My entire life I’ve vacillated between two extreme opinions:
I abhor being sick.
(but I also kind of love it)
When I was young — really young, aged 6 weeks to 3 years — I had a blood disorder that required frequent hospital visits, finger pokes, and nasty medicine. I’ve disliked taking medicine ever since. When I was 4 I had a fever so strong that I wasn’t allowed to hug my grandma at the family Christmas party, and I spent the evening huddled in front of the fireplace. I hated it.
But then I started school and became a firm believer in the power of the mind over the body. You see, Mom worked 35 hours a week, so being home sick from school meant hours of free reading and movie-watching. It meant your brother who normally just tolerated you made you a teddy bear-themed get-well-soon card. Being sick on the couch meant chicken noodle soup and Vernor’s (except that one time Mom brought me Mountain Dew when I was actually sick, and I’ve despised it ever since). It also means ice cream.
So I didn’t just learn how to fake illness — I learned how to wish myself sick hard enough that I actually became sick, the good old “fake it ’til you make it” technique. Though there were a few times I just outright lied in order to stay home from church and watch Lord of the Rings (…yeah), most of the time I convinced myself (and the school office and my mother) that I had a stomach ache or headache severe enough to warrant going home.
Aaaaand then I got to college. My university had an extremely strict attendance policy: in some classes if you missed more than two periods you had to withdraw. Others were slightly more lenient, but the pain of making up university coursework was so much stronger than in high school that it was far better to suffer through sickness in class. So once again I found myself exercising mind over body and willing myself to stay healthy. It’s amazing how little you get sick when you know you have to go to 8 classes and get 2 hours of piano practice, 1 hour of voice and 4 hours of homework done all in one day.
(By the way, that was legitimately my schedule at least one day a week every semester. I wore purple on those days to slightly lessen the chances that I’d cry. Didn’t usually work.)
So maybe I couldn’t keep myself from crying, but I kept myself from sickness. Okay, fairly healthy eating and sleeping habits and lots of walking definitely helped, but at the end of each semester the only absences I’d racked up were for doing work for other classes.
Then I graduated.
And got a job.
And sick time pay became a thing.
Technically we’re supposed to use sick time only if we can’t make up the hours during the week. Also, our sick time rolls over from year to year, which allows you to take lots of time off in the case of an emergency. For example, in my year as a graduate assistant at the IT Service Desk I shared an office with a lovely grandfatherly gentleman who has been working for the university for at least a couple decades. He mentioned one day that he needed to take some sick time to help his wife recover from surgery, so we decided to count up just how much time he had available.
The man could have been paid for 6 months without ever stepping foot in the office.
So he took a bunch of time off and his wife recovered quite nicely. But now that I’ve been here a couple years my sick time is starting to rack up… and my old habits are starting to kick back in. It’s so tempting to convince myself that I have a stomachache or headache or “I just need sleep” in order to skip a day of work. Thankfully I like my job, otherwise it would be even worse.
All right, are you tracking with me so far?
Tiny child: don’t like being sick, will myself out of it.
Slightly older child: like being sick, will myself into it.
College student: can’t afford to be sick, will myself out of it.
Working professional: really tempted to will myself sick again.
And then what happens? I get legitimately sick. When I don’t want to be sick. And I can’t will myself out of it. The past 2 years have been odd in that respect. I’d never broken a bone or had even minor surgery, so getting a tooth pulled was a big deal.So was finding out I was allergic to the medication. So was getting wisdom teeth out — and throwing up all of that medication, too. It involved lots of ice cream, obviously (photographic proof up above). After a life of pretending I’m sick enough to stay home, I find I don’t actually like being sick enough to stay home.
So what’s the relevance today?
A week ago I had a fever and felt pretty bad for 4 or 5 days, which for me is unheard of. I stayed in bed one entire day. I went to work because it seemed important at the time. And now I’m looking back at that week and wondering: instead of trying to will myself out of sickness, why don’t I just take better care of myself when I’m able?
My stomach wouldn’t have felt so terrible if I’d been eating properly. I would have been more able to fight the fever if I’d been adequately rested. I’d have more energy if I had been exercising consistently. These things are all normal, obvious things, but I struggle with them. At the same time, I’m beginning to realize that this is the new “willing myself healthy”: eat right, sleep right, exercise — and I probably won’t have to exercise mind over body in the future very often at all.