It’s that time of year, I guess, and I have a cold. A little while ago, Darcy also had her turn with a cold (for those of you keeping score at home, we avoided seeing each other to prevent transmission, but alas, this is what I get for working with high school kids), and she asked, “How are you able to stay productive despite feeling sick?

Boredom is real when illness strikes, especially the kind that knocks us on our backs. No one likes dealing with the common cold. It sucks to feel sick, and I totally empathize with anyone whose turn it is to try and fall asleep despite the pressure of a 700-pound elephant inside the sinuses. Even a few days of feeling sick, though, can make someone stir crazy, and I get it, our crazy fast-paced lives demand productivity. So here are our questions:

  1. When do you return to productivity?
  2. How do you stay productive despite feeling sick?

The first step, and I think it’s a social responsibility, is to get back to a point where we are no longer contagious. Reducing the possibility of disease transmission is, well, annoying because it’s just a matter of time. It is stress inducing when we take into account the finite number of sick days we get from work or school. It’s almost as if the risk of losing the number of workdays across the entire firm is worth if, and only if, we don’t transmit the virus. It makes little sense. We’re fighting millions of years of microbiology in the name of productivity. I’m “lucky” – my cold hit in the middle of the weekend, and I’m already on the upswing.

Returning from illness can feel a lot like starting over. I’ve always said that the most frustrating part of living with CF is constantly feeling like I need to start over or catch up. When we’re sick, and it’s true for everyone (not just people with CF), the world keeps spinning without us. During periods of illness, it is especially important to maintain our routines. For me, I have a hard time sitting still. When I’m sick, I’ll still stay connected with my responsibilities in life. I am able to get tasks done from home, thanks to the power of the Internet. If you have CF, it is not unreasonable to ask for that latitude. I’ve always made the case, and I did so when I worked for a major medical device company a few years ago, that twice a day, every day, I’m stuck in the same place at the same time doing my meds. That’s when I am most productive. I’m glued to the computer wrapping up correspondences, researching topics, discovering problems and working through solutions. I’ve made my treatment time a largely productive time of my day. I can’t imagine my colleagues love getting emails from me at 10pm “after the workday” but that’s another time when I’m sitting in from the computer strapped to my Vest. What else am I going to do?

I developed the habit of staying busy during illness when I was in college. If you’re a regular reader, you know I was very sick by the time I got to my senior year. I had to figure out a way to build time into my day to stay up with my work, and my treatment sessions provided that consistent time in the day to do it. For people who don’t have CF, who may not be used to feeling sick, I think it’s about organizing priorities. Priority one should be self-care. What can you do to help you feel better and manage symptoms? From there you need to look at your day and see how you can get back into your normal routine. In place of arduous tasks, what can you do to slowly return to productivity? Is there something around the house you’ve been putting off that doesn’t take too much effort to complete? Priority three is returning to normalcy.

Ultimately, I like to lean on my routine when I am sick. I like to keep things as normal as possible, so that I don’t fall behind. I build in rest and self-care time, which means I may have to sacrifice something else – like going to the gym or getting in an extra skate at the rink. Of course that creates another paradox. I am losing ground in something else (my fitness, for example) in the name of illness, and that’s okay, as long as I accept my choices are being made in my best interest.

So what do you do when you start to feel sick? How long is it before you return to productivity, and is your routine changed or consistent?