When we think of being sick, we don’t often think rosy thoughts or the many benefits that come of it. Wait, being sick has benefits?
Statements we never make when we are sick
“Oh, I’m so glad I’m sick. This headache is wonderful. It’s like someone is stabbing a ten-penny nail into my brain repeatedly. I love ten-penny nails. I used them when repairing my workshop that time in the summer of 2013. My friend Rick came to help. We laughed, we worked. Good times!”
“I haven’t thrown up that violently in years. It was amazing. And what an ab workout!”
“I hear the temperature in Arizona right now is the same as my forehead.”
Is being sick always a bad thing?
I’d like to frame being sick differently than its normal negative. That’s not to say I’m some sadistic human being who loves being sick. I’m not. When I’m sick, like all adult men including Navy SEALS and those who have hiked the complete mileage of the Appalachian Trail during its harshest seasons barefoot losing three of their toes on each foot to an untreated staph infection, all I want is my mama.
(I read that last paragraph to my wife while she was standing at the refrigerator and she just shook her head, and under her breath, I thought I heard her say, “You ain’t never lie.”)
As I sat in the doctor’s office Tuesday evening1 with a 102 fever, disoriented with a pulsating headache, chills, body aches from hell, and a sore throat, I practiced mindfulness, a habit I began a couple of years ago when I confronted my lifelong anxiety.
If someone had the ability to read minds, this is what they would have read my mind saying at that moment as I sat there beside the fish tank in the waiting room with a mask on2:
Breathing in, I gather my pain
Breathing out, I blow it all away
Breathing in, I am thankful I can see my doctor
(Breathing out, please God don’t let me have the flu)
Breathing out, I know this illness is only impermanent
This silent meditation didn’t cure my headache or my body aches.3 Nevertheless, it did calm me. The breath connects the body and the mind, which is often separate from one another. Don’t believe me? Start paying attention to your thoughts more often and tell me if you don’t identify this recurring theme: sorrows of the past, worries about the future4. Very little of your thinking has to do with the actual present moment unless you are being mindful that the moment you are currently in is enough.
Often when we’re sick, it’s our body’s way of saying, “Slow down!”
Sometimes it’s our wife saying, “Stop chewing your fingernails” and us responding, “But they’re so good. Plus, I’m stressed. I only gnaw on my fingernails when I’m stressed.”
And her responding, “You’re gonna end up sick.”
(You win this time, Mrs. Pillow)
I’m pretty sure I have the flu…
I started feeling under the weather Sunday night. Monday, I woke with a bad headache and felt like utter crap (crossing my fingers it was just bad seasonal allergies), but drove to the office in Richmond for a meeting anyway. While driving home, I kept feeling as if I was going to pass out. I “whited out” for a split second on a number of occasions.
It was quite scary, so I stopped and got a soft drink to boost my sugar thinking maybe my blood sugar was low for some reason. I’m not diabetic, but I have had moments in my life in which my blood sugar will drop. During basketball games in college, I used to drink half an orange juice before the game and drink the remaining half and eat a Snickers during halftime.
Over time, I’ve learned how to regulate it more during the start of my day and throughout, and that relying on quick boosts to get me through a tough workout is not ideal (or a healthy serving of sugar considering it’s mostly added sugar). That’s why feeling this way while driving down I-64 at seventy miles per hour was a bit unnerving.
Tuesday came around and I felt absolutely miserable when I woke, but I logged into work regardless. I had a big project I was working on and a timeline that didn’t allow for me to be sick or take time off.
That’s when my body stepped in, and pretty much said, “Sorry. You have no choice.”
By noon, I couldn’t even sit up straight in my seat, I kept feeling as if I was going to pass out at my computer, and I couldn’t think clearly whatsoever. I attempted a walk to get some fresh air, but had to sit down after maybe fifty steps.
I was severely disoriented and pretty much in a state of delirium (because, I assume, my fever had shot up so rapidly).
I texted my wife and asked if she could come home and take me to the doctor. There was no way I could drive there myself.
To make a long story short(er), I thankfully wasn’t diagnosed with the flu. Because I didn’t have a cough, and because my tonsils looked absolutely disgusting, my doctor swabbed me for strep.
Good news the doc said, “You don’t have the flu. You have strep. I can treat strep.”
For the record, I’ve only had strep once in my life, when I was a kid, and a mild case at that according to my mom; I can tell you this though: strep as an adult sucks big time, and it doesn’t just affect your throat. My throat, while it hurt, was the least of my pains.
OMG! I never use acronyms. My body has never been in that much pain before in my adult life. The notes I typed up for my doctor included, and I quote, “Body aches I have a hard time describing. The best I can say is that my legs, particularly my upper legs, feel like they are encased in fire and fluid and are swollen. They ache in every joint and muscle. Dreadfully painful, and I say this with no exaggeration.”
I know, I know. You may think it sounds like an exaggerated description but I assure you it is not. I try to be clear with my doctor whenever I go in, which isn’t often. Plus, there’s a reason strep can cause rheumatic fever.
It’s Thursday night now as I type this. I’ve taken five doses of amoxycillin already, slept a considerable amount, and feel ten times better than I did Tuesday morning. While I’m not back to my old self yet, I have improved drastically in the past two days.
During the time I’ve been down and out with strep, I’ve tried to look at being sick in a different way by being mindful. With that, there are some benefits to being sick with strep or any illness that is not life threatening.
innumerable five benefits of being sick, at least for me
1 / Naps
We don’t take enough naps in America. This may be true of the western world in general. It may be true of the world in general. I have no idea, because I’m not very cultured. But naps are f–king awesome. And when you’re sick, they are the best medicine of all. Whenever the Illuminati take over the world and install the new world order (I just want to pause here and say I am totally joking right now in case there’s someone reading who didn’t catch that), they should make daily naps mandatory between the hours of 12-1 PM.
2 / Cuddling with my dog
My dog loves to cuddle. And she loves me like my kids love my wife. I’m well aware I play second fiddle in this house. Just as my kids are like velcro sticking to my wife, so my dog is with me. She follows me throughout the house. If I go up the stairs, she goes up the stairs. If I go down the stairs, she goes down the stairs. And when I’m sick, she jumps right up in bed and curls up next to me. I find her warmth and her snoring comforting. Plus, when you’re sick in my house, you’re quarantined from all humanity until you’re no longer contagious. My dog, however, does not obey the quarantine laws, and I can appreciate that.
3 / Popsicles
Sure, my wife bought two boxes of popsicles for me and I got about three total because my kids went on a binge while my helpless body lay upstairs in the bed; but there’s nothing quite as satisfying to a sore throat as a popsicle. Word on the street is that my wife also bought me Gatorade.
4 / A better appreciation for family
This list isn’t in order, but if it was, this would be number one on the list. I love my family at all times, but when you’re caught in the rat race that is life with all the every day stresses of work and home—the obligations. The deadlines. The appointments. The bills. The what’s for dinner. The laundry. The vacuuming. The getting your kids to get in bed on time and stay in bed. Et cetera et cetera et cetera—you take your family for granted a little bit.
We just do. We don’t mean to. We don’t realize we are. But we do. I do. Being sick, and not being able to work, or focus on work because my head is pounding and there’s no way in hell I can stare at a well lit computer screen, puts your focus back on your family a little more than normal. I can appreciate this about being sick. While my kids aren’t exactly angels one hundred percent of the time when someone in the house is sick, they do tend to be a little better, a little kinder, a little sweeter. And I am too. I strive to be like this more when I’m well, not just when I’m sick. It’s hard to raise your voice when your head is pounding and your throat feels like a raw piece of meat.
5 / Being reminded of good health
Speaking of taking things for granted, our health is surely one. It’s not until we feel really poor that we yearn to feel back to our old self. When we’re in good health, we don’t often think of the benefits that come from this.
Tuesday, when I was overcome with body aches and pain, I thought of something my dad said to me in March of 2009. “It feels like my entire body is full of cancer.”
I don’t know what that feels like, and I hope I never do, but I tried to remind myself that what I was experiencing was impermanent.
For example, I often think of my friend Jeremiah who had brain cancer whenever I get a bad headache. While a headache is bad, thinking of my friend Jeremiah is good—so, in time, I’ve come to treat headaches as both a friend and foe: a reminder of a friend and that this little headache I’ve got going on is impermanent. It will pass.
How about you? Have you ever thought about the benefits of being sick or am I still in a state of delirium? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading.
Artwork by Jeffrey Pillow
Inspired by Christopher Hart’s Draw 100 Things to Make You Happy
- While my poor wife sat in the parking lot with our two small children.
- The consensus from the nurse I spoke to on the phone before my visit, and prior to my throat swab, was that I had the flu; so the office staff requested I wear a face mask.
- As someone with white coat syndrome, it did apparently help with my blood pressure reading.
- This includes work related stress, thinking about the weather, the state of American democracy, five o’clock traffic, figuring out when you’re going to sit down and file your taxes, actually filing your taxes, and on and on and on