Getting Sick And Noticing It

I haven’t gotten sick much lately. Not in the ways that I’m used to thinking of it as ‘getting sick.’ I know for a lot of people ‘getting sick’ can include things like hitting mental health limits, gender concerns, long-term conditions worsening, or just, y’know, suddenly your ears stop working the way you thought they did for literally no determined reason. What I mean though, isn’t that stuff, not because I have had those happen, but because what I meant by ‘getting sick’ is colds, flu, minor infections, things you pick up on the bus, and those other things, things like depression or being emotionally overwhelmed to the point where you’re vomiting or can’t get out of bed, those aren’t the kind of thing I think of as ‘getting sick.’

 And that’s screwed up, huh?

Content Warning: Pandemic! Illness! Religious abuse!

This all started as a piece about how I wanted to recommend people keep masking and maintaining a way of life that incorporates ideas from the Pandemic for our general betterment. I wear a cloth mask – not a proper p90 – when I go on any public transport or any public location, and have done so for the past three years. I wash my hands before handling food, I wash my hands after coming home from going out, and I avoid crowded internal spaces. When dealing with my students, I try to make sure I give them space, and wear my mask inside the classroom. Now you might notice some of those things – like washing hands – are just, y’know, good? Healthy habits? That I’m now more mindful of as a grown and boring adult?

And that’s good, and I really do recommend you do that kind of thing. If you can bear the difficulty of wearing your mask and just reducing the general vectors for transmission in common areas, you’re making spaces more accessible for people who can’t risk contracting COVID. You know, you’re making spaces safer for old people and people with disabilities, and people with disabilities have never done me wrong in the past.

There’s your general advice: inconvenience yourself a tiny bit, to the same level of extent as might, you know, make managing keeping your headphones from being tangled, and you make spaces a tiny bit safer for people who you will never necessarily meet or get positive input from, and that’s not why you do these things.

But okay, enough of that, what about my broken meat brain.

Hey, you know how we have national healthcare in Australia? Like, the ability to just go to a doctor thanks to the Medicare service and say ‘here’s my Medicare card,’ and they take care of the costs of things, and if I go to the pharmacy and I can’t afford meds because I’m disabled or unemployed I can show my Medicare card and get a cost reduction on those meds? This is a super cool system. It’s something that is kind of background radiation for people.

I had no idea it existed until I was a late teenager.

I mean it wasn’t like I wasn’t on the system. My mother and father didn’t keep me out of Medicare rolls or anything. I went to the doctor growing up and it was just a thing I didn’t understand. Chicken pox, a very normal early Millenial experience that’s quietly died out (unless the antivaxxers get their way) came and went for me, without a doctor visit I remember. When I almost lost my hand in an escalator, I went to see a doctor who just checked to see that you know, the bones were all in the right spot. I was engaged with the idea of doctors.

But I didn’t know Medicare existed.

I didn’t realise it until well, well after but I was kinda surrounded by a bunch of alt-med weirdoes. It’s a thing that these days I see people associate with ‘lefty’ stuff but my entire life, I’ve been dealing with right-wingers who think that doctors are a conspiracy to drain your precious essential fluids. Particularly, the cult had a pastor who was, amongst other things, running a Multi-Level Marketing scam, which, let me tell you, that’s one reason to start a church. At the time, the stuff promised its healing and curative properties – it still exists, the scam still trundling on – though now it’s much more careful about being about ‘supplementing’ and ‘restoring’ rather than actually, like, curing or fixing or anything.

Not how it was sold, of course.

Sickness was a thing that happened to you; you got it somehow, and therefore there was a cause you could attack. You have headaches? You need to drink more orange juice! You have asthma? Well you need horseradish! You have a fever? You need to stop getting angry! And there was always a superior certainty to it. It presented getting sick as a sort of moral failure, because you should have anticipated it and been prepared. Are you praying enough? Have you prayed about it? Maybe there’s some other thing you could do to anticipate this. Maybe you could show your dedication to your faith.

Possibly with supplements.

And the thing that follows on from this, that’s still nagging away in my brain, something I’m still fighting  and trying to address, is that part of me thinks of all sickness as a punishment from something outside me. I was able to kill off the god in my brain, the divine punishment elements, but all I did was transfer that onwards to generalised anxiety: It’s not that god’s judging me for my moral failure, but I should have anticipated things ahead of time and been better at being when I am reminded the ways my body is not working perfectly any more. Whether it’s a sore foot or a difficulty sleeping or just overwhelming, depressing sadness that clutches at my chest when I open an important document and feel like I’m not good enough to write this, I find myself flowing into that same mental pattern. Illness isn’t a thing that happens, illness is a byproduct of moral impropriety and y’know, y’know? I probably deserve this. Even though I’m not really getting sick these days – and then there’s the followup thought that aren’t I? Isn’t this tiredness and sadness a kind of sickness that deserves addressing!?

One final thing, remember that note of ‘oranges cure headaches?’ Yeah, turns out my mother was allergic to oranges. They gave her migraines.