Feeling like crap is subjective. The point at which one person waves the white flag, calls out sick and crawls back to bed might be someone else’s idea of a “good day.” Those of us who grew up in guilt-laden religious traditions sometimes have a harder time admitting, to ourselves or others, that we’ve reached our physical limit.
Those of us that always had to eat every last bite on our plates (even if that bite was disgusting or our stomachs were distended — because some kid somewhere was starving, and somehow our gluttony made that better) also had to get out of bed and go to school when we were sick because look, a fever is not an amputation and a cough is not consumption and schoolwork is not going to do itself. Contagion be damned. I’m sure many an outbreak has been fueled by the Protestant work ethic.
So as a kid you learn that “not feeling good” isn’t going to cut it as the excuse in life. And to an extent that’s true, and kids who learn that lesson will do better in life than those who don’t. Right up until the point where they don’t realize that they don’t have walking pneumonia, and they are about to die of pneumonia on their feet.
When I had swine flu, it was the one time in my life that I was able to be reasonably convinced that I was indeed Very Seriously Ill. From a cell phone on my mile-long walk to the office, I described my symptoms to my doctor. She told me to Get In Bed Now. I said fine, but for how long? She said, for as long as it took — weeks if necessary. And I said, but I have a job! And she asked me if I wanted to go to my job or be alive in three weeks. I had not considered that it might be an either/or sort of situation.
I chose not to maybe die and spent the next two weeks in bed reading Tolstoy. And subsequently thinking, here I am being a wuss when these guys marched through the Russian winter without shoes. I should totally go to work. Russian lover convinced me that there was no need, no need, to compare myself to the nineteenth-century Russian infantry fighting back Napoleon’s forces. Because among other things it was a pointless comparison instilling unnecessary guilt.
Pointless comparisons instilling unnecessary guilt? But I’m of Protestant descent raised in a Puritan nation and did I also mention a woman. As soon as I get done berating myself for being so weak in the face of a life-threatening pandemic, I’m going to go look at my ass in the mirror and drum up additional self-loathing for not looking like Giselle in a thong. That’s what people like me do.
In trying to learn to evaluate my ailments on their own merits, I’ve developed a sort of scale for how crappy I feel when I suspect I might feel like crap, based on my behavior:
- Stage 1. Not wanting to imbibe, even socially. Is the party over there? Then I’m not. (Illness is probable; immanent.)
- Stage 2. Forgetting to brush my teeth, then remembering that I forgot and not caring. (Illness has arrived.)
- Stage 3. Not washing my face. (Illness has settled in a for a nice long stay.)
- Stage 4. Not bathing. (Time to queue up movies for the next day or so I’m going to be spending in bed.)
- Stage 5. Reading Russian literature (I’ve given up hope of returning to the office for at least another week.)
At some point I hope to be able to judge my illness like a normal person, who simply asks themselves if they feel well enough to go to work and doesn’t go if the answer is “no.” There’s no medal of honor for showing up at the office with the flu, and I should stop doing it.
Which is to say I’m at Stage 4 today and deciding between a Lethal Weapon or Alien marathon for tomorrow.