A life of our own.

Woah Nelly! I have been really sick the last two days. I mean not-getting-out-of-bed sick. Feverish snot factory over here!  And I’m not exactly better yet. Or at all. But I’m sitting up today and that’s some kind of  improvement (well, now I’m lying down again, but it’s on the couch not the bed, still a step forward right?)

Given a pretty strong constitution, getting sick is a once a year affair for me. Not that I get ill only one time, but most bugs pass without too much fuss, they almost go unnoticed. But every year between December and February I get a real thing. A thing which pins me down for a few days and makes me vow to wash my hands more obsessively in the future, or stop taking public transit because biking is germ-free. And that’s what I’ve got right now. That once a year nasty bug, and at just the wrong time because I’ve got work deadlines to meet and meetings that I HAVE TO BE AT.

Except that I don’t.

Because one thing I have learned in the last few years – is that nothing is more important than taking a time-out when I’m sick. I didn’t used to be this way. As I wrote on a friend’s blog this morning:

” I’ve been reflecting on this (external validation) since I’ve been really sick this week and remembering the last time I was this sick two years ago I forced myself through a bunch of speaking engagements in order to satisfy “commitments” I had made. Doing so made me much sicker (of course) and resulted in a sinus infection which has not gone away since. And did it result in more external validation? No! Of course not!”

Besides the fact that external validation isn’t much of a goal, the other thing I have come to realize is no one much notices what anyone else does. Yes, I might feel like the deadline on a document is a really big deal, but whether I make it or not will go  largely unnoticed by my boss. Even if he notices it in the short term because he needs to submit it to committee, by the time 3 weeks passes, he will have forgotten about the document and the deadline entirely. Lastly, even if he does notice and is ticked off about it, what am I to do? One person might be upset, another person might be understanding – but that is completely outside of my control – just as the illness is outside of my control. I can’t get rid of the fever which impedes my ability to think/work by snapping my fingers – just like I can’t control the reactions of others. Sure, I can have an influence on how my boss feels – keeping him updated and so forth – but even so his judgement is in his control, not mine.

In some ways that is the gift of illness – a realization that very little is in our control.

I’ve just got bronchitis, which isn’t much of anything in the grand scheme except a reminder of how dominated we are by our physical well-being – and a shadow of what chronic and debilitating illness could be like. We structure our lives and our society around wellness, but what happens when that physicality is taken away from us? Chronic illness or not, we all face aging which imposes the same constraints. But despite illness, infirmity, or age – we all want to live with a measure of contentment – which requires working within our limitations to craft a life that is our own. This is something achievable for all of us, if we give up on the external forces which tell us we must purchase, strive and gain status in order to be fulfilled.

And so I am here, on the couch for another day, realizing that all I can do it make a drug store run and then come back and lie down some more. And it doesn’t make me bad person because I can’t work. It doesn’t matter at all beyond the fact that I need rest to get better.




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