Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Illness as a Literal Device

I really enjoyed reading everyone's responses to my post asking about their favorite traits. It did make me wonder if I'm not an incorrigible navel-starer, though, because I can answer questions like that, about the different ways I identify myself, in like ten seconds flat. I guess I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff, although I don't know if it's more than other people or if I just admit to it more readily. The whole concept of self-image fascinates me, the ways we think about how we look and act and are perceived in the world and what percentage of that is actually rooted in reality.

Today I'm thinking about health, because I called in sick. I know people do it all the time, but for me it's a huge deal and somewhat fraught. I've worked at this job for a bit over five years, and have called in sick I think three times total, including today.

There are a number of reasons I don't like doing it. For one thing, I'm the sole employee and it's not easy for me to take unplanned time off. I actually thought long and hard about that last night, lying in bed in my scratchy-throated Benadryl haze, and decided that I was going to go ahead and call in because we're between issues and work is light this week. If this had been two weeks ago, when we were just putting one to bed, I would have dragged my sorry-ass self in, coughing and hacking all the way, and probably gotten lynched by the people who wear breather masks on the subway. The same things that make this an interesting job also don't give me much leeway.

But more than that, it's a self-image thing. I just don't get sick. Or rather, I do, but rarely. I'm a healthy person with a kickass immune system, and thinking about myself that way is really key to my identity. Which is mostly a good thing, as I've been blessed with good health and haven't had to look at myself any other way. On the other hand, it can get weird. There's a pocket of my thinking that equates sickness with weakness -- not other people's, but my own -- and I'm also kind of neurotically afraid of it. Just thinking about getting sick is enough to make me anxious.

I can't really trot out the old trope of being a single mom anymore. Not only is my boy out on his own and technically an adult, but let's face it -- he's been able to feed himself and do his own laundry and get around by public transportation since he was 11. But that terrifying feeling of being the sole responsible party for a child... that can leave a body with some serious PTSD. And even though there were all sorts of reasons that the world wouldn't end if I took to my bed for a day or two, the feeling that no one had my back, ever, is still a hard one to get over. And even though things are obviously different now, and better -- I do have the animals to look out for but they're a whole lot easier, and we're a functional two-parent household -- I still have a hard time with the idea that it's OK to just give in.

I don't get sick often. I can go an entire year without a head cold, and I don't get a flu shot -- I've had the flu exactly once in ten years, so those are perfectly fine odds as far as I'm concerned. I don't suffer bad allergies, don't have any chronic illnesses other than slight hypothyroidism -- bless you, Synthroid! -- and am, in general, a tough cookie. But that just adds to my apprehension about any kind of ailment, and means that I will drag myself upright and back to work croaking "I'm fine! I'm fine!" at the first possible moment. It's why I ended up with a bacterial lung infection last March and April, because I took one day off from work instead of, say, three. And then again, this is the first time I've had so much as the sniffles since then, and before that I hadn't had a cold in a year and a half. So averaged out, I don't have much to complain about.

Also I'm looking 46 hard in the eye and I know I can't expect my health to stay this good forever. Even if everything else holds out, I can expect the usual wear and tear on a body that can't take the abuse it used to and I'm going to have to be OK with it. Or rather, get OK with it. I have the feeling that's not going to be so easy. And there's a small superstitious voice in the back of my head that pipes up every so often with the idea that my immune system has been frittering itself away protecting me from head colds and strep throat, and that I'm going to end up with some form of awful cancer that will kill me instantly.

In the meantime, I called in sick today. Took two Benadryl with my breakfast and proceeded to sleep another five hours on the couch -- good sleep, not fuzzy drug sleep or restless couch sleep. And I feel relatively all right -- a bit lungy, but not as full of crappy phlegm and achy-eyeballed as yesterday. Plus I have a date in Brooklyn tomorrow night that I'd like to keep, so I'm telling myself that all is well and all will be well and I can resume my previously scheduled activities tomorrow. Today was a good hiatus. But now I need to go back to kicking the ball around, and I just hope it's that easy.

And because these things are really deadly boring with no photographs, here's one of me at 19. Talk about tough cookies, huh?



Blogger Debi said...

I was glad to hear you took the day, honey, mostly because I worry, but also partly because I share that 'never call in sick' sickness and am grateful for the example of giving in and letting things go from someone who gets where I am coming from.

Also, that is a kick-ass picture. Do you play?

6:56 AM  
Blogger lynn said...

Lisa, that's such an interesting post. I come from a much different place - I always used up my sick-time at work, and I swear my medical insurance deductible is paid by the end of January every year...

But you reminded me of one of my favorite essays, by Virginia Woolf. Now, I normally have trouble with her, but I loved this one. It's all about how, when you've got some illness that's chronic, you enter a different world, that you share with people who are also sick.

Anyway, I'm butchering it, but it really is wonderful. You are lucky to be so resilient. I will say this about having something chronic (I have Lupus and am very sick an average of twice a week) - it's honestly proved to be a weird blessing in some ways. Of course it's awful on the days I'm hurting, but man oh man I have learned to appreciate the days that I don't. I know that sounds a little trite, but I am almost euphoric when I wake up and I feel good.

And that is a kick-ass picture and it made me laugh. Such a contrast to the ones you've posted in your last few posts.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

That's such an interesting perspective, lynn -- interesting being about the lamest word I could use in this context. But I do appreciate your saying that. I try and remember to be gracious to the universe for keeping me healthy on a regular basis, and not just whiny when I'm not.

Debi, I don't play. An old boyfriend convinced me to get the guitar and gave me lessons, which lasted as long as he did. About three chords' worth, as I recall.

2:21 PM  
Blogger lynn said...

Oy - I forgot to give the name of the essay by Virginia Woolf - it's called "On Being Ill." This is what happens when I post when I am on meds.

" I try and remember to be gracious to the universe for keeping me healthy on a regular basis, and not just whiny when I'm not."

I think this is part of what she is saying in that essay - that our brains aren't hardwired to keep focusing on things like that, unless we are feeling sick or have a reason to think about it.

Man I can ramble.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Margarita said...

Hey I thought I would say something here. You know I don't even have a "perspective" on illness - hehe - health and prevention is all I do, right? I don't even have medical insurance, by reasons of choice and circumstance both and I don't really patronize any medical offices on a regular basis. But this comment is so right on about our perception and value of health in our lives. You should come from the expectation of health, which I find, keeps you healthy 95% of the time. The other 5% is when your heart and soul need a day (or time) off, and then take it. Or as the Chinese say, "the middle path", which is something I have to start practicing too. R&R is wholesome - if we practice it , it will generate a lot more health, plus a couple other things we can do for ourselves, like good food, company of good friends, etc. P.S. Nothing wrong with using a sick day here and there - in my last corporate job, it was called a "mental health day", which, incidentally, tells you which kind of job it was.

1:02 PM  

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