Does the body rule the mind*

At primary school, I would often suffer from fairly frequent ‘tummy aches’. There was not much of a pattern to their occurrence but, sometimes, they would coincide with days that I didn’t really want to go to school – the last day of term being an example that has remained in my memory, when we would go to church to sing hymns. If my mother decided that I wasn’t well enough to attend, I would spend the day at home, in bed – which was arguably more boring than school itself [as a teacher, I’m not sure I should write that, but it was certainly how I felt at the time].

Depending upon the severity of my mother’s assessment, I would visit the Doctor. The most common outcomes were a prescribed course of antibiotics (or similar**), or a possibly unhealthy dose of Calpol***. However, on one occasion, the Dr suggested to my mother that it was possible that I was not ill at all and was, in fact, faking it.

To this day, I don’t know why he came to this conclusion but, as the years have passed, these are what I think were the possibilities [in order of increasing likelihood]:

  • The Dr suspected that I was skiving
  • A ‘stab in the dark’, as there was no evidence of a specific illness
  • My mother sensed I was skiving and/or was fed up with me taking days off school, so got the Dr ‘on side’ to teach me a lesson

At that moment, I didn’t know what to think; I had genuinely felt ill [I am sure of that fact], but now I also felt humiliated. In conjunction with the Dr, my parents spoke to me about suffering from ‘butterflies’ and how that feeling can be exacerbated with increasing pressures. I listened and thought about it, but wasn’t convinced. From then on, whenever I was ill, my parents would always ask “are you really ill, or is it just butterflies?

In hindsight, that didn’t happen very often at all. That might have just been a coincidence, but I suspect that I wanted to be convinced myself that the feeling wasn’t psychosomatic before committing to announcing that I was ill. Throughout my entire time at secondary school, I had very few days absent; my reports show that the number of illnesses I had that involved me having to take time off, from years 7 to 13 (age 11-18), can be counted on one hand. I would be fascinated to compare the total number of days absence between the two schools; it could be argued that I had been cured.

In my entire working life, I have had very few absences as a result of illness – and the last time that I did was February 2007, the final day of the half term. As time went on, I began to notice a pattern as to when these illnesses were developing. They could be separated by a matter of weeks or months, but would always seem to impose themselves after times of increased pressure/stress, and at the start of periods of relaxation. Some examples include:

  • The end of term/start of the school holiday
  • As a period of increased training ends and a ‘rest’ is scheduled

I am fully aware that this is ‘normal’ and has the same impact on many people. However, I have often questioned its frequency. While I can remember certain instances of being ill, I cannot remember them all so, to help my training (primarily), I added an ‘Ill or Injured’ column to my training schedule last summer. The plan was that I could look for patterns and work out when I was ‘over-training’ before it became too late – thus preventing myself from getting ill, if I detected its onset in sufficient time.

The findings are indicated below [they are listed for comment upon their statistical likelihood rather than to garner any sympathy]:

  • June 2011 – 4 days missed training due to illness
  • October 2011 – 7 days missed training due to illness
  • January 2012 – 6 days missed training due to illness
  • February 2012 – 7 days missed training due to illness

24 days in nine months (approximately 300 days) is not statistically significant. On the (presumably incorrect) assumption I have developed an immunity to becoming ill while at work, 24 days in approximately 150 is still significantly insignificant. However, closer study reveals that all of these days were in fact during the school holidays – focusing on the three most recent illnesses gives 20 days out of 34 (58.8%).

In other words, since August 2011, for every five days that I have been ‘on holiday’, I have been ill on three of them. Despite not being a big enough sample size to compensate for coincidence, I find this result surprising; perhaps the Dr would suggest I am faking.

*or does the mind rule the body
**on reflection, it is highly likely this may have actually been a placebo
***sometimes I think I looked forward to being ill – just so that I could have some of the purple Calpol (what do they put in that stuff?). I hated it when I turned 7 and had to progress to the orange version

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Author: ttsjl

I'm short and need to put on some weight

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