This is the fourth article in a series by Kate Rope, an award-winning journalist who specializes in self-care. Please check back each month for more insight and advice on ways to take care of you.
Last summer my family and I were poised for a vacation of a lifetime—two weeks in France, one of them spent in the very same town where my husband had purchased our engagement ring over a decade ago, the other in Paris, where he proposed to me on the Eiffel Tower. It was to be a magical time showing our daughters a new country and the birthplace of their family. It also came a month after I published my second book and was supposed to be the relaxing reward for a year of writing, revising, and publicizing.
But a week before we were to leave, I was handed a plum assignment for a dream publication, writing about the latest research on mindfulness. I couldn’t say no. So, I researched like mad, crammed in interviews, and was working up until an hour before we were supposed to leave. I hadn’t packed. I couldn’t find my passport for a hair-raising 30 minutes. But I did. We made the plane.
Two days in, red bumps appeared on my lower back. Very itchy red bumps that spread to my stomach and blossomed into a band of little clear blisters that brought with them alternating episodes of burning, searing, or stabbing pain and unremitting itching. That afternoon we hiked up the Eiffel Tower to revisit that magical moment with my kids, the sweat traveling down my skin made me want to scream. I spent that night standing naked in the middle of our Airbnb so nothing would touch my skin. The next morning, a French doctor taught me a new word—la zona. Shingles. I white knuckled the plane ride home and spent the next month on the couch, full of painkillers and nerve modulating drugs, lying on ice packs, and binge-watching ER while my kids ran feral.
At 45 with a strong immune system, the only explanation for my outbreak was stress. Ironically, the mindfulness writing assignment had probably been the proverbial straw on the back of my yearlong stress camel. It was also a gift. Researching the piece sparked enough curiosity in me to consider trying meditation. The shingles were proof that I should.
I signed up for a mindfulness-based stress reduction course and it changed my life.