I think convalescence after illness has become a lost art. This thought occurred to me last week whilst being horizontal due to the winter flu, which hit me hard this year, and still getting emails from people offering alternative dates for meetings I cancelled due to the illness.

Last week I was feeling battered and bruised by flu. Not only did I have the flu symptoms to contend with but also their impact on existing symptoms I live with due to having had Transverse Myelitis. An illness can exacerbate TM symptoms and it can also take longer to recuperate from an illness. I wasn’t in a good place.

As I laid on the sofa looking out the window at a brick wall, I thought back to last year when I had the flu and after the worst was over, was still affected for a further month. I resolved that this year I would do what I did last year and not return to work, activities, etc. at full throttle. But this year, given I was hit harder than last year, I would also convalesce.

Picture of window with a view of brick wall

View whilst ill with flu last week.

But I am not finding convalescing easy

Work and activities are tugging at me demanding my attention. Life wants me back on the dance floor. I want to dance. But I also want to rest as fatigue has taken up residence, is still visiting, and I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep for over a week now. Thankfully the fatigue is now just a thin bed sheet rather than the thick and heavy blanket it was last week. But still, it is a sign that continued rest is necessary.

If you live with a serious health issue, particularly chronic illnesses that just don’t stop, you probably inadvertently convalesce because you have to. Yet there is that desire to return to activities you can. This blog is for you. If you do not live with a serious health issue of any sort, this blog is especially for you.

I want to resurrect the lost of art of convalescence and by doing that hopefully start a change in society’s thinking regarding recovery from common illnesses such as the flu.

What is convalescence after illness?

Convalesce means to

  • Recover one’s health and strength over a period of time after an illness or medical treatment (Oxford Dictionary, 2018)
  • To rest in order to get better after an illness (Cambridge Dictionary, 2018)

You look up synonyms for the word convalescence and you see words such as

  • recuperation, recovery, return to health, process of getting better, rehabilitation, improvement, mending, restoration

So there’s a period of illness, THEN there’s a period of convalescing. One comes after the other.

Pic of a person resting when ill then sitting in a chair convalescing

When you are ill, you sleep and rest. THEN you convalesce. It’s about a gradual return to your work, activities and life.

But in our drive to do, work, achieve, we have stripped out convalescence, that period of mending and restoration. So much so, I am not sure as a society we know how to convalesce anymore. It is becoming a lost art. And this is where I think people living with chronic illness may have something to teach us.

Why has convalescence after illness become a lost art?

Illness in our society has become something to get over as quickly as possible.

In some ways I get that because being ill is not pleasant. We may be in pain and feel distinctly unwell and that prevents us from doing things we enjoy and want to be doing. On the other hand, illness happens. It is part and parcel of life. Just as sometimes we are happy and other times we are sad and upset.

I think of the commercials which show someone with cold or flu-like symptoms who looks and feels awful, they take the medication being advertised, and lo and behold they are as good as new! They continue with working and being productive! Amazing!

That medication must be magic because I took that kind of stuff all last week and it may have taken the edge off the symptoms, but those symptoms were still very much present.

I appreciate the commercials are trying to sell us the dream of instant good health, yet seeing these kind of commercials over and over again can set an expectation (if you let it) –  If you take medication, you will be fine, and can continue with your work and activities.

I also think of workplaces that want a sick note from your doctor after a week of being absent due to illness. Having worked in HR, I know the reasons for this and they are sound. But still, does it send the message that you can’t be ill for long?

Illnesses generally don’t work to others’ timing expectations

They come, take up residence and in some cases, don’t budge for a very long time.

These reasons also point to why is it so hard to convalesce after illness. Expectations have developed in our society that A) medication will sort you out, B) so you won’t be ill for long and can get back to work, activities, etc. and C) therefore you should not be ill for long. If people are holding these expectations, and coupled with the always on culture of mobile phones and social media, it’s not surprising that convalescence after illness has become a lost art.

It’s hard to #convalesce after #illness because expectations have developed in our society that A) medication will sort you out B) so you won’t be ill for long and can get back to work, activities, etc. and C) therefore you should… tell a friend


What are the benefits of convalescence after illness?

Convalescence after illness allows your body to return to health and wellness. Even if you have a chronic illness (but your definition of health will most likely have changed and be different than pre-illness).

Here’s an example. Think of your body as a town. When you get ill, it’s like a gang coming in to your town and defacing a part of it. The town council sends out its workers to make repairs. The workers make the structural repairs but there is still painting to do.

However, with the structural repairs having been made you feel better. So you go back to your work and activities. Meanwhile, the workers are busy painting so the buildings have a layer of protection against the weather.

Given the workers are busy, another gang sees that the town is an easy target and strikes another part of it. Some of the workers are diverted to fix that damage. They have been working night and day and they are tired. They haven’t had a rest in ages it seems.

There’s also been some bad weather and the first site has experienced damage again. The roads also need clearing of tree debris and potholes need fixing. The town is in a right state and doesn’t have enough workers to fix all the damage. The workers who are working haven’t had a rest in a long time, are tired and getting sick themselves.

The point here is that even though we may feel better, our bodies are still in fix and repair mode. And we need to give our bodies time to go through that healing process so it’s fortified against future gang attacks and unexpected bad weather.

Ill with the #commoncold or #flu this winter season? Even though you may be feeling better, your body could still be in fix and repair mode. Give yourself time to #convalesce tell a friend

How do you convalesce?

Create space to focus on you

  • Clear your diary. When doing this, budget twice the amount of time you think it will take to get better.
  • Turn on your out of office on your email accounts. Do the equivalent on social media.
  • Manage other people’s expectations – Tell people you’ll respond when you feel better and you are not wholly sure when that will be. If they keep contacting you, don’t respond. You’ve told them once.
  • Manage your own expectations – You may miss deadlines. Others may not be wholly happy about that. But the world will not end.

Look after your body

  • Have someone help you stock up on your favourite warming drinks – herbal tea, chicken broth and lemsips are mine. If you have someone who can make them for you, give them that job. And drink lots of water.
  • If you can eat, continue with a balanced diet. It’s tempting to eat pasta, but a week of that isn’t good for your digestive track. Trust me on this one. If you have someone who can help, get them to do the cooking.

Rest and gentle activities

  • If you feel well enough to read, great. If not, it’s an opportunity to watch daytime telly. Or catch up on anything you have recorded. Other gentle activities ca be knitting, drawing, or just day dreaming.
  • If there is no energy for gentle activities, find a nice view to look at. One that is better than a brick wall. Good views feed the soul. Views can also be found online.
  • Enforced time out can be a blessing in disguise. You have time to reflect, dream, think about anything you want to do differently.
How do you #convalesce after #illness? Create space to focus on you. Look after your body. Rest and gentle activities. tell a friend

As for me. I needed that reminder! I’m focusing on doing two work tasks a day. I have a few meetings in the latter half of this week but I am doing those from home. And I’m off to drink this restorative veggie and fruit smoothie.

Picture of a glass of smoothie spinach pineapple apple cucumber lime

Smoothie = spinach + pineapple + apple + cucumber + lime

What’s it like for you?

If you are living with a serious health issue or chronic illness, what convalescence advice would you give to our friends who don’t have one but currently have the common cold or flu? What do you do to help you stay as well as you can? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to look after yourself and your needs, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018


Definitions for convalescence downloaded from the online Oxford and Cambridge Dictionaries 30th January 2018

  • https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/convalesce
  • https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/convalesce

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