hat is me, that is my being. [It’s okay, I have a tendency to self-mocking melodrama at moments like this.] I can only hope it is a temporary matter. But it occurs to me, again, how disruptive sickness is, not just to ‘my body’ as if it were a machine badly oiled, that still works but is a little slower than usual, but to the entire context of my life. My head hurts and fuzzes out when I try to think clearly, a sincere problem when it comes to thesis-writing. My eyes water and sting and my nose tickles, and occasionally I sneeze loudly. These are not things that I want to share with a general public (nor, really, even with those nearest and dearest). It keeps me inside, sleeping late, not so much anti-social and just non-social. It makes me tired when I try to do the cleaning I’m perpetually behind on. And of course, it will not take long for the consequent slow-down in my work to become a serious issue… and thus do we see how the small troubles of tickling noses, sore throats and watering eyes take their place in the larger context of my life, and how and why it might be that sickness becomes not just a bodily state like any other, with space created within my life for it, but always a source of wrongness, a source of suffering. The flexible weave that creates the meaning that is my life is revealed to be less flexible in certain situations!
I recall a conversation with my supervisor, early on in my PhD, when I said something like this to her. And she had a small ‘aha!’ moment in which she said, “Yes, you know, being sick wouldn’t be nearly so traumatic if we knew that space would be made for it: that work wouldn’t simply build up, both at home and at work and at play. If we knew that we weren’t needing to get over it right now, because otherwise we’ll be behind for weeks or months… If we could just give ourselves space to ‘be sick’.”
This recalled for me a kids’ book I read as a pre-teen: it was either Juniper or Wise Child. In it there is a witch, who is the village healer. And one of the first lessons this witch teaches our heroine is that sometimes, when people are sick, it is because they need to be sick. They need to lie quiet in a room, alone for most of the day, and be taken care of. If this were, really, how sickness were thought of now, I can’t help but think it would be far less disruptive, far less a source of suffering. It would mean far less breakage of the tapestry of meaning that constitutes my world.
Which of course makes me wonder if they—the medical and educational bureaucracies—give sickleave for the common cold… which is never simply common, but always deeply specific to the context.
(Excuse the potentially monstrous levels of self-pity in this post… ;-))