The art of being Gentle: my Ross River journey
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
In 2007, when I lived at Byron Bay, I decided to increase my fitness, so I embarked on daily walks to the Cape Byron Lighthouse, an 6km round trip with lots of stairs, along with going to the gym 3 times a week. I loved it and felt great.
After a few weeks I noticed that I couldn’t put pressure on my left knee in gym classes and thought I must have bruised it. Then I had a very sore thumb and suspected I’d bent it back with the weights bar. A short time later, my feet really hurt after my walks, which I put this down to trying to increase my speed too quickly – the ‘bull at a fence’ syndrome.
I thought I simply needed to slow down and let my body catch up with my brain’s enthusiasm. However, even after cutting back the exercise, the pain became worse, until I woke one morning and could hardly walk. Over the next few days the intensity of pain increased and I could hardly move my body.
I knew something was terribly wrong and considered Rheumatoid Arthritis as I didn’t feel sick or feverish and made an appointment with a doctor. When I shuffled into the doctor’s room with tears running down my cheeks from the pain, I felt like my whole body was broken. I collapsed into the chair and fell to pieces emotionally.
The doctor said my joints were swollen and he would put me on anti-inflammatories and do some blood tests. Normally I wouldn’t take drugs, but the pain was so bad I would have taken a general anaesthetic!
Everything was hard to do because of the pain. The anti-inflammatories didn’t work so I gave them up after a few days, and tried aspro, paracetamol, codeine, all to no avail. I just had to bear it. Nights were excruciating as laying still made everything throb, but to get up and move also hurt too much. I was beside myself and just wanted the pain to end. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I got a rash all over my body and started to get fevers, mostly at night. What was my body doing?
After a few days my doctor phoned and told me I had the Ross River virus. I was relieved, in fact excited. People thought that was strange (and maybe the fevers had fried my brain) but I was happy because I knew the pain would eventually go away and not be ongoing. Knowing it was a virus that would pass was comforting in a quirky kind of way. I never realised such a tiny creature, a mosquito, could cause so much pain.
Once I knew I was dealing with a virus I got stuck into Olive Leaf extract and vitamin C in mega-doses as well as herbal anti-inflammatories including fish oil. I thought I’d at least drown the virus out of my system if nothing else.
It helped, but I was still in so much pain.
After a couple of weeks, the pain settled enough so I could think more clearly, and I started to meditate by connecting to the ‘gentleness’ of my breath. My days were filled by being gentle to myself. Three weeks later I started to get more sleep at night, which was a huge relief.
Around this time, someone suggested intravenous Vitamin C. I was still in a lot of pain, and I wanted it to work, so I made a decision with my head (and not my heart) to go ahead with it and ignored my true intuition.
That night, a few hours after the intravenous Vitamin C infusion, my body felt incredibly cold and the weirdest feeling rushed over my body and into my head and I felt I was close to having a stroke. Fortunately, this passed.
But it didn’t make any difference to the levels of pain, which actually increased and persisted at high levels for another three weeks. Then the pain settled and I started to breathe gently again.
My recovery seemed slow, and I realised that whenever I tried to push myself it really hurt for ages. So I focused on being gentle. When I approached everything with gentleness I had no pain. When I had no pain for a while then tried to do something without gentleness, I paid for it with more pain.
So, what does gentleness mean? To start with, it means choosing consciously to gently breathe in and out. Gently in…gently out. It means going about the day in ‘gentleness’, whether breathing, eating, walking, cooking, working, typing, exercising and so on.
It means not rushing or getting stressed, allowing yourself to do things with ‘gentleness’, being kind to yourself, nurturing, soothing, relaxing, instead of the usual push-push attitude of hectic life. Also, don’t allow others to bug you; let things go with love.
After three months most of my symptoms had gone, apart from minimal pain, and now, many years later, I continue to be gentle (most of the time). But if I step out of gentleness, my body quickly reminds me. It’s a great a barometer of gentleness.
I wouldn’t wish Ross River on anyone, however the virus presented me with three valuable lessons:
First: the gift of gentleness that continues to be invaluable in my life.
Second: I learnt how to say ‘no’ to people’s requests and to ask for help when I needed it. Many women feel they need to be strong and do many things for others, but this only disconnects us from our ‘femaleness’.
Third: what also helped me through the experience was my decision not to ‘suffer’ or be a ‘sufferer’, but rather to ‘experience’ the condition and not own it or let it own me. I saw it as a passing energy (although I wish it had passed quickly).
Ross River (like malaria) can re-occur. From my observations and experience, this can be exacerbated by stress, when the body is run down, or the absence of gentleness.