Treating Soul Fever

September 12th, 2016

My youngest child got sent home from school twice in one week because she threw up at inopportune moments (like all over the lunch table). Although there were assorted bugs making their way through the school, I’m not at all convinced she was actually sick. Once I got her home, she was suspiciously chipper, with nary an indication of fever, lethargy, or additional impulses to barf. In fact, on the second day that I retrieved her, she came bounding up to me and cheerily announced – “I’m sick! Let’s go color!”

My go-to parenting book is Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. In it, he describes a phenomenon he refers to as “soul fever.” It’s the idea that cumulative stresses and overstimulation can impact kids’ emotional state as much as a traditional illness can impact their physical well-being. Basically, their soul gets sick.

My kids have all been struggling with soul fever this summer. There was so much transition and change piled on top of lots of scheduled activities. It wore on them all. My tiny girl has been the most impacted by those life changes, in part because she is the least able to explain how she’s feeling. My theory is that her stress built up until it finally showed up as (possibly fake) illness.

I think that I’ve had a touch of soul fever myself. The changes were of my own making and the schedule is mostly within my control, but it wears on me, too. My instinct when I’m physically sick is to lie around on the couch and binge-watch Netflix. It turns out, that’s my response to emotional upheaval, too. I noticed that I’ve been plowing through episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and eating a lot of Ben and Jerry’s out of the carton after the kids are in bed.

But here’s the thing about just lying around when you’re sick. At first, it’s exactly what you need. But eventually, it starts to make you feel worse. Your brain gets fuzzy (and your teeth do too, if ice cream is a regular event!) and it’s harder and harder to shake off the lingering feeling of yuck. At some point, you’ve got to make yourself get up and get moving if you want to feel better.

Last weekend, the kids were with their dad and I was seriously contemplating staying in my pajamas all day, when I decided I’d done enough wallowing. I took a shower, got in the car, and drove to Berea by myself. I had never been there before and it was glorious. I visited their farmers market, wandered around the college campus, and shopped in several galleries. I ate lunch at an outdoor café and read a book on a park bench. It was exactly what I needed.

When your soul feels sick, seek out the medicine that will make it better. For my three-year-old, it was an afternoon (or two) of coloring with me. For me, it was a mini road trip to a new and beautiful place.

One response to “Treating Soul Fever”

  1. Jaclyn says:

    I think you are right. Soul sickness is absolutely a thing. I went through a time in Third grade where I routinely yakked to avoid going to school. My parents took me to specialist after specialist. I was fine physically…but I didn’t know how to tell my parents that I hated school and was having trouble there. Because I was EIGHT. So I just barfed a lot. I think coloring with Willow is probably better than any medicine. Also, some ice cream and movies are good for anyone’s soul. Ben and Jerry’s is soul food! Love you, Kater.

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