Thursday, April 09, 2009

Is This Thing Still On?

For most of my adult life I've assumed that I have certain inherent personality traits: optimism, resilience, a degree of creativity. But it turns out that really all that time I was just healthy.

A month ago I was driving home from work with a bagful of spring clothes for myself and the Pie, and I was brewing up a post about the joy of wearing things that look like candy. I used to have these drop earrings that looked exactly like pieces of Gold Rush gum, only in pink, purple, and blue as well as yellow. (Where did those earrings go? I certainly never threw them out.) The half-hour country drive between work and home affords plenty of time for mental composition, so I wrote the post in my head: One of the joys of having a daughter, I reflected, is that I have a good excuse to wear candy-clothes. Pie likes to wear matching outfits (colours, really - I have not yet succumbed to the mother-daughter clothing vortex of doom), so when I'm buying her sets of 3T capris and t-shirts for the summer it's easy to throw in a raspberry-pink ruffly shirt for me. I didn't always appreciate the pink side of girls' clothing, but now I'm a convert. Especially in springtime I like to plunge myself into juicy shades of lime and berry.

Thus far had I gotten in my composition process when I arrived home, but then life took over: I had to pick up Bub from kindergarten, buy groceries and put them away, slice up chicken breasts for supper and stir-fry them with korma sauce. Then there was all the clean-up: rinse the dishes, wipe the counters, bathe the children and tuck them into bed. The fact that I casually do all these things every evening is not always as astonishing to me as it should be. Each day requires gargantuan amounts of energy, organization, and discipline. And at around 8:00 pm that night, my energy fell away from me, and it didn't come back for about three weeks.

It was only the flu, though I like to call it "the influenza" because it sounds much more impressive. It was all the usual stuff: fever, achiness, coughing. But what I wasn't prepared for was how totally it obliterated my personality.

The physical symptoms weren't that bad: they were not unpleasant enough, by themselves, to warrant much more than a few days in bed and a nightly mug of Neo Citron. But the psychological symptoms were terrible. It was as if all the beauty were drained from the world. I was not sad or depressed, but I was incapable of registering pleasure in anything from the sunny weather to the Saturday-morning crossword. When, two weeks later, I glanced at the yellow cowbell on my bedside table and felt that familiar flicker of pleasure at its colour I was jolted by the strangeness of the sensation. It was like sitting down to do a math assignment after a long summer holiday, that feeling of exercising mental muscles that had long been out of commission.

It's taken me awhile to come back to my blog because I needed to be myself again for awhile before I could slip back into that comfortable illusion of being me. It's easy to rationalize away that stolid, unimaginative sick person I was a few weeks ago as a temporary aberration, to identify my real self as the norm from which my sick self temporarily departed. But it's harder to shake the realization that much of what I think of as essential to who I am is really just a physiological side effect of a healthy state over which I have no control.

31 comments:

Mad said...

This is me jumping up and down at your return. . | . | . |

Also, I am wearing a bright pink turtle neck today.

Also, I had that flu so I know a bit of which you speak--except that I grouchily blogged my way through it. You, instead, return to us with the usual sparkle that's always simmering behind your words.

DaniGirl said...

Oh how interesting -- I've just recovered from a cough-ish, full-chest kind of virus and a pervasive sense of ennui, both of which lasted about two weeks. I completely failed to connect the two, though.

I'm glad you're feeling better now, and that you've found your way back to the blog.

Veronica Mitchell said...

Ages ago (and I don't remember where), I read about experiments done on conscientious objectors during WWII. The non-violent draftees were subjected to food or sleep deprivation and their reactions were observed. They got surlier and angrier as they got less and less food and sleep. This was particularly upsetting to those who were devout Christians; they discovered that many of the virtues they prized in themselves disappeared when they were no longer well-fed.

When I had my tubal ligation in December, I found that the anesthesia left me unable to do math for a full 2 hrs, and my habitual darkly realistic assessment of human character took at least 4 days to return.

Veronica Mitchell said...

That was supposed to be 2 DAYS. I couldn't do math for 2 DAYS. I do not compute formulas so constantly that I would notice a 2-hr slackening of ability.

Occidental Girl said...

That's a good point. I hadn't thought of being sick or healthy as affecting my personality, but it is true.

I've had blog vacations lately, and I don't know why. Well, life taking over is certainly true. I compose posts and then lose them before I can type them, too.

Anyway, glad you're feeling better!

Loukia said...

Hello! I'm sorry you felt so terrible... and glad you're feeling much more like yourself now! :) It is never fun being sick.

kate said...

I was on the edge of my seat reading this, wondering what had happened. Were you a car accident? (And when I saw your tweet, my first thought was, "She's pregnant!!!") Anyways, I'm very relieved you're feeling better and back.

No Mother Earth said...

I had a similar experience in December when hit with stress related illness. I had no idea how big a part food played in my life until I was constantly nauseous and had no will to eat.

It's so exciting that you're back and feeling better though!

I bought a coral coloured top and cardigan, and the colour still makes my day - weeks later.

kgirl said...

So glad you're feeling better. I tend to just offer really empty, non-noteworthy posts when I'm feeling not-so-good.

Better to take a break, and return to health and great posts.

slouching mom said...

I'm glad you're better. And I'm glad you're back!

~~Rhonda said...

Welcome back. I think we'd all be surprised to find out how much of our real "me" is in the good, the bad, *and* the ugly (read "sick"). I'm glad your "good" is good again. :) ~~Rhonda

Swistle said...

I think that's how we got that silly "poor people are good, rich people are bad" idea. Because if someone can be filthy and hungry and cold and still be a nice person, we're pretty sure that takes real deep niceness---whereas if someone can be clean and well-fed and warm and still be a bad person, we're pretty sure that takes real deep badness. But of course the filthy and hungry and cold have their bad moods and the clean and well-fed and warm have their nice moods.

...Where was I? Oh, yes. I've had that same experience of illness obliterating things I thought were Me. At those times I understand why very ill people can turn to suicide: there isn't really the same "Me" that it's important not to kill.

Bea said...

Veronica - So for four days your illness/recovery actually IMPROVED your assessment of human nature?

Kate - As soon as I tweeted I realized how it was likely to be read. I thought about adding a "nothing exciting" disclaimer, but then decided that raising false expectations was a timeworn resource for attracting readers. Also, this post itself kind of sets up dramatic expectations which I wholly fail to follow through on - which seems somehow appropriate for the anticlimactic nature of that wretched flu.

Bon said...

i'm glad you're back, Bea. and sorry you were sick.

i have been musing to myself about the energy and discipline required just to plow through my most mundance days...especially recently, when sleep's been minimal. i sat down to write tonight and realized my brain had only chirping crickets to offer up.

loved Veronica's comment about the experiments...

minnesotamom said...

That's an interesting perspective. I have not before associated the psychological symptoms of sickness with anything other than an extreme desire to be well again.

The return no doubt caused a greater appreciation for health and vitality, as well as the beauty you're able to see when not focused completely inward. We don't often think much about our health until it is gone.

Glad you're feeling better.

JCK said...

Influenza does sound much more impressive, but awful! So glad you have returned and are feeling more like yourself.

Lady M said...

Glad you're feeling better!

My second pregnancy was tough, and the resilience, determination, sharp mind that I thought were mine . . . had a lot to do with being healthy. What a difference. It took a long time to come back.

Susanne said...

I already wondered if I had missed something. I'm glad you're back.

And I know that feeling of looking up after a few weeks of dragging through life with the flu, and feeling like yourself again. While you didn't even realized that you felt any different before.

This year that moment was usually the time we got sick again but now there's spring and hope.

Mimi said...

Yup, I had that same flu and that same reaction. Flattening of affect. I felt very postmodern, when I felt anything. Next year, flu shot for sure.

Also, toddler girl clothes are my guilty pleasure too! Those saturated popsicle colours! How else would we know it's spring?

Gwen said...

I was wondering where you'd gone off to. You're one of those blogs I never ever take out of my reader, no matter what kind of spring cleaning I'm doing to it.

I'm glad you're better, and I'm glad you're back. But I've had similar thoughts myself--that the only reason I'm so awesome is because I'm so lucky.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you are better first and foremost and then selfishly glad you have returned to blogging.

You were missed!

(Your) Anon

trudymorgancole said...

Glad you're back. I have that same reaction every time I get sick: "Wow, I thought I was a happy, optimistic, resilient person ... turns out that's COMPLETELY dependent on good physical health." Scary from the perspective of how people like us would ever cope if smitting with a serious chronic illness.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I had the same flu. My hips hurt terribly for two days whether I sat or walked around. No painkillers could minimize it. My primary response: I am *definitely* too old to have any more children.

I've always thought that "I" and "my body" are intertwined more than Descartes would like to admit. If I'm depressed, I start treating my body well. (Going for walks and drinking a lot of water, mostly.) Always helps.

Jaelithe said...

Oh, so glad you are back. I had a really bad case of flu, er influenza several months ago that turned into full-on bronchitis, and it totally sucked the joy out of my life, too. I was sick for six weeks.

Hannah said...

Glad you're back, I was starting to wonder if you hadn't curled into a ball with paint chips and vowed not to come out until spring...

Like Mad, I blogged miserably through every cold and flu I had this winter, because I was desperate for sympathy. After awhile, people stopped caring. :) Your way is much better.

Jen said...

I can relate. I student taught for 14 weeks, never needed a sick day (I'm an old person, went back to get certified/Masters).

Started subbing and within a week or two ended up losing my voice, developing a sinus infection and just generally feeling flat for over a month.

I did wonder if the soul-sucking suckiness of subbing (it's like babysitting for long hours for 25 kids versus being a parent to your own) added to my ennui, but I think it really was mostly the sickness.

Beck said...

That's funny about pink - I've been surprised at how cheerful I am about wearing pink since I became a mother. How strange!

Your description of your return to health is lovely - there's nothing quite like that first morning of waking up feeling like yourself again, really.

painted maypole said...

nice to see you again.

i've been in a funk today, for reasons I can't quite explain (is it because it's the first weekend in a month I haven't been performing? Is it being over tired and over stressed? was it being kicked and battered by a small overly affectionate child in bed this morning? is it the housework I can no longer put off... what with guests coming tomorrow?) This struck a chord, because although I haven't had the influenza of late (knocking copiously on wood here) it's true that sometimes the ability to be in my usual good mood escapes me, and even though I know i'm grumpy, I can't seem to pull myself out of it

Kelly said...

Oh yes, I love that moment when first you feel yourself escaping from the funk. It's a rebirth.

We've dealt with sickness after sickness since Christmas, with our children and ourselves. It can sap you, wholly.

Welcome back.

Reluctant Housewife said...

I recognize exactly what you're talking about here.

When I get sick and stay sick for a few days I tend to forget what it felt like to feel well. I feel like I've always been this way - an energyless lump of pathetic humanity. Then I get better and I'm surprised by how good I feel.

toddlerplanet said...

Um... yeah. But it's not the end of the world to realize that either.

You're back. You're back in the groove. That's what matters.