Tag Archives: Sickness

How to F*cking Rest (In 10 Not-Always-Easy Steps)

Zelda has no trouble resting.

Zelda has no trouble resting.

Let’s be clear from the start: I have very little idea of what I’m talking about in regards to this subject. But I’m learning. So, consider the following more of a report on a work-in-progress, than a presentation of any definitive framework.

Only someone like me would view the ability to rest as a work-in-progress — but I know there are some of you out there who have the same problem. Maybe more than a few.

It’s better than failing spectacularly at it, I suppose.

As I have mentioned on various social media channels, I’ve been sick. Again. For over a week. Again.

It could be worse, and I understand that. But it still sucks.

I’ve been making a concerted effort to learn from past mistakes. And, as has been well-documented — on the scale of moderate to severe — there have been plenty of those.

Anyway, for better or worse, as obvious as some of these may be, here’s what I’ve learned about what works — when I follow through. Maybe all of this is obvious to a sane person, but that’s not always me.

1. Accept it.

We all know how this works. The interior monologue:

“Something doesn’t feel right.”
“You’re okay.”
“Probably. But…”
“You need to do X, Y, Z. You’ll be fine.”
“Yeah. But…”

They key is to listen to the “but”. Ears between the cheeks.

“But I’m really not feeling well.”

This (hopefully) allows one to have compassion for oneself. Even begrudged compassion will do.

“Okay. Fine. I guess X,Y,Z will have to wait.”
“OMG!”
“Shut up.”
“It will be okay. I promise.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You don’t have to — you just have to trust me.”

2. Stay in bed (and/or stick to couch).

I’m historically bad at this. But it’s important. This week I’ve been much better about it than I have been in the past.

I’ve (luckily) been able to establish boundaries with myself in regards to my bed. I don’t work in bed. I do very little web surfing in bed. I really only sleep and read and watch TV and snore in bed.

But I’ve found that even moving from bed to couch has a debilitating effect on my levels of relaxation. It opens the floodgates of distraction. Once I’m out of bed I tend to sit and not lay down. Or I stand, battle myself about standing, and then sit again. I’m also able, from my couch, to view most of an apartment’s worth of “stuff that needs to get done” rather than just one room. So, my solution this time around?

At night, I’ve stacked my bedside table with the basics of what I’d need in the morning to stay in bed for at least a few hours after I wake up. Lately, this has been a stack of comics/graphic novels (fun reads), a bag of cough drops, water, tissues, etc. It’s worked.

After a certain point, though — and as I’ll discuss this more in a moment — it helps to move around. That’s why after a few hours I do a few minor things (with a focus on rest or healing related tasks, such as the brewing of miracle teas) and then I move to the couch.

3. Read.

It gets you out of your head. Sickness can magnify feelings of isolation, loneliness, worthlessness (a good American produces and consumes and does not rest in between) — to a spectacular (not so spectacular) degree.

Reading also passes time and dulls pain by distracting us in an immersive way that’s a bit different than when you watch movies (next on the list) or talk to people (farther down on the list). Reading fiction in particular, when the stories are doing their job well, can be like wrapping your mind in a blanket. That’s not the say the below methods have less value. It’s just different.

4. Watch movies.

If reading is a warm blanket, a good movie is a hearty bowl of chicken soup. What?

It’s strange, and I don’t know how to explain it, but, for me, the magic of cinema is that, even when you’re watching something alone in your apartment on your TV — the experience is comfortingly communal. Some people might argue that point. They’d be wrong.

There’s something about watching characters struggle/explore the worlds they inhabit on screen — which, again, if the story is well told — that gives you something you can’t get anywhere else. Fiction may warm me but film reminds me, and all of us, I think, that we’re not never alone in our loneliness. And it does this in a more direct, and more immediately observable way, than books can. You can turn away from text, or avoid it. It’s less easy to turn away from even recorded images of human beings, with humanity shining through their eyes.

The benefit to the sick is similar. Loneliness is temporarily assuaged, time passes, pain can be momentarily forgotten. All this together — and the same can be said of books — can also help contribute to a belief that the problem of the illness will eventually resolve. At the very least, some temporary relief can be easily won.

5. Move — a little.

For me, this mostly took the form of short walks down the main drag in my neighborhood. If and when it’s possible, even when you’re sick, it helps to get fresh air. Sometimes, it can’t be done. I wasn’t contagious and a few open windows weren’t cutting it for me, so on most days (but not all) I rested up for a few hours after sleeping a long sleep — and then ambled to the pharmacy or a bodega for supplies.

This helped the loneliness, too. Just fifteen minutes outside, after a day (or days) of riding the couch — it can also (obviously) provide a reminder that you’re not alone, even in your illness. Further, especially in a crowded, punishing city like New York — you also may see people whose current or long-term plight is much worse than yours. Unfortunately true, but this is also an opportunity to take hold of a little gratefulness and/or exercise a little humility.

6. Ask for help.

Ugh. I know. Right?!

I’m not great at it. Getting better. And I have been lucky (more gratefulness on the way).

My wife took over some of my household responsibilities while I was laid up. Sometimes, as I would have had to do with anyone else, I had to ask for this help. No one knows what you can or can’t handle, for the most part, unless you tell them.

Sometimes, our nearest and dearest know us better than we know ourselves — and we don’t have to ask. Still, I’ve found it helpful not to make too many assumptions in regards to this point. This is particularly true when it comes to work.

For the most part, even for those of us whose jobs technically overlap with others in terms of responsibilities — we all specialize in some way. If not, we at least still own responsibilities that are ours only, in terms of workload. Work life, as it should be, is more officious (duh) than home life, at least in such terms. It can be easy to convince ourselves to push through with work while ill because the process of explaining how to do what we do, exactly how we do it, seems daunting.

This is understandable. But temporarily letting go of responsibility can also be treated as an experiment in trust and in leadership. These are two aspects of life where daunting is often the word of the day, but which also can deliver rich rewards to those willing to confront fear and hesitation.

Sometimes asking for help means that someone else has to cover for you — and that you, in turn, need to cover for them, now (in terms of communication and guidance) and/or in the future (in terms of fairness). This all takes a little bit of acceptance and some patience. I’ve found that it can help to have a plan, as well.

Anyone can take the time, when they are healthy, to summarize (on paper or through conversation) the basic and/or most important day-to-day responsibilities that they own — especially when it comes to actionable tasks. Not only does this leave you with a manual to help people help you, it can also serve as an informal self-assessment for judging your own efficiency, and/or finding areas of responsibility that can be streamlined, and/or work flows that can be updated.

7. Talk to people.

This is another hard one for me, because, basically, it’s another form of asking for help. More than a couple of days in bed will leave anyone feeling lonely and miserable. So, sometimes, we need cheering up. Again, I’m lucky to have a spouse I can talk to, and who continually asks me to talk to her (ugh). Still, it helped when people checked in. And even though I sometimes didn’t feel like talking — or reaching out — I did. A little. I know I can still be better about this.

No one gets worse by communicating. Even brief, random discussions with neighbors, on my short walks, made a difference to me. When we feel we are at our worst, sometimes it takes the reflection of another’s impression of us to realize that it’s not as bad as all that.

8. Look on the bright side.

I know.

But there always is one. For me, this time…

I had been trying all month to rest. Even before I got sick. I was doing an only-okay job of it. Now I’m being forced to rest, and, honestly, despite all of the above — it hasn’t been that bad.

Drugs help!

But, seriously.

I’m not saying my body hit the shut down button just because my brain wasn’t playing ball. It’s a possibility, but it doesn’t matter. I’m sick and it sucks. But I also got to read some books and watch some movies that I probably would have found a reason not to watch under “normal” circumstances. And part (or most) of what’s ailing me has been a sore and swollen throat. Enter excuse for copious amounts of sorbet and ice cream.

Yes, I have gotten a little fat. But I’ll handle that.

This time off my feet has also allowed me to do some healthy thinking. It’s always a pleasant surprise, and an interesting development, to find myself sick of body and then, suddenly, simultaneously, mentally thriving. It’s almost as if my brain relents in terms of self-flagellation, temporarily, out of respect for some amorphously defined threshold of pain and uneasiness that it feels it should back away from when my body is picking up more of the slack.

The thoughts slow down and they get less dark. This is more of a recent development, now that I think of it. Sickness used to make me very angry. But I question most of my initial impulses towards anger, most days, now.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere. Right?!

Moving on…

9. Complain.

Yes. Do it.

I’m telling you. Let it all out.

You have a right. Don’t go crazy. Don’t assume you also have a right to be public and unrelenting about it — but complain.

Someone will listen to you. You may exhaust them. This is understandable. Move on to someone else, if you aren’t done. Someday, very soon, someone will complain to you. Maybe as soon as tomorrow. Maybe its me, right now.

Oh, but don’t listen too much to other complainers if you’re still sick. Wait until you’re better.

And one last, important note. Don’t listen to people who complain about complainers.

You know who I’m talking about. That one or two (or more) folks who troll Facebook or other social media channels griping about how annoyed they are at other people who are simple expressing their emotions.

Can it get to be too much? Yes. Anything can. Everything within moderation. There are lines.

But, sometimes, if you’re sick, or if something shitty happened, or if your life sucks…it can feel good to just cast your despair into the world. No one has to do anything about it who doesn’t feel so compelled. Contrarily, they can also tell you to shut up — and then it’s up to you to decide if this is okay or not.

All of it, though, is better than bottling up that despair. Despair is real and it’s tangible and it’s got to eat somehow. Don’t let it eat you. Send it out in small doses to your friends!

For real. We’re hard-wired to sympathize, even if these days we need to click a link to some inspiring video to be reminded of the fact. Getting the complaints out starts killing them before they even reach your friends. Despair doesn’t fare well in the air.

So, there. Claire.

10. Adapt.

This final step is more of a catch-all of all the others.

Rest isn’t doing nothing. It’s doing something non-stressful, something other than working. And I say that using a loose definition of the word “work” — because even thinking can be a lot of work. In fact, as I hinted above, it often is.

Taking time to rest requires us to do something that has become dangerously taboo in contemporary America, and that is to acknowledge our humanity. Our frailty.

We’re surrounded and infected by so many rules. Some of us, people like me, even have some rules — some unhelpful and corrosive rules that make no actual sense and only cause more damage — twisted into our DNA.

But the thing is, as we all know very well — life does not follow rules. Sometimes we get sick. Sometimes, people die. At other moments, everything in the world appears to come to us easily, and it feels like we’re riding a wild unicorn on a beam of white light (or some other metaphor).

The point is that we can never know exactly what to do, and how, or when. We can only listen to our bodies and our minds and our hearts, and do our best.

In between, we rest.

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Temporary Blindness

photo of man walking alone down sidewalk

I took this photo just a few days before things went momentarily dark. That must be why he’s out of focus.

I’m not even sure where to start. I went half-blind last week. I don’t mean that I went blind in one eye — although that happened (twice). I mean I mostly lost my ability to see for several hours-long stretches at a time, once for about a day and a half total.

It was hard. I was alone for much of the worst of it, while my wife was away on a business trip. It was frightening, even after I figured out that, if I kept my eyes completely closed, and tried to relax and let the pain take over for a while, I would be “rewarded” with the ability to open them back up and see well enough for a literal second while I felt my way around. It was especially frightening, though, when I had to go out and walk my dog. I can’t imagine how the truly visually-impaired do it.

The first walk in this state was tough. I took almost twice as much time as normal to get through it, taking my time and spacing out my intervals of rest to get the most out of the brief moments of sightedness. Still, I worried for myself and for my dog at points because it truly was very difficult to know if or when a car or a bike was crossing our path.

But you know what? I figured it out. I braved through it. And then I adapted.

The next time I had to take the dog out, I realized I could just choose a direction, left of right, and repeat it block by block. If I ended up walking in circles (something I usually loathe), so be it. A little bit of circling, to ease the fear and probability of injury, isn’t actually that bad at all. In fact, it’s preferable.

I got sick about a week and a half ago and I didn’t do a good enough job of resting. I took a few days off but should have taken a few more. Then there was a work obligation I couldn’t put off. Then I got carried away trying to force myself to complete some of my own work with Multiverse because I was in denial of the fact that I was quickly getting worse, instead of better.

Well, I write this now having been humbled. Illness will do that to you. You’d think I would have learned this lesson by now.

In the end, what started as a mildly sore throat turned into a violent cold that knocked me onto my ass and then spread first to one eye and then the other. That’s where the temporary blindness came from, a bad case of double pink-eye that left my vision blurry at best, and pretty much absent at worst.

Strangely, in retrospect of course, I’m fine with what happened. I have learned, a bit, over the years. I would never have been able to accept something like temporary blindness before now. It would have put me into a rage.

Keeping calm was almost as hard as dealing with being sick. At many points, I felt compelled to fight the facts of what was happening to me. I couldn’t possibly be actually blind. And in truth I wasn’t. I had the benefit of those stretches of sightedness that the actually-blind don’t get. This even made me feel guilty, occasionally, because I didn’t feel it was right for me to say that I couldn’t see. But I had to push back against the guilt, too, especially for that bad stretch, because I really couldn’t keep my eyes open.

And it didn’t matter. My anger, my fear, my guilt — none of it could or would change the fact that I was dealing with a natural course of events that was going to work out in time. The only power I could have exerted would have been negatively charged. I could have only made things worse for myself.

Even sleep was difficult, for most of last week. I spent the majority of my days and nights wiping my eyes, blowing my nose, washing my face and hands.

I took refuge in audio. I listened to podcasts in the dark. I listened to music. When I started to get better, I watched a little TV through one open eye, because reading and writing was too difficult and I could deal with the blurriness and just close my eyes and listen when it got to be too much.

In short, I made the best of a bad situation that could have been worse and which I knew with reasonable certainty would eventually resolve itself — especially if I didn’t fight.

So why am I sharing all this? Partially, out of compulsion. It was still a difficult experience, and it feels good to write about it. But I also wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the advantages of approaching the ordeal (mostly) in terms of its own reality rather than through the prism of my impossibly idealized default mindset.

My default mode is set to fight. That shouldn’t be a surprise to regular readers. My “instinctual” reaction is to try to actively fight a viral infection that I can’t do anything about, past following doctor’s orders and letting my body do the real work of getting things back to zero.

I don’t know how alone I am in this default. I feel as if many of us try to barrel through difficulty, rather than temporarily alter course until the difficulty has passed.

Sometimes, it can be an advantage to fight, to barrel through. I won’t deny these responses and won’t completely forsake the benefits of knowing they can be leaned on — both abilities have served me too well in the past to do that.

At the same time, though, I’m here to suggest that perhaps there’s much more merit, sometimes, in relegating fight and bull-headed perseverance to the background. I’m starting to believe that their benefits only exist in the realm of rare use.

Ours has become in many ways a cutthroat culture of survival of the fittest, in terms of attitude if not in truth. Bold individualism reigns. We must always push forward, in order to not only keep up but to better our chances for success — whatever that may mean.

But what if we’ve come to a point where this compulsion towards pushing has outlasted its usefulness? Where do we end up, if we push forward for the sake of it, without taking the time to survey the terrain and choose a direction — if we don’t take the time when we need it to rest and recharge and to recall the reasons for pushing in the first place? Quite apart from my personal experience, I think there’s plenty of evidence out there of how and especially where this sort of approach to life has long been failing us as a society and as individual people.

How fit are we “survivors”, really? Physically, on average, not very, if we’re talking about Americans. Mentally and spiritually — again I have to say that evidence proves we’re deficient. Even the healthiness we do have, I’d argue that much of it is performed or engineered more than it is actually felt and lived.

I don’t want to do it anymore. I guess that’s where all of the above was leading. I’m working to switch out my default. I’m not going to say that we and I don’t still have plenty of fights on our hands, as we work to build a better future. I’m not going to say we don’t and won’t have to continue barreling through, when things get difficult, when we find ourselves weakened or momentarily defeated. But if and when we are temporarily blinded, it helps nothing to defy the darkness. We really can only feel our way through it, can only listen and wait, so that we’re ready to do as much as we can when sight returns.

I’ve been thrown off for much of this month, so far, for obvious reasons. But I’m back now. I’m feeling good. I’m charged by regained healthiness, and refocused by the gracious perspective afforded by a comparatively tame — if still difficult to me — experience of powerlessness.

So, again, I remind myself — and you, if you’ll allow it — to fight smart. Play the long game. Let’s take care of ourselves. Let’s pause, at those moments when we know in our hearts that a time for pausing has arrived.

I think, if we get better at this, more good things will follow. Perhaps we’ll suddenly look around and realize that we aren’t alone, that we’re surrounded by other bewildered soldiers who have also taken a moment to pause, to try to make some sense of this crazy world.

Thanks for reading, and I wish you well.

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What I Liked This Week: 3/30/13

Hello, Furyans — not to be confused with Furrians, which is very different thing. Hello also to any Furyan Furrians — The Furious Romantic Returns is an all-inclusive place.

Apologies for not slapping you with a longer post earlier this week. The Furious Romantic was furiously sick. That sort of Please God Make It Stop kind of sick. You catch my imagery? Put that imagery down! What’s wrong with you?! OMG wash your hands.

A word before we move on to WILTW.

There may be some changes around here, in terms of how these type of posts are populated. In short, I am limiting my time spent: reading the news, scouring the internet for signs of life and death (including Twitter and Facebook), emailing. I am making a concerted effort to free my mind from anxieties that are originating from someplace else. Partially this is because THERE IS ALREADY ENOUGH ANXIETY IN MY MIND. Also, I have a lot of work to do. And a lot of thinking to do, if Sophia The Great is going to live up to her name. Wish me luck. I will report in on my progress down the line, if people are interested. As an aside, I’m also cutting my coffee intake down from 5-6 cups a day to 1 cup on weekdays and 2 cups on weekends. This step alone has left me MUCH less anxious and much more productive.

What all this means for WILTW is that I may be bringing fewer links and more testimony to our weekly discussions and judgements. I think this may end up better for everyone. I will get to report in on Likes and/or Dislikes that are of a slightly more active nature, which seems to me a healthier and more useful thing.

And so, on to it. A few of these items are holdovers from The Days When We Still Read The News*.

  • The Trader Joe’s Lesson: How to Pay a Living Wage and Still Make Money in Retail, from Sophie Quinton at The Atlantic. I think we all know why I liked this.
  • Dick Van Dyke on WTF with Marc Maron. Just a delightful interview.
  • Slacker. Richard Linklater’s classic indie from 1991. Linklater is one of my favorite filmmakers, and Slacker is one of the titles I wrote down on my re-watch list as I begin thinking about how to shoot Sophia The Great. I think I liked it better when I watched it this week than I did several years ago when I watched for the first time. As many have pointed out over the years, sitting through Slacker, ironically, takes some work at points. But, overall, it’s such an original and challenging and engaging piece of art. As I hinted in a tweet after I watched, I came out of this recent viewing disappointed in current indies. That’s not a grumpy old man statement. It’s an honest assessment. There are many fine films being made these days. Fine films. Films that are fine. Good. Nice. Beautiful. But no one’s really arguing about them. I feel like if I gathered five or so friends in my living room and watched Slacker again — there would be a few arguments. A few legitimate discussions, at the very least. This used to be why we made independent films. Groundbreaking/thought-provoking films still pop up now and then, but I don’t know that they pop up often enough. I don’t know that the right ones are yet sparking the right dialogue. About our generation — all of it.
  • Strange moments of sudden inspiration. I was writhing (writhing, not writing) on the couch earlier this week, clutching my stomach and trying to keep my mind right despite the pain and some serious dehydration and some unpleasant flashbacks — when I was struck with an idea. The specific experience I was going through, strangely, sparked a sudden, clear thought, which led to an image, which became a sequence, which became a scene. The scene itself is only tangentially related to what I was going through at that moment, but it was built of genuine emotion from the moment, and I had to write it down. So I did. The scene wasn’t even for Sophia. It was for something that’s been living in the back of my brain for a while, that I’d like to take a shot at sometime in the near future, so I had to run with it. I liked this experience. I took a perverse joy in it. It made me feel powerful, for a few moments, at a time when I was feeling extremely powerless.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is why we do it. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! Too much news and coffee, probably.

Right?

Hah. Have a good week.