The Gifts of Being Sick in Community

by Audrée Morin

I was freshly arrived at Twin Oaks, the community I had been hearing so much about for the last seven months. I had heard about it for the first time at Ecovillage Pathways, in June. Even though I felt like I had just left Quebec City and just started my north-east winter communities tour, I had already been on the road for two months, I had already visited more or less 12 communities, and I could smell the end of the tour coming.

The tour was finishing at its most exciting part: this was the 52-year-old community, home to 100 people who don’t need to work outside of the community, the one that founded the Federation for Egalitarian Communities, a farm in the woods where every hour of work is worth the same, the community that sprouted more or less 5 other communities in the area creating a buzzing communities hub.

I felt soooo excited to jump into my 3-week visitor program.  I would have multiple hours of explanations about how this successful long-lasting community functions (which might sound boring to some people, but for the community nerd that I am, it sounded exciting). I was ready to take part in the life of this community at 110% intensity; I was eager to work a diversity of jobs, to give back to this generous community that was welcoming me, housing and feeding me for almost nothing, and teaching me about my passion. I was all in to learn as much as possible and to get to know people.

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Between the trees is the hammock where I rested when I was sick

But… my body had a different story in mind. The week before, I had started getting a cold.  I tried to take care of myself with a bunch of teas and decoctions that my herbalist and friends taught me, which typically works great….. if I do the one thing everyone knows is necessary to heal: rest (and drink a crazy amount of water). But with the same enthusiasm and eagerness I had for Twin Oaks, I had decided to go to the song circle in Woodfolk house of song, which I had also been hearing about for months and was one of my highlight bucket list items in this region.

Big mistake! The cold mischievously turned into a bad sinus infection, which pretty much started the day I arrived at Twin Oaks. I was able to be in denial for the first days, napping for 10 minutes in between my work shifts and thinking that would be enough rest, but by the fourth day, I realized that I was probably not going to heal without complete days of rest and antibiotics. I had sinus infections every winter for the last 5 years: I knew what to expect.

I knew I would have to go to a doctor and pay for it because I had decided not to get medical insurance. I knew I would have to get those darn antibiotics and destroy my poor microbiome that I had put so much efforts (and money) in reconstructing for the last 6 months. And, the worst part…… I knew I would have to not work for 2 days.

Normally, when I have to take days off from work to heal, I feel lucky and I am happy to take them. But here, work is so meaningful: I wanted to contribute and learn. Just imagining missing my work shifts was giving me anxiety. “I won’t get to know anyone and I will be alone for the rest of my visitor period!” “People will see me as a lazy parasite who eats their food, sleeps in their bed and doesn’t work!” “I wanted to get practice gardening and making hammocks and doing tofu and working with orchards and bees! I will learn nothing if I sleep all day and don’t meet people!” and so on…

I ended up crying in multiple people’s arms that morning, as they asked me how I was doing, and I couldn’t help but answer: “afraid and discouraged”. All of them reminded me of a wonderful feature of the culture here: Twin Oaks strongly considers that when you are sick, your job is to take care of yourself and rest. Resting counts as labor (the community is based on a labor credits system), and it is what you are expected to do. The visitor guide mentions: “Please don’t try to work when you’re sick: it sends the wrong message about you (…)”.  

As obvious as it is when others are sick and I advise them to take a day of rest, this was the hardest thing to do for myself.  It took me a couple of hugs, until I finally accepted the reality, wrote a little paper note on the “today board” asking to cover my tofu shift, and started the process of finding how to see a doctor without spending a fortune.

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The Today Board

I went to the “shtetl” (everything has cool-hard-to-spell names here), a space with four couches in a communal building, and asked around if someone knew where to go. It was so heartwarming to hear half a dozen people brainstorm together, with everyone coming up with ideas: one person thinking of calling my doctor in Canada and asking to fax a prescription to the pharmacy, others trying to orient me to the United States medical system, and remembering places where people without insurance can go (the community provides full coverage health insurance).

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The Shtetl

Someone thought of a Dr. Shwartz but didn’t know if he was retired. Someone remembered that they had an appointment with him five months ago, and a third person managed to find his number on the health board. Dr. Shwartz had lived 10 years at Twin Oaks, and was known to be a high integrity doctor who doesn’t order useless tests.

I walked over to a place with a landline and made two phone calls: while my doctor in Canada said it was out of question to fax a prescription without a consultation, Dr. Shwartz agreed to see me the same day, if I was able to get there in 20 minutes. I was saved!

The internet was not working, and I didn’t know how to get there, but a nice Twin Oaker gave me the directions. I felt unsure driving to a place without having seen a map of the road on Internet first, but I did it anyway, and it worked. I found the place, without problems.

I got my appointment, the nurse was the nicest nurse I had ever seen, and the first thing the doctor told me, before talking about antibiotics, is that I should take licorice root to support my adrenal glands for my low blood pressure. He answered my concerns about my asthma medication with research-based explanations, and prescribed me another kind because, he told me, with the first kind, more people die.

Of course, I got my antibiotic prescription. The price ended up being really low (68$ for those who like quantification), and he gifted me a whole bottle of licorice root pills! What doctor gives free and natural remedies to his patients? One who has lived in community for ten years apparently.

Back at Twin Oaks, another resident offered me the use of his south facing room because he would be away for three days. His room was in a newer building with better air quality than the visitors’ building. Thanks to him and his humidifier, my lungs had a little break.

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Kaweah, the house where I stayed when I was sick

I ended up spending two days resting on his couch. No one made me feel guilty about not working, and people took news of my health when I went to lunch and dinner. I didn’t have to worry about cooking, because it is labor creditable, which means that all meals are communal (but never mandatory) and taken care of by the team assigned to cook. We just need to show up on time, and choose between the diverse options of delicious food, for the most part grown by the community itself.

With that setup, I felt safe, supported and taken care of, almost like when I was a kid and I had my mom to take care of me. It felt so good to know that I was not left alone to take care of myself.

Being sick takes time, with all the teas, tinctures, pills, inhalers and sinus rinsing, and it also requires resting, so having meals and dishes taken care of and feeling the support of the community really made a difference. I have healed now, and I don’t wish to be sick again, but I am grateful for this vulnerability episode that allowed me to experience a new unexpected manifestation of the power of community.

 

 

 

 

 

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Communities

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  • Tobin Moore
  • Kai Koru
  • Jenn Morgan
  • Jonathan Thaler
  • Nance & Jack Williford
  • Julia Evans
  • William Croft
  • Aaron Michels
  • Cathy Loyd
  • Laurel Baez
  • Magda schonfeld
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  • William Kadish

Thanks!

The Gifts of Being Sick in Community

One thought on “The Gifts of Being Sick in Community

  1. Marianne-Marilou says:

    Very interesting my friend Audree and thanks you to share with us your experience that goes more than just a observation pilgrinage but a real learning process that you live with heart and soul.

    Like

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