When I was a little boy, I used to love getting sick. There was nothing more exciting to me than the first pangs of a sore throat. I’d feel a rush of anticipation when my forehead got slightly hot, and if I ever got to the point where I needed to throw up, I might as well have won the lottery. Being sick was my golden ticket. It was an escape from the world. It was like a snow day that only I got to experience. It relieved me from any and all responsibility. I didn’t need to go to school, I didn’t need to do anything. For one day (two if I was lucky), everything revolved around me. I got whatever I wanted- sprite, chicken noodle soup, fruit roll ups. I got to stay home from school and play video games all day long. It was heaven. But better than all of it was that magical combination of attention and sympathy. That was my cure-all.
As I got older, like all things, being sick began to lose its appeal. In high school, missing school actually mattered, and I was at risk of failing if I missed too many days. I made sure to miss exactly six days each semester- no more, no less. I didn’t want to get in any trouble, but I also didn’t want to actually be present and attend class. When I got to college, it was pretty much the same. I missed as much class as I possibly could without being penalized for it- in some cases, though, I was penalized for it. Being a drama major meant that most of my classes were primarily about participation, i.e., showing up. It didn’t fly too well with many of my teachers that I’d miss class without an advance warning, or even sometimes without an explanation at all.
There was no need anymore to even fake being sick, since I had no one to answer to but myself. No one was there to verify my symptoms. No one was there to feed me chicken noodle soup and fruit roll ups. Being sick stopped being so much fun. I also started to get sick in different ways. I wasn’t so much throwing up because I had a stomach bug, as I was because I had been drinking massive amounts of alcohol and was hung over. I began to associate being sick with drinking. It felt like I wasn’t in control of my body, and it scared me.
After I got sober, surprisingly I stopped throwing up pretty much entirely. It turns out that throwing up is rare when you don’t binge drink. Along with getting sober, I changed my diet and exercise drastically, and ended up becoming quite healthy. When I did feel under the weather, I took care of myself. I stayed away from sugar and anything that might make me feel worse, and I got better much quicker. I decided that I didn’t actually like being sick, or at least not when I was actually ill.
This past Christmas, I began to feel sick the day before I left for the break. By the time I’d arrived in Fresno to spend Christmas with my boyfriend, I had a very bad cold. I was annoyed that I’d gotten sick just in time for the holidays, and that my vacation would be marred by this feeling. I got through it all right, but it certainly put a damper on the festivities. My cough never quite went away, and ended up coming back a little stronger a few weeks later.
Then, last Wednesday, I came down hard. I thought I might have the flu, as I’d read dozens of articles online about people dying from the flu this year. I woke up in the middle of the night with chills, coughing and crying. “I don’t wanna die yet,” I said to myself in the mirror. Thankfully, I survived, my penchant for drama aside. But I was shaken by that feeling that I hadn’t felt since my drinking days, one that scared me. It was the feeling of being out of control of my own body. It is not a feeling that I want to return to.
Luckily, I live with my boyfriend, and he took care of me while I was sick. Unluckily, it was my birthday yesterday, which meant I was sick on my birthday. I’m grateful that the harshest symptoms had passed, but I still had the mental symptoms, as well as a cough. It was the one day of the year that truly was all about me, and I felt nothing. I felt like I could be anywhere, doing anything, with anyone, and I would feel similarly miserable.
I try to be of service to other people, and have a mindset of what I can do for others rather than for myself. But I’m not going to lie. Occasionally, I like to feel special. I like to feel like I’m important, and that people care about me. I like to feel like I’m worthy of attention and care. But the one day of the year that I could truly feel like that and get away with it, my body and mind were in a state where I was completely unable to appreciate it.
I could have given in to that feeling, and felt miserable and self-pitying. I certainly felt capable of that. But I knew that the truth was, I am cared for. I am incredibly lucky to have a boyfriend who loves me, a family that cares for me, and friends that I love. And even though right now I don’t feel any of those things, and I feel like shit, and I feel sick and miserable, I know that I am loved. And I know that soon I will feel better, and I will feel grateful that my boyfriend took care of me while I was sick, and that he made my birthday something special. I don’t like being sick anymore, because I don’t want to check out of my life anymore. I have a lot of things to be present for.