I have a cold. It’s a bad one, sure, but it’s just a cold all the same. That’s the mantra I use to brutalize myself when I’m sick. I’m a terrible patient. If I have a fever or a stomach bug or some other particularly grim brand of ick, I try and force myself out of bed. I’ll drag my shuddering flop-sweating self to the shower.
“People are dying of Ebola,” I’ll sternly say. “Think about Ukraine,” I might add as I make the water as hot as I can.
It used to be when I was sick and knew that the only thing that could soothe me even temporarily was the shower that I tricked myself into the glass stall with a daydream. “You’re the last heir to some European throne and it is the 19th century. You’ve been living on the streets with only your wits to protect you since you were but a wee girl. Now you are back at the palace because of a chance encounter with a duke. Tomorrow morning you must face the Queen, your only living relative, to see if she believes you are who you claim to be -- but first, you get to take a shower, your first ever.” I am aware that this is highly derivative of the animated feature "Anastasia," and I do not care. I never claimed my daydreams of yore were unique.
Lately I’ve tried to back away from that sort of reverie, if only because I’ve been trying not to think about myself and only myself so much. It’s a funny balancing act. When I started therapy over a year ago, the hardest part was believing that I was worth enough as a person to have someone listen to me talk for an hour. Now I harbor this fear that getting mentally healthy has turned me into this completely isolated wobbly-bellied Buddha who exists solely in her own now and also doesn’t really understand Buddhism.
I’m trying to educate myself about current events in an in-depth way and it has got me feeling not unlike Bridget Jones. “What do you think about what’s going on with Palestine and Israel?” I ask my brother. “I think maybe I don’t want to talk about it while I’m sitting in a Middle Eastern restaurant,” he responds archly while digging into his falafel.
During the day when I’m sick, since I am my own boss and a vicious task-master at that, I won’t take cold medicine. This isn’t because I get off on my own physical discomfort (the pressure of my own snot oozing out of the corners of my own eyes doesn’t fill me with an unrelenting desire to rub my nipples or anything) It’s because writing on cold medicine is challenging. It feels weird, like picking food out of someone else’s teeth. You’ve done the task a million times before for yourself, but doing it for someone else presents you with a myriad of slimy new sensations that are only accomplished with a certain amount of self-imposed distance.
At night, I am less noble. I made a grand total of one foray from my bed yesterday, and it was to procure some Nyquil (and also a new hairbrush because I honestly think my cat Batman has eaten mine). At around nine I took the instructed dose and waited to pass out in a puddle of my own liquids as is usually my wont when taking nighttime cold medicine.
But it didn’t happen. I lay in my bed in the dark and my feet turned to sexy little blocks of ice. My torso and head began to rain sweat. I swear to you my boobs sounded like galoshes full of water as I moved around trying to get comfortable and ignore the torrents of fetid stank juice gushing forth from beneath them.
I got up and took my temperature -- a fever. I felt slightly soothed to have gotten to what I supposed was the root of the problem, and proceeded to do something truly stupid: I took a third Nyquil. I weigh 168 pounds and as such I rationalize being one of those thoughtless over-takers of all over-the-counter medications. Why stop at two when three will REALLY fix things? This is also a philosophy I apply to cakes, break and bake cookies, glasses of wine, boxes of Lemonheads, and kisses from my boyfriend.*
While I waited for the Nyquil to work its magical wizardry, I propped myself up in my bed and watched one of my preferred brand of reality shows. The murdery ones. Shows like "Dateline," "48 Hours," "Snapped," and "Evil Kin" are maybe the only real guilty pleasure I have. I only watch them in my room or when I know I’m going to be home alone. If my roommate walks in I turn red and shut them off blustering, “Iwasjustsurfing.”
These shows. They are prurient and toxic and I don’t care. I could be watching a livestream of the British parliament. Instead I’m becoming quietly convinced that, should the need arise, I could properly dispose of a body.
Obviously I don’t watch these shows free of a sense of inner conflict. So, when the first twinge of self-loathing creeps into my dome, I ignore it and keep on watching the story of a brother and sister who kill their mother and grandparents to steal their nest egg and run off to do sexual things to each other. But I can’t ignore the rush of terror that steals into my body in the next couple of minutes. That brother and sister, they are coming. They are going to find me and my roommate and our pets and they are going to kill us. I hop out of bed, on the edge of a full-blown panic attack.
I’m sweating enough that I look like I’ve just hopped out of the shower. I can hear myself panting and whimpering. I dash into the kitchen and check the locks. Fine, fine, all is locked. But it won’t help, my body says, those murderers are coming. I think about waking up my roommate and of calling the police, but something stops me. Is it reason? Nope, not that. It’s the fact that the end of my life is inevitable and coming to a close tonight at the hands of a murderous duo from Florida.
I curl up in my bed on top of the covers. My roommate’s dog jumps up besides me and starts to lick my feet. I hear footsteps coming up the stairs to my apartment. I squeeze the dog’s foot. “This is the normal last sensation I’m going to have before I’m murdered,” I think, my mouth numb, my stomach rigid. And then -- and then -- nothing.
I wake up at 9 a.m. to my roommate telling me that there’s a team of men working on fixing our roof today. She leaves for work, I get up and rush to the bathroom where I throw up. My psychiatrist’s office calls to confirm a med check appointment. “Yeah, that should be fine. I HAVE been pretty sick, so I don’t know if he’s going to want me to come in.” I ask the question before it’s even formed in my brain. “Hey, are there -- can there be side effects if you take Nyquil while on Prozac?” The nurse says the doctor will call me back. It takes two minutes during which time I Google what he later tells me: There totally can be side effects -- paranoia, hallucinations and stomach upset (and those are the fun ones).
I’m embarrassed but relieved. It’s sunny out. My stomach still hurts, my cold still riots around my insides making everything seem slightly off. I nap in the middle of the day when I’m tired and allow myself a full five minutes of berating myself for the stupid Nyquil mistake before insisting that I move on. I start researching community service organizations to volunteer for but my heart isn’t in it. Then, I pretend I am a newly crown princess of a small European country you have never heard of. I know it is my duty as a royal to give of myself. This makes things infinitely easier.
* Like how I dropped that in there? Yeah suckas: I have a boyfriend, NO BIG DEAL HE IS JUST THE GREATEST AND HE IS MINE AND YOU CAN’T HAVE HIM.