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I’m hearing people ask the hard questions now:
“Is it safe to go out into the world?”
“Will I become sick being around other people?”
“How can I protect my health?”
“Can I trust other people to be conscious of my health?”
Having to ask oneself these questions can provoke feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, and confusion.
These are inquiries I have lived with daily for the last 40 years. They have become such an integral part of my awareness; I do not think about them consciously anymore. When I heard other people asking these questions, I remembered how scary and disorienting it was when I first had to start asking myself, “will I jeopardize my health if I go out in the world and I’m around people?”
I’m one of the millions of people who have chemical sensitivities.
I’m not saying that our experiences are the same as what’s happening now for people dealing with COVID-19, but I think there are similarities. Since this is a journey that I’ve taken I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned in terms of answering those questions with compassion and awareness, and also relay the benefits I have found incorporating these questions into my daily life.
These are personal suggestions. I’m not speaking for all people with environmental sensitivities. Take what works for you as you create your personal journey toward safety and health.
I developed chemical sensitivities in college. I think it was caused by my wanting to be cool and liked by other teens in high school, so I started smoking cigarettes. I never really enjoyed those awful tasting things, but it allowed me to be part of a social group. When I went to college I started smoking again and ended up in the Emergency Room violently ill.
When I finally recovered, I discovered that exposure to any form of toxins was now dangerous for me. I had to start asking those hard questions about how safe it was to go out in public and be around people who used chemical products as part of their daily routine.
Those who know me might not even be aware of my sensitivity because I’ve learned how to deal with the impediment very effortlessly. Whenever necessary, I naturally make distance between myself and others, I use a barely discernible mask, often I don’t go places, or eat or drink what people offer me. Above all I take care of my health.
I’m basically allergic to everything that harms the ozone and mother earth, but thankfully not anything natural. Before COVID-19 I was despairing of how we could stop the industrial complex, slow down, and notice what we’re doing to the earth and to each other. How could we focus more on our own health?
Then this little microscopic part of the earth came and insisted we slow down and pay attention.
It has certainly changed my life and my awareness of myself.
Now that we are cautiously exploring reopening and going out more the hard questions need to be addressed.
I remember when I was first realized I could become seriously ill going out in public, I was depressed, angry, confused and tried to go into denial as often as possible. If I tried to act like everything was OK, I could become ill for weeks. Often I would lose my voice, which for a psychotherapist and public speaker, meant I couldn’t work.
I gradually learned these tools to value myself, my health, and my intuition.
The first tool is compassion. Be gentle with yourself. The world can feel uncertain and threatening. Go ahead and give yourself a big hug. Seriously, put down the phone, let go of the mouse and wrap your arms around yourself. Take a few nice breaths, bringing in compassion and love for yourself. Repeat this whenever you feel stressed, afraid, angry, or whatever emotions arise. Paying attention to your feelings can help you feel centered so that you can make decisions that are compassionate and healthy.
The second tool is awareness. Check in with yourself. I do a meditation where I scan my body, checking each system: neural, vascular, muscular, immune etc… This can also be done simply by pausing and noticing: How am I breathing? How tense am I? Where is the tension? Do I feel more energized or tired? Am I hungry or thirsty? Is any part of my body hurting, sore, or needing attention? I have also become aware of my immune system. I know what depletes it: sugar, stress, and pushing myself. Rest, smiling, exercise, and good food strengthens my immune system and makes me more resistant to illness.
The more I check in with myself the more I increase my awareness of what I need to support my health. Which leads to the next step.
Third tool – Advocate for yourself. This culture has a bravado attitude about health, where ignoring it and pretending we are invincible is often perceived as positive. I have learned that being polite and quiet can be dangerous for my health. People have criticized me for requesting non-chemical air fresheners at work instead of the common aerosol ones (I read the small print warning on a popular air freshener that said dangerous – do not use inside). Because of my sensitivities I have to speak up or become ill. This also means not listening to my inner critic who complains about my not being “normal” and having to bother others with my health concerns. Be brave, ask for what feels safe for you. I personally feel much safer with everyone wearing masks (sneezes and coughs propel germs quickly and unpredictably).
Fourth and most important tool is: listen to your intuition. Intuition is often recognized when we say: “I should have listened to myself.” It’s that little inner nudge, that sense of knowing what feels right for you. Everyone is having a unique reaction to the current situation; what they think is safe and what they think is right to do. It’s very important to know for yourself and your own health what feels right for you. Intuition taps into an energetic knowing that can literally save your life. Intuition is often found in the body, so it means listening to your body and what is healthy for you.
Intuition can sometimes go against the social norm and “nice behaviors.” We are taught to look outside ourselves to decide what we should do. And there are so many opinions now. Should I go out? Should I wear a mask? Should I be around people? Who is safe to be around? Listening to myself and my intuition has led me to a path of actually being healthier now than I was when I first developed environmental sensitivities. Intuition is like the synthesis of all the news and views out there that brings it home inside me and makes it personal.
Having to ask the question: will going out be dangerous for my health? has ironically given me better health than I had before I was asking it. It encourages me to prioritize my health in a way I never did before. I listen to my intuition and am aware of my body (not perfectly but more than I did before). And starting with compassion always makes my days easier.
I hope our common experience with COVID 19 can help expand awareness of how our actions affect our own health and the health of others so that when we’re back to just a common flu season more people will wash their hands regularly, use masks, keep safe distance, and stay at home when ill. Most of all I hope we increase our awareness of what we’re doing to the environment with the chemical products we use and the pollution we create so that our beautiful earth can be healthier for all.
Thanks for reading this. Please share with others and click at the top right to follow my blog and receive notice of future postings. (It will ask for your email and then send you an email you need to click on to confirm that you want to follow my blog). Thanks and blessings – Jan O.
One thought on “Asking the Hard Questions about Health with Compassion and Awareness.”
Thank you for this post, Jan. I’ve believed from the beginning of the pandemic there was something very important to be learned from having to stop, reevaluate, make informed decisions based on fact, and be sensitive to what our bodies are telling us. You’ve highlighted what that very important lesson is, not just for individuals, but for the planet.