Thursday, August 22, 2019

How Do You Feel When You're Sick?

I woke up at 5:50 this morning with a bad sore throat. It got progressively worse throughout the morning till this afternoon I was feeling downright awful. But not just awful about my sore throat. Awful about everything.

All my life I've had this weird but pervasive experience any time I get sick. I'm writing this now mainly because I'm curious if anyone else out there experiences it too.

Nearly any time that I get physically ill, be it a cold, flu, stomach bug, near fatal reaction to a Yellow Fever vaccine, etc, the physical discomfort is accompanied by what I can only describe as something like an emotional breakdown. Like all of the anxiety, doubt, regret and other painful feelings that seem to be always churning just below or above the surface of my consciousness suddenly break free and go flying around my mind like a flock of angry seagulls.

When I get under-the-weather, things that I was anxious about before go from code yellow to code red. I start to second-guess decisions that I made years ago and thought that I'd put behind me only to now see them as terrible mistakes that got me—however implausibly—into the discomfort that I now feel. And while even on my best days I'm rarely very optimistic about the future, I begin to envision it as some grim march down an ever-narrowing corridor of impossibilities — that are not quite impossible to the extent that it would absolve me their possibility — to an early death in failure and ignominy.

Which is ridiculous right? I mean come on, you have a cold! Drink some more coffee and take a cough drop.

And yet it's real. It's a real thing I experience every time I get sick. And I don't like it.

When I was a child, and then on into my teens, I tended to interpret all of this as a clear sign of Divine wrath. God, so I thought, was taking corrective action to discourage or chasten me from whatever dreadful perceived sin I must clearly have been committing at the time. Or more rarely the inverse: That I was engaged in some effort such eternal import that the forces of darkness were attempting to thwart it. INSERT BIG PARENTHETICAL INTERJECTION HERE: (I'm sure to many folks reading this, that will sound ridiculous and harsh, but it was actually well within the logical framework of the community I was raised in.)

This explanation seemed so unavoidable to me for many years that I just accepted it without really ever talking to anyone else about it or questioning if there could be other ways to interpret the phenomenon.

Now, however, I find it to be quite unlikely. And am therefore curious: 1) If there's a (more) rational explanation for such feelings during an illness and 2) If other folks experience similar feelings during illness.

To the first question, if you take the premise that our bodies and minds and hearts are really all the same thing and any distinction we draw between them is purely fictitious, then I suppose it makes sense that when a condition like a disease or injury or fatigue occurs, the whole thing starts to fray at the edges and something that you had been holding in check successfully when the whole thing was strong could get out of control when it's weak. That said, my understanding of science is limited to an A+ in the undergraduate biology class that my prof introduced on the first day as "not a class for biology majors," so I will probably have to ask some of my seemly ever-multiplying family members with more impressive scientific or medical credentials to weigh in here.

To the second question: I don't know. I feel like the few times I've really tried to talk to people about their emotions while being sick (Qualification: This is limited to annoyance-grade illnesses like what I've described so far, not life-threatening or chronically debilitating things), what they've told me has been pretty limited to annoyance, and possibly self-pity. That said, I think that I'm pretty good at hiding the fact that I spend most of the time when I have a common cold vacillating between the urge to curl up in a ball and tearfully call figures from my distant past to beg their forgiveness for perceived wrongs on the down swings, to wanting to throw myself out a high window on the upswings.

So could it be that (gasp), other people feel the same way and are also good at hiding it?

Or maybe I'm the only one, and now I've outed myself as someone with severe (if controlled) mental health issues.

In either case, I'm eager to find out, so do let me know. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Warm Countries

After a good six or seven years, I'm rereading one of my favorite travel books, The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, and came across this exchange between Port and Kit in Chapter 13. I've decided to post it here, because it made me think of Florida, where I live right now.


               “Sunset is such a sad hour,” she said, presently.
               “If I watch the end of a day—any day—I always feel it’s the end of a whole epoch. And the autumn! It might as well be the end of everything,” he said. “That’s why I hate cold countries, and love the warm ones, where there’s no winter, and when night comes you feel an opening up of the life there, instead of a closing down. Don’t you feel that?”
               “Yes,” said Kit, “but I’m not sure I prefer the warm countries. I don’t know. I’m not sure I don’t feel like it’s wrong to try to escape the night and winter, and that if you do you’ll have to pay for it somehow.”


Photo I took on Florida's Forgotten Coast this 4th of July.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Civilization & Its Discontents

I’m at an impasse right now. For the last four or five years I’ve had this craving for stability and routine and security. I’ve been pursuing those things with varying degrees of success for at least the last three. The first half of my twenties were a protracted rebellion against those same things — at first a passive rebellion — then a headlong rush.

When I came back to the states in 2016, I seriously wondered if the whole first half of my decade had been a waste and I was five years behind where I should be. And I devoted myself to normal American life with the same white-knuckle abandon I’d fought against it. I felt like I needed to get things together or I’d never have another chance. And maybe that was true.

But now, as I’m careening toward the end of my 20s, I’m conflicted. This is my normal — and apparently healthy —  mental state, btw, so don’t be too concerned.

I feel the need to keep moving forward with the plan. To buy a house. To marry someone nice. To finally suck it up and get that graduate degree everyone has been saying for ten years I need. And all of that could happen. There’s a clear path to victory on every front right now.

But the problem is, I also equally want to fly off into the sunrise and have another decade of bloody adventures. I want to ride that Trans-Siberian railway. Want to hop around the Greek isles and see the sunset on Naxos again. Want to go on that pilgrimage to Vietnam. Want to never be normal or attached to one person or trapped in one place.

I guess there’s the chance I could sort of do both. Not right now certainly, but with enough money and enough vacation time, I could do quite a bit. But I also fear that may be a lie, and it would never actually happen. The same way it would probably be a lie if I didn’t settle down but told myself I always would “someday.”

There are the practical considerations of course. The world is made of practical considerations. Like the fact that I’m getting older and will eventually get sick and die. And that takes money, or so I’m told.

But then, ironically, routine and stability seem to have hastened that as much or more than all of my misadventures before it. Two years ago, I blew out a disk in my back during my daily regimen at the gym, and at some point between the once-in-a-lifetime job where I had to quell weekly 200 person protests outside my office and the next once-in-a-lifetime job where I was (briefly) the lead public contact for an entire state while it was getting smashed by a Category 5 hurricane and then the official tasked with reporting how many people’d been killed every day to an eager media, I developed this condition where my heart beats out of time. So now I need to always have health insurance.    

I guess that’s just Civilization entrenching itself in its host.

But all that considered, I’m still alive. And I can still run 20 miles, see clearly, stay up all night, and lots of other things I’ll almost certainly not be able to do if I wait till when society would have me wait to someday, maybe, stop contributing to it.

And honestly, if you took all the money I have now and gave it to 20 year-old me, I’d have backpacked around southern Europe for five years no-questions-asked.  Of course, now it doesn’t seem like that much. Now it just seems like closing costs + 20% down on a big house. Or grad school + textbooks. Or a few weeks in a hospital. Or some other drudgery.

Then there’s the fact that I’m just not that impressed with how the world works. I learned a lot about it from wandering around on its surface, but I’ve learned even more from being part of it these past few years. And the more I learn, the more depressed I become about it and the less keen I am on really participating in any meaningful way. But that’s a whole other story I guess.

For now, I’m just where I’ve always been, not wanting to leave, but wishing I was somewhere else.