There’s Being Sick & There’s Being Sick

an admittedly photoshopped image of a flu virus

The last week included me completely debilitated, fully wiped out, and absolutely incapacitated by the flu. (Thus, the lack of new topics here on DF.) Still, that didn’t stop me from thinking about a sort of ‘pattern’ in my life.

In a nutshell, I suck at taking care of my physical self. I have a developed an entire lifestyle of many bad habits and almost no good habits. I sit for upwards of fourteen hours each day. I don’t eat much, and I would be lying to say I eat vegetables. I do things I’m not supposed to do: drink coffee, drink alcohol, smoke. I don’t do the things I am supposed to do: aside from living in a city that requires a decent amount of walking, I do almost nothing that can be called “exercise.” I don’t get the right amount of sleep, and I don’t keep regular hours of sleep. Sometimes I feel that the energy I put into my mental and intellectual health is all the energy I have for self-maintenance. Other times I feel like I just haven’t acknowledged that I’m not twenty anymore. (Honestly, though, I’ve regressed. I got more exercise when I was twenty.) Anyone feel me on this? Or am I just making excuses for my deplorably unhealthy way of life?

My failure to take care of my body goes further, of course, when I get sick. I devolve into the least rational version of myself. First, a lightweight version of my invincibility delusion kicks in and I refuse to notice being sick. I wrote twenty-two pages of a book I’m working on with a 101+ fever (the fever rose as I wrote) in one night. When the whole ‘I’m sick’ thing becomes undeniable, a lightweight version of my paranoia kicks in and I know that this is my last day on Earth, that I’ve been infected by intelligent and conspiring forces. Of course, neither of these delusions probably have anything to do with my mental illness; they are both probably the result of my very physical illness taking shape as a fever-induced delirium. All the while, I’m still drinking coffee, still up at 4AM working.

I got to thinking (my time-wasting, reality-denying activity of choice). If I’m not mistaken, being able to take care of one’s physical self is a pretty low-lying criterion for ‘functioning,’ right? And reflecting on my daily unhealthy behaviors and the continuation of those behaviors while extremely ill (only keeping me sick for longer), I started wondering if my professional output is just my way of masking how little I’ve figured out about how to take care of myself, physically and mentally. (Honestly, if I weren’t married, I might have let the flu kill me.) At the same time, I thought about the fact that some of my bad habits are often considered par-for-the-course in mental health patients. Then I wondered how OK I am with being par-for-the-course.

So, let’s talk about the physical body and mental illness. Our doctors have told each of us what we need to do to help keep our chemicals in check. How good are you at doing those things? What do you do? Are you an insatiable runner, a yoga enthusiast, or a desk jockey like me? Do you eat right? Do you drink? If you take care of the rest of your body, do you feel it helps your mental health? Is it enjoyable or a chore, just another part of treatment? If you don’t, do you think it impacts your mental health?

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4 comments
  1. Meredith said:

    Personally, I prefer thinking over bodily issues/activities. I used to be a jock. Then I had children. I was doing yoga and continued as much as I could. Then I stopped. Don’t know why. I have been exercising 3-5 times a week for the last 4 weeks. That’s the most in a long time. I just do it without thinking so much anymore. I like that I’m doing it, that I’m kicking the habit of not doing it. I like feeling strong. I like how my shoulders don’t hurt as much when I’m on the computer. I still have issues with food, but when I eat, I eat well. And I typically eat 3 times a day with a snack or two (often of m&ms or smarties or something). I don’t drink or smoke. I stopped drinking 15 years ago. So for me, it’s doing the exercise. The food will come another time. At least I’m eating.

  2. erinire said:

    Wow, backwards E, I think you and I are the same person. Smoke? check. Drink? Check. And not for escapism – I hate being drunk – but just because it’s What I Want To Do. I’m really all about What I Want To Do, and unfortunately What I Want To Do rarely teams up with What I Should Do. I got really into hot yoga for awhile, felt good about that, but then I skipped a week and never went back.

    They tell me if I go to the gym I’ll feel better about myself. They tell me I’ll be less tired if I set my sleep patterns. But the later it gets, the more ideas I have, and just driving past the Planet Fitness gives me tremors. It’s like, somehow my internal instinct for self-preservation got totally switched off, and something else took over. I agree – all my energy goes into keeping myself mentally above board. There’s nothing leftover for the physical.

    • said:

      Holy crap. Definitely the same person. Although, admittedly, it’s less about What I Want To Do for me…it’s more about the childish defiance of Don’t Tell Me What To Do (sometimes followed in my head with “You’re not the boss of me”).

      • Meredith said:

        nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah

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