d cry. Sometimes, if you didn’t laugh you’d really wish you were dead instead.
Vomit and poo, chronic illness, misery and pain – they’re all best suffered silently, behind closed doors at home, so that we don’t offend the sensibilities of others. Even if that imprisons us, and reduces our life to four walls.
That’s fine if you know your illness is a temporary thing. But what if this is something that becomes part of your new normal? What then? How do you adjust your life to the vagaries of a misbehaving body?
Which is why my post was originally going to be about kindness.
A few weeks ago, as I was ramping up my Lyme med levels and introducing some new ones, my husband and I ventured into Lismore. It was a rainy day, and we had a long list of chores. I had been fine all day. No nausea. Not a single side affect from my drugs. Of course that changed.
I began to feel hot, clammy and weak. My husband took me back to the car so I could rest, and I sat waiting for him as he completed the last of his shopping. The nausea became worse and worse, and then the awful realisation – I knew I was going to vomit. There was no restroom in sight. We were parked on the side of the road outside a strip of shops.
Supremely embarrassed and ashamed I opened the car door and was sick in the gutter.
I kidded myself I was discrete. I was grateful for the rain, and the lack of passers-by. But my relief was short lived. I was still nauseous. I needed to be sick again. I cracked open the door and said hello to the gutter.
This time, when I finally lifted my head, a woman from a nearby shop came over and offered me a glass of water, and a tissue. I was overwhelmed with her small act of kindness, and the comfort it afforded me.
A short time later, after I was sick a third time, she came back out and ushered me into the bathroom at the back of her shop. When I was finally okay and trusted that my stomach would behave she handed me more tissues and a packet of mints.
“It’s awful being sick when you’re out,” she said. “You poor thing. I really hope you feel better soon, love.”
No judgement. Only kindness. Her compassion helped ease my shame and humiliation, and it made a difficult day more bearable.
Life is sometimes messy. None of us are immune from the spectrum of suffering. While we uphold the idea that all of this human frailty is something to hide behind closed doors we disenfranchise many in our community who are already marginalised. It’s not just bodily functions – it’s the child who lost their hair to chemotherapy, the woman whose skin is greasy from the cream she needs to control the disfiguring eczema, the man whose hands shake from Parkinsons so much that he spills his coffee as he drinks.
None of us likes to be unwell. None of us likes to be at the mercy of our bodies. But sometimes that’s just how it is, and we need to be able to saddle up and keep riding, despite our afflictions. If we didn’t we’d miss out on life altogether, and what’s the point of that? A life lived between bouts of illness, squeezed into the good days, or forcibly extracted from the bad days is sometimes your best shot at any life at all.
My post today isn’t just about vomit. It’s a tip of my hat to everyone who is enduring or has endured short-term or chronic illness and found the courage to keep going. And for all those clearing heavy-duty muck out of their lives. It’s also an acknowledgement of the goodness and the decency of ordinary people who make the suffering of others easier to bear – strangers, carers, healers, family and friends.
Be kind to yourself today. Practice compassion for self and others. A little kindness goes a long way. Bless ♥ xx