I have had the flu for the last couple of weeks…technically I guess I still have it, but I’m starting to feel better. Anyway – last week was the worst of it, and at the beginning I thought I’d be fine. By the middle of the week I was walking around groaning like a poorly acted zombie from a bad movie. I find shuffling along and groaning like I’m about to die sometimes helps me feel better. I also like to declare loudly in a very whiny voice “I don’t FEEEEEEEL gooooood!!!”. If anyone is home, this sometimes earns me a sympathetic hug and someone else putting soup in the microwave for me. If no one is home, it usually earns me an indifferent look from the cats.
Since I’m sort of sick all of the time, when I get the kind of sick OTHER people also get, like the flu, I often feel euphoric for the first day or two or even three. In fact, almost nothing makes me happier than when I hurt myself in some sort of visible way. If I’m bleeding I’m ecstatic! One time I got stung by a jellyfish, and it left a welt on my wrist, and while my husband was frantically running around the beach trying to find someone who knew whether I was going to die, I was happily skipping along and showing everyone my wound. I was hurt and you could SEE it and people would believe me and KNOW how brave I am! I mean, everyone knows that jellyfish stings hurt a LOT. Hallelujah!!! sigh
Of course, I couldn’t go back in the water without freaking out, after that, but that is irrelevant. While the welt existed, I was in the best mood EVER. My husband was afraid the poison from the jellyfish sting was making me crazy. We did discover later that peeing on a jellyfish sting is not actually the recommended treatment. He discovered that, I mean. Poor guy – he must have spent hours that day, trying to fix my jellyfish sting, when all I wanted was to find more people to show it to. I wasn’t just NOT concerned about it – I was high with the power of the story of my heroic journey through jellyfish infested waters, and the evidence of my bravery.
So colds and the flu…at first, these are magical moments when I can exhibit my strength and resilience for ALL the world to see. Then, it just gets old, and I’m tired, and now I have the flu on TOP of already being so tired and achy from my other, less visible ailments, and then being sick really, really, really sucks. All the benefits of a shared reality and the rapport I have with the other people who get the flu are gone, and I’m just bored and tired and feel like shit and can’t do anything about it. All I can do then is hope I’m one of the ones that is so sick I get to go to the hospital – then people will REALLY understand how near I am to “the end”. That doesn’t happen, usually (it did once, actually, and it wasn’t nearly as much fun as I had hoped).
Unfortunately, for me, the flu and colds, etc, tend to last two or three times as long as it does for my hubby and offspring, because they are normal healthy people with immune systems that are protecting them instead of trying to digest their own spines. Then I get the less fun part of being sick, which is the abject misery of feeling sorry for myself but feeling like I’m not SUPPOSED to feel sorry for myself because everybody else gets the flu and is just FINE about it. Everybody else is, of course, my husband and child – because I never leave the house so I don’t really know if they are a good cross section of the flu-having population. Maybe they are just super human and everybody else becomes a slug-like jelly-creature when they get the flu, just like me.
Which brings me to my point. Being sick or injured in some way that is visible and relatable makes me feel good, which is bad and wrong…right? It makes me feel like I’m not pretending, like I’m not weak – like other people will actually believe me and KNOW that I’m doing the best I can. The sad part about that realization is that it means when I don’t have a visible wound or illness, I walk around feeling like a liar and a failure, even though I know my experience is real. I often feel like I have to somehow justify and explain my lack of ability to do this or that, because evidently it’s not good enough to just say “I can’t”, or “I don’t want to.” Plus, apparently I don’t trust anyone on the planet to actually believe me.
As much as I can know anything, I know that my husband and child not only believe me, but have a tremendous amount of compassion and even respect for my daily challenges. They are witness to how I behave when I feel well, and sometimes they know better than I do how bad I must be feeling, simply by how I am acting and what I am or am not doing. I used to think that this feeling like everyone thought I was making it up must mean that I actually AM a liar and am super adept at pretense. Turns out empirical data does not support this, and I am, in fact, a really terrible liar…which means I should be able to trust my own truth, right? I truly want to get to a place where I am comfortable with my own experience and don’t feel like, unless I am bleeding from my eyeballs, I must be faking it. I want to trust myself, and trust that my actions when I am feeling better reflect who I really am. I still have this underlying perception, though, that if no one else can see my pain and fatigue, it might not be real. I might be making it all up. I might be faking it, maybe I’m not REALLY this tired or in this much pain, maybe I’m just lazy and trying to get away with something…
I don’t even know what it is that makes me feel like such a fraud. Whatever it is, I wouldn’t mind a tattoo that proves something…to myself, if not everyone else, that I am actually, truly, doing the best I can. My kidlet likes to draw jellyfish. I have considered having her draw one that I can get tattooed on my wrist, to remind me of that glorious battle I once fought through jellyfish infested waters to rescue a baby panda in the middle of the ocean. OK, there was no baby panda, I was only in water that was about 4 feet deep, and the beach was very close at hand – but just let me have this, ok?! Let me flaunt my scars proudly, and tell the story of my great and glorious adventure. Some days it’s all I’ve got…well, that and the flu.