What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
A few nights ago, I made myself a little snack, settled in for a primo "Law & Order" rerun from the first season (hello there, young Chris Noth), and promptly passed out. I don’t mean that I was nodding off or that I fell asleep, I mean that one moment I was watching the grainy L&O opening credits sequence and the next thing I knew I was opening my eyes an hour later with my head hanging over the left side of my body and leaning on the side of the chair I was sitting in. My food was still on the table, and I felt like shit. Apologies for use of poopy language, but that’s what I felt like.
I could hardly move, and then suddenly I had to move -- I was overcome with nausea more intense than anything I’ve felt in years. I dragged myself up the stairs to the bathroom, where I could only lay on the floor in dazed pain. I’m very much a caretaker of others and I’m not a sickly person, so while some people might have grown alarmed at being home alone in this state, my focus at that point was still firmly in my default Ms. Fix-It mode, fantasizing about doing a fresh load of laundry right away to wash these clothes I was wearing as I writhed around on the bathroom floor in nauseated dizziness. Emphasis on the desire to do laundry, not the dizziness.
My body, working very hard to get my full attention, pulled out all of its most advanced tricks that night. I threw up like I hadn’t in ages. Everything hurt. I managed to tidy up, change, and at least pre-soak my Sick Clothes, though doing laundry that night was not in the cards for me.
The next four days would be a jamboree of symptoms -- at first I thought it must have been food poisoning, given the sudden onset and full stomach evacuation. Then I was up half the night with coughing fits. Then I was beset by intense congestion. There was the day when sneezing was the main event. I read and re-read every helpful article on how to differentiate between flu/stomach flu/the common cold, and came to a different conclusion with each one.
Being a holiday weekend, I wasn’t able to see my actual doctor, and I didn’t want to go the Urgent Care/ER route because my mindset is that I am not a sickly person so this will all go away very soon if I just stick as close to my normal routine as possible, right? Wrong.
First of all, I seriously need to unpack the baggage that has led me to believe that I can’t get sick. Or that if I do get sick, it’ll resolve itself best if I just carry on as though I’m not. And I should figure out what the fuck my brain means by “sickly” person and why I continue to distance myself from that idea. I have no illusions of being a SuperWoman, but I do know that I’m someone who tends to take better care of others than I do myself.
OK fine; so as I work on finding more balance in that area overall, one might think that I would be aided in that endeavor when my body loudly and violently tells me there’s something wrong. For someone who generally responds well to tangible evidence, it’s amazing how I could cough up multicolored chunks of things that look like avant-garde sculptures on my way to the gym and never once even consider not going to the gym.
On the third day, having left my compulsory workout prematurely, I finally decided to try to “take it easy.” Ugh. What does that even mean? How does one do that? For an unemployed actress/freelance writer, I am someone who generally has lots to do. I’m so Type A that I enjoy filing and making lists; it calms me. With the exception of certain times when I’m entertaining an overnight guest in my down-below (wink-wink), I always set an alarm before bed.
I don’t take naps. I get up, make the bed, and don’t get on or in it again until bedtime. This is not only due to my orderly nature, but also vestigial habit from my decades-old battle with insomnia. I was never a napper, but I was a bed lounger, and my insomnia was so bad that I took every precaution against it, including the very powerful mind-body association that we can cultivate in designating our beds as places to sleep, at night. (Of course everyone’s life/schedule/desire/sleep needs are different, so do what’s right for you. I had to teach myself how to get a full night’s sleep, and that was part of it.)
I shared that history in the hopes that you’ll understand the showdown that went on the other day, as I purposely took a warm shower and put on pajamas and got into bed IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY. What was happening? Who had I become? I don’t “take it easy.” All that was running through my head was Tina Turner’s legendary “Proud Mary” intro: “We don’t ever do things nice and easy…we’re gonna take the beginning of this song and we’re gonna do it easy. But then we’re gonna do the finish rough.”
I may force myself to start off “taking it easy,” but I can’t not do things. And although I had made myself an embarrassing amount of tea and had the Netflix queue at the ready, I’m such a multi-tasker that the idea of watching TV or a movie, and doing only that, and in bed no less, seemed out of my grasp.
I dragged my laptop into bed, thinking, “I know, I’ll write!” I started writing this, but my head was pounding and I gave up after a few sentences. What you’re reading now was written last night.
Also, what I had started writing was going to be a listicle, so I think we all dodged a bullet there.
Not feeling that I could properly conjugate my verbs through the haze of phlegm and sputum, I thought instead I could check out the news and make notes for future projects. So there I was, laptop screen covered with open windows and tabs, working. In bed, yes. But still.
It was just too ridiculous to bear. I got over myself, got rid of my to-do list, finally decided to commit to the attempt to relax, and it didn’t go so badly after all.
Funnily enough, the best way I could convince myself to stay in and lay low was not through pure self-care, but still putting others first: I cancelled plans because I didn’t want to get other people sick. As I had dragged myself through my struggle workouts those days, I probably burned more calories wiping down every single thing I touched with double the sanitizing wipes I’d usually use, but it was still irresponsible and selfish of me to have gone in the first place.
Indeed, the world went on spinning even though I spent more than a day of it in bed, and if I were inclined to put myself first, (I’m workin’ on it), I’d say my recovery was aided by my lazy day or two.
But more than anything, I renewed my belief in some useful perspectives. There are people fighting major illnesses and disabilities for whom it’s not a choice to “force” that trip to the gym and who don’t get to agonize over whether to stay in bed or not, because their bodies won’t let them. Many people have to go to a job or take care of children or other family members, sick or not. So I could really cool it with the dramatics.
Ultimately, I’m extremely lucky that my parade of symptoms is now marching on its way after a relatively short period of time, and that I have the luxury of “taking it easy,” however forcibly so.
’Tis the season for coughs and sneezes, so please be careful. Check out these great DIY remedies from Shafiqah Hudson, if the seasonal illness fairy does leave something under your immune system’s pillow, and by all means please take good care of yourselves! That doesn’t come as easily to some of us as it does to others, but sometimes we have to dig deep and muster up the strength to just stay in bed.