Over the last two months, when I've had to turn down invitations because I'm still sick, at a certain point, I've become convinced that no one is really buying it. This is in part because, before this, I wouldn't have believed that a healthy adult could be sick for this long, but it's also because my friends usually respond by saying, "STILL?"
And yeah. Still. :\
But because being perceived as dramatic is one of my life's greatest fears, there have been times throughout this illness in which I've ended up pushing myself too hard. I've been showing up when I probably shouldn't be showing up. I've been putting on lots of makeup, taking a bunch of pain meds, sweating through my clothes, laughing, and covertly coughing into my elbow and hoping no one says anything about how gross it sounds.
During one such occasion, a well-meaning friend kindly asked, "How are you feeling?" It was an innocent question with an obvious, socially acceptable, and wildly untrue answer -- "fine." But for some reason, I found myself not capable of answering this way. Suddenly and without warning, all of my avoidance and inability to accept my own weakness became a lump in my throat that pushed hot, unwanted tears to my eyes, and the only response I could muster up was: "BAD!"
And I should note that I actually bleated this word awkwardly like some sort of inconsolable baby goat: "BAA--AA--A--A--D!"
This is the moment I realized that what I was doing -- hiding how much my body was hurting and pretending like I was on the up-and-up when I was really on the crap-and-more-crap -- wasn't helping anyone. It wasn't helping me and it wasn't helping my friends who, by the way, honestly would have loved to have been supporting me and weren't able to because I was being a prideful jackass.
So that said, instead of being a prideful jackass, I'm going to be an inconsolable baby goat and tell you, sweet reader, the truth: I haven't been writing on this blog (or anywhere, for that matter) because I have been a little bit of a mess.
And not the fun kind of mess that has juicy stories and gossip and a fun catch phrase like, "I didn't come here to make friends!" I've been the kind of mess that watches hours and hours of House Hunters International and does literally nothing else. I've been the kind of mess who sleeps all day long and who cries periodically in frustration and who can't walk to the subway without needing to take a break.
I'm not saying any of this because I want your sympathy (really, please, pity gives me hives). But I'm sharing this experience because it's real, and if I pride myself on anything, it's crafting a corner of the Internet that's more true than it is false.
But here's some good news: I'M FEELING BETTER. Seriously, no bit zone, I am feeling so-ho-ho-ho much better. Otherwise, I would not have been able to construct all of these complex sentences here. Promise.
And now that I truly am on the up-and-up, I've been wondering what it is I'm supposed to learn from all of this. What teachable moments have come out of this bleak, dumb bout of sickness? Here's what I've come up with:
Life Lesson #1: Sometimes you just can't.
I actually wrote a blog post about this idea whenever I was in the flu-stage of being sick. At that time, I was already completely OVER IT (little did I know what was ahead of me), so I wrote a post titled "Sometimes You Just Can't." However, if I'm truly evaluating my state of mind at the time, what I really meant was, "Sometimes You Just Can't...For, Like, A Week. Two Tops. But Then You Really Need To Get Your Shit Together."
When I didn't get better after writing that post (and in fact, got much worse), I felt like an absolute failure. To be sure, the entire time I was sick, I felt like a failure. Every time I couldn't write or walk to get my meds or go to a friend's birthday dinner, I felt like I was letting everyone down, my thinking being SURELY, it is unforgivable to be out of commission for this long.
As a culture, we prize productivity. It is the mark of a successful, contributing member of society. But look, man: sometimes you aren't a successful, contributing member of society. Because sometimes you just can't. You really can't. Not just for a day, but sometimes you can't for weeks or months or years at a time.
Life is a puzzling mystery full of unexpected weirdness. And that said, there's no sense in flogging yourself when things get crazy. It is what it is.
Life Lesson #2: Perspective is great and all, but so is complaining.
Again, to keep myself in check, I've been reminding myself that it could be so much worse. And that's all well and good, but if I'm really thinking about what actually made me feel better throughout this whole process, it was when I decided to finally start complaining. If that's self-serving, so be it, but honestly, it felt good to know that someone else (usually my husband) was aware that I was in pain. I felt less alone and more like myself.
It's a lesson I keep learning again and again and again in life: share what hurts. Emotional hurt, physical hurt, spiritual hurt -- find someone with whom you can swap war stories. Do your relationships a service by admitting when things suck. Any good friend will tell you that it is a privilege, not a burden, to help you.
Life Lesson #3: If you place your value in what you "do," disappointment is inevitable.
Honestly, you may be reading this, thinking, "What's the big deal? You were sick. Sick people need rest. So what?" And you, my very frank friend, are 100% right.
But here's a personal confession that you likely have already figured out about me: my self worth, rightly or wrongly, is often rooted in my ability to create. Thus, when I lose that ability, it's not just a loss of health, but it's a loss of SELF. (THIS IS SOME EXISTENTIAL REALNESS RIGHT HERE!)
So a reminder, friends: when you base your value as a person on what you can personally do, you set yourself up for disappointment. Again, life is a random, complicated mess, and our abilities -- even the ones we work absurdly hard to cultivate -- sometimes fail us.
Look, I preach creativity and confidence on this blog, and I'm going to continue to do that, but here's something I probably don't stress enough: your creativity has limits. Your confidence, too.
Yes, I want the people I reach on this blog to be inspired to love who they are and to make amazing things happen in this world. But even those amazing things do not define your self worth. They can't. Because your abilities have limitations. They can be taken from you in the blink of an eye -- by pneumonia or by some other far more serious illness or by a terribly mean tweet from a stranger or by the passing of time.
So whatever you base your hope in, make sure it is bigger than yourself. Make sure it is bigger than your health, your relationships, your hard-earned acclaim.
We don't like to talk about it, but those things can go away. But that doesn't diminish your value. Not for a second.
AAAAAAAANYWAY, I'm back. I'm better than ever (JKJKJK I'm still a bit of a mess, but I'm hanging in there) and I've got some exciting stuff cooking that I can't wait to share with you. Thanks to everyone who has been so thoughtful to me over the last couple of months. You mean more to me than you know.
Have you been learning any major life lessons lately? Teach me!
Leave it in the comments below.