There is no amount of technology or improvement in our culture or way of life that can erase how helpless and meaningless everything seems when we get sick. There are moments, when we are awake at two AM, delirious, confused, feeling gross and insane, and your mind travels down a repetitive loop of nonsense that is both impossible to focus on and your entire reality – moments like that, where you suddenly remember how debilitating even the smallest illnesses can be, and how when someone says they aren’t feeling well, what, exactly, that can mean.
I felt it coming on Saturday morning, and while I wasn’t exactly sure at first, by the time we had decided what we wanted to do that day and were out in the world doing it, I was sure that the rest of my day would be awful. We finished our errands, got home, and I went to bed, and have failed to get sleep ever since. I’m sure I have dozed off for an hour or so, but nothing truly restful, or substantive. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the bathroom – and I will not give any detail as to why – and while I am often hungry, everything I put in my body does not seem to enjoy the experience. But, if I had to say anything is really the worst part of all of this, it is not being able to sleep.
I am so bad at taking care of myself anyway that it is not at all surprising when I do get sick, but the fact I don’t spend more time sick is either a testament to the human body, or my own genetic mutation thereof. But as I get older I have started to realize that all my terrible habits and non-considerations of things that are fairly worrisome should probably be reversed if I don’t want to experience an untimely departure. Our days are numbered as it is, and it would be embarrassing if there were something I could do to keep that end day at bay, and I did nothing.
Of course I don’t think about these kinds of things except when I am sick, or not feeling well, or some other aspect of health comes knocking on my door. Our minds are incredible tools, and allow us the ability to enjoy amazing leisure activities. But it is terrible at reinforcing good habits, or breaking bad ones and forming new ones, too. This largely has to do with how easy it is to find (and enjoy) things that are fun, and in doing so, ignore all things that we don’t think of that way. You’ve probably heard this elsewhere, but the key is to “gamify” your own health in a way you enjoy.
But, of course, doing that is fairly difficult, too. We are creatures of habit, and if you have any bad ones in particular, then you know how tough it is to change. I smoked for years and years, so much so that I had to quit several times before I was able to fully give up cigarettes. (And even that still hasn’t caused me to fully give up wanting to smoke.) I took me a long time to give up drinking every day, and as I give up one bad habit, I see a huge foundation of others beneath me that I still need to give up, too. How much self improvement is safe to undertake at any one time?
It is weird when you have to start guessing about what will and will not be good for you as you try to heal yourself. Will this stay down if I eat it? How far away from a toilet should I lie down? Should I just take some aspirin, or a sleep aid, or should I just let nature run its ugly course? And, is it okay to have just one cigarette, or glass of wine, too?
I think I’m on the other side of this particular illness, but the thing that was driving me crazy this time – and it is a concern I have struggled with my whole life – is not being able to sleep. Since High School I have struggled with this, and while for many years I could blame staying up late and ingesting too much coffee / cigarettes / drugs / whatever as the primary culprit, even at this advanced middle age, where many of these things have been given up, I still suffer from not sleeping well. Of course, this is largely because I’ve come to find that there is a bottomless well of sleep hygiene tactics that I should be employing if I really want to get to the bottom of all of this. There is only room for improvement, but you will never get there entirely.
It won’t be long before this is in my rear view mirror. My wife will be well again, and we’ll be back to our routine, and even the clean-up will be done. It won’t take much, even. By Friday the house will be clean, and we can joke about the gross parts, and make fun of those around us who are still suffering, the way family does when they genuinely love you, but want you to be in as much pain as they were, just so you understand what they went through, too.
Of course now that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, part of me wonders if getting sick and being reminded of our frailties is all part of the plan. Perhaps we benefit from knowing we’re very close to being almost entirely incapacitated by a small germ, or some dishes we didn’t clean. What kind of lesson does this weakness teach us? Can we gain any kind of insight into ourselves, or our life, or the lives of those around us from the few moments we spend, hunched over a toilet, willing to say almost anything if it means we will feel better?