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  • Jan Flynn

Sick Day

Last night we watched the Oscars, from the very beginning of the red carpet coverage (the portion of the evening I refer to as The Dresses), all the way through to the historically bungled Best Picture award. There I sat, watching a parade of the most beautiful, fascinating, talented, and charming people in the world, all at their very most glamorous, while I sprawled on the couch nursing a cold and fever. Haggard and rheumy-eyed,  surrounded by crumpled tissues and empty glasses of Emergen-C, decked out in my dumpiest sweats, I felt like a muck-encrusted serf peering through a chink in the palace wall, witnessing with hopeless admiration the celebration of my betters.

This is what happens when I get sick — not seriously ill, mind you, just the garden-variety kind of bug we all fall prey to once in awhile. By the time I’ve finally acknowledged that there really is something amiss and grimly soldiering on isn’t going to cut it, that a good stiff workout is not the way to go and I truly belong in bed, I’ve already started in on a low-level hum of self judgement. Why can’t I keep working on my novel just because my throat is on fire and I have the energy of wad of gum? Do I really need my (endlessly patient) husband to bring me another cup of tea or am I just being self-indulgent? Shouldn’t I be doing more of something to bring about a speedier recovery (because surely it can’t be that I am not actually in control of every aspect of my mind and body and life)?

Full confession: I am fully capable of accusing myself of having sent an unconscious signal to my immune system and allowing myself to fall ill, just because I wanted a break.

Here’s another thing that happens: I lose all sense of perspective with regards to time. One day in bed and I feel like I’ve spent most of my life there. The world, having wisely left me behind, swirls on without me. I have fallen through a crack in the shell of daily existence; I am peripheral, extraneous, irrelevant. I am but a barnacle clinging to the ship of existence. I haven’t written a chapter or attended a meeting or called my congressman in, golly, over 24 hours, and it has been days since I’ve been to work (never mind that I came down with the crud on Saturday).

Now, would I for one minute even think of saying these things to a friend of mine who was feeling puny? Of course not; I’m the one who makes organic chicken soup and waters the plants for ailing neighbors. So what’s with all this kicking myself when I’m down?

What’s happening here is simply another assault by the least attractive aspect of my ego, that pointy-headed little entity that manifests in the critical inner voice I know so well. Back when I was young, I gave it my full attention when it assured me that I looked fat in those jeans or that what I had just said was totally stupid or that the goal I aspired to was so far out of reach that I’d be much better off not trying at all. Now, decades later, I’m onto myself. When I’m operating at full capacity, I pay that mean little voice no heed. Still, when I’m on the ropes and feeling weak, it can slip past my guard.

Once I recognize the little demon for what it is, I can send it back to the depths of my shadow side where it belongs, acknowledged but not empowered. I’m always surprised at how quickly it subsides, like most bullies. Little bugger. So now I can enjoy a good rest and catch up on Homeland episodes. Oh, and while conducting my customary in-depth research for this post I came across a handy quiz in a British online psychology magazine that you may find diverting: Test: Are You Too Hard On Yourself?. I’m happy to report that I scored very well.

Which means I must be feeling better. Darn. Just as I was ready to embrace being a sloth.

What about you? When you’re out of commission do you simply accept it and proceed with compassionate self-care, or do you beat up on your poor self, even a little bit? Please leave a comment!

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