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. 


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