– feeds your head

The reflective powers of illness.



I’m sick right now. Not as in suffering from a life threatening disease or even bedridden, just your average cold and fever. One of those everyday kind of things that happen to most people a few times a year. At best it allows you to just relax and lie on the couch and watch movies or read books and drink tea, and at worst it annoys the hell out of you because you can’t do anything but lie on the couch and watch movies or read books and drink tea.

When you enter that latter stage of frustration there’s pretty much nothing that will prevent your mind from running amok on you. You start thinking about all the things you could do if only you weren’t sick right now, and the fact that you probably wouldn’t do even half of those things if you weren’t sick doesn’t really matter. It’s the illness that prevents you from doing them, not your own lack of motivation or engineering. At least that’s the case in the initial thought loop. But then, as frustration grows, so does the thought clutter in your head, and you start reevaluating every single aspect of your life. You start thinking about all the things you could do differently and that evolves to a multitude of vows regarding all the changes you’re going to make just as soon as your health is restored. It’s as if your body’s temporary failure to cooperate sends you off on some sort of penance trip. Like a light version of a being confronted with your own mortality. The problem is that once you actually get better most of these vows seem rather unrealistic and more than a bit obsolete. Or at least mine do.

A friend of mine always experiences a sense of revitalization when he recovers from an illness. He describes it as a sudden surge of energy, both for body and mind. A state in which all these thoughts actually make sense and stay relevant. I’m not entirely sure how long this state lasts or if it actually bares any fruits of a more lasting nature, but when he describes it I always feel a slight tinge of envy because that has never happened to me. My recovery process is always so slow that I can hardly even notice it. There’s no sudden surges of energy to be detected anywhere, just a slight improvement that only manifests itself in a decrease of what ever symptoms I’ve been suffering from. I suppose it could be explained by the fact that a cold isn’t really that much of an issue and thus no life changing experiences are to be had from it, but it would still feel like a better deal if I did get that reward of revitalization once it was over. But I don’t. It never happened.

After more serious illnesses it’s a slightly different story, but it seems the slowness of the recovery is still the most prominent factor. The times I’ve been seriously ill it’s also been rather lengthy experiences and therefore the recovery has also been anything but fast. But  the thoughts going through my head during the illness were similar. That same theme of reevaluating your life, but rather than making unrealistic vows of change it was more about realizing just how lucky I was before I got ill. How thankful I should be for my independence, for my ability to take care of myself. Because these illnesses made me realize that’s by no means anything that you can actually take for granted. Once I was ill for seven months, bedridden kind of ill where there were days when even going to the bathroom alone was a huge challenge. I’ve never felt that helpless in my whole life and I hated every single minute of it. I hated having to ask for help with everything, from showering to getting food and even though the people around me did everything they could to help and not make me feel bad for having to ask, I couldn’t get away from the feeling of degradation. It was a very strange time and it didn’t feel anything like being alive, it felt like being in limbo, a state between life and death. And all I could think about during these months was that if this doesn’t change I don’t want to stay around. Either I wanted my life back or for it all to end, because that state of limbo had nothing to do with actually living. And then, once I slowly started getting better, I was overcome with feelings of gratitude. Every tiny step of progress felt like getting another shred of life back. Going outside for the first time on my own felt like a massive victory. I was still very weak and the painkillers were messing with my head to the point were I wasn’t really sure about directions, but it still felt like a victory. People around me were saying how impressed they were by my dedication to my physiotherapy, but to me it was just about getting my life back. After seven months in bed I had no muscles left and I knew I had to rebuild my body again if I ever wanted my independence back. And I did. Desperately. Through that illness I faced one of my biggest fears; to be helpless. My recovery was very slow, but still the difference was very noticeable. Every day was better and after a few months I was almost back to normal.

One might think that an experience like that will really make you reevaluate life in a most profound way, and I suppose in a way it did, I have gotten a lot better at not taking things for granted. Any illness will actually teach you that if you pay attention, even a cold. And I suppose that’s what all these vows of change are all about. You notice the things you aren’t really happy with, they stand out in a different way against the backdrop of a runny nose and the slight dizziness of fever. I still wish I could experience that surge of revitalization, but maybe I should at least pay a bit more attention to the thought clutter in my head and try to pick out the thoughts that are actually useful and keep those for when I recover. Because being able to go outside for a walk isn’t actually something you can take for granted. There are very few things that are and I suppose that’s the learning, that you should make sure you appreciate what you have and change the things you don’t like. Life isn’t eternal so it’s all about making the best of the time you have. Being ill is a good reminder of that.

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