Thursday, December 16, 2010

In sickness...

For the last several days I have been dealing with a terrible cold.  I grew up in a combined Christian Science/Methodist home where illness was regarded as being mostly or all in your mind and a sign of weakness. The school regarded illness with great suspicion and tried to insure that no one missed school without a valid written excuse signed by a parent or doctor.  As an adult I often think people are malingering when they say they are ill (“the old ‘I have whooping cough’ excuse”) and I always think that I should be able to maintain my schedule just by force of willpower. I feel embarrassed when I get sick.  “I caught a cold” sounds in my mind like, “I am a failure and have no will power.”  In other words, I am not good at being ill.  I ignore all the signs that I am getting ill, I do my best to keep doing my work even when I am ill, and I certainly don’t tell people I am ill unless I have to. 

Why is that?  I can blame it on my childhood (and do, to some extent), but I also know that I have sometimes said I was ill to get out of an engagement or to avoid a deadline, and I know that I have suspected others of doing the same.   I try not to tell an outright lie, but say something like this:  “Hi, Person I Don’t Actually Care About, this is Kim.  I am sorry to cancel our lunch date but I think I might be coming down with something.”  ‘Think’, ‘might’ and ‘something’ mean that if, God forbid, I run into this person the next day I can say, “Whatever it was, I think it passed, thank goodness.”  When people call me to say they can’t meet a deadline or can’t come to a meeting because they are ill, my first instinct is not always sympathy. 

Mostly I am guilty of pushing myself even when I was ill.  Many years ago I managed to go from bronchitis to pneumonia by refusing to cancel anything.  Then I was sick for weeks instead of just days.  I told a friend that I had been punished by getting pneumonia.  “No” she rightly observed.  “Pneumonia was a warning that you need to take better care of yourself.” 

This week I have had to admit to having a cold.  I lost my voice, so could not conduct a training that had been scheduled for months.  I was too exhausted to finish a project I had promised, and I kept myself and my partner awake a good part of several nights coughing.

In a commons based society, we would still get colds.  Colds cannot really be blamed on capitalism.  But if I were to model the way a person living in a commons based society would relate to illness, I would live my life differently, as follows:
  1. I would not overschedule
  2. I would get plenty of sleep
  3. When I got sick, I would tell people right away, and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be sick
  4. I would never say I was sick when I was not
  5. I would never suspect people of not being sick when they say they were
  6. I would encourage people to take time off, by setting an example
Since this is the end of the year, these five things sound like good New Year’s Resolutions. 


Curtis W. said...

I just might have to consider these New Year’s resolutions myself. Although, I'm sorry you were given the impression that Christian Science regards illness as being all in your mind and a sign of weakness. This is not true to Christian Science. While Christian Science does provide a spiritual basis for strengthening our lives and overcoming illness, its proper practice is utterly compassionate and practical. The work of Christian Science nurses is one example of how the sick have available to them the fullest care. When my children are sick, the message I give them is how we’re in a position to overcome sickness. And thanks to Christian Science, we do overcome sickness quickly. I should also add that this is something we all deserve. Here’s to a healthy New Year!

Kim Klein said...

Dear Curtis--
You are exactly right about Christian Science: I should have been clearer that the weakness part is more from my Methodist roots. And of course all religious traditions are influenced by the people transmitting them!
Happy New Year to you and yours!
Kim Klein