Happiness Is… Not Trembling With Fever. Warning: This Might Take a While
I thought it would never end, but it finally has. The fever finally broke on Thursday night or so. At least, the teeth rattling, body shaking, i-can’t-hold-the-bottle-of-pain-reliever-still-enough-to-tumble-a-few-pills-out-into-my-quaking-palm-type fever is gone. I’d never thought I would see the day when I would pull a muscle in my back from having such convulsive chills. My poor body was trying to do a Richard Simmons workout routine in one square inch of space while excreting every last drop of moisture onto my skin in an attempt to cool my burning body down for three days straight. I still woke up this morning and gasped aloud when i discovered I’d left an actual wet spot on the sheets from sweating all night. My pajamas were soaked. Apparently, I still have a little more heat left to dispense with. But the chills, the chills are gone. I can sleep the whole night without having to tuck my knees under my chin to make my teeth stop chattering. I can sleep in less than 5 layers of clothing. I can finally exclude “fleece hat” from my nightware repertoire. Hell, I can finally SLEEP through the night.
This illness really knocked me on my ass; and, being an opportunist at heart, I like to take time spent flat on my ass to do some reflecting. Something about this flu really slowed me down. Really, really slowed me down. My brain was in such a fog that I couldn’t, I physically couldn’t, worry about anything. And for a stress case like me, well, that’s nothing short of a miracle. I usually spend the time immediately after dinner until the moments right before I fall asleep at night to worry about everything from what I am going to wear the next day to whether or not we’re going to solve the world hunger crisis. My nights are not really my own. They are just blocks of time when every little issue in the world becomes comes flying into my head and disrupts the “power down for the night” routine. Instead of coming to a slow, steady halt, a la HAL singing “Daisy Bell”, my brain instead lights up like a Christmas tree and every memory, every concern, every worry, anxiety, unfinished thought, grocery list, and mnemonic device comes crashing into my head like a hoard of ants descending on a unfinished peanut butter sandwich. Poor CLH has gotten quite practiced at quelling my fears in a nearly alpha wave state of drowsiness. I usually find the need to talk about this kind of stuff just as he is falling asleep. Our conversations usually go like this:
Me: Did you lock the doors?
Me: Do you think the tree out there would likely fall into our bedroom or onto the neighbor’s house? You know, like during a wind storm.
Me: Are you happy? I mean like, are you happy with your life? Like, do you ever wonder if you’ve made the right choice in being with me, in living here, and stuff?
Him: No…mm…..I mean, yes. Yes. I’m happy…mmmm
Me: ‘Cause I wake up sometimes and I ask myself what on earth I’m doing here. Like big picture. Like what is my purpose in life. And it scares me when i can’t answer. It really scares me. You just seem, i dunno, just so happy and content and stuff. It makes me feel like I am missing some crucial point about life, about being able to enjoy simple pleasures. Like, how come I can’t just sit in front of the TV like every other American and forget about stuff? How come I don’t like drinking all that much anymore? Am I fundamentally flawed? Am I incapable of feeling happiness over puppies and babies and stuff like that? Know what I mean?
So the flu really calmed all that noise down. Oh sure, it still tried to worm its way into the folds of my gray matter as I lay there trying to fall asleep. But, louder than the burning questions coming from all parts of the universe was another voice. My own. And it was saying, over and over again: go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep. My body was actually trying to preserve itself. It was trying to REST. It was trying to GET BETTER. And that urge was so strong, it actually dulled the sound of a million unanswered questions. I am trying to find words to describe this sensation, and the only thing I can come up with is NUMB. I felt numb. I felt neutral. It was a little like being high. I felt like i could find another day to worry about the crisis in the Middle East and whether or not we would run out of bread by the weekend. I’ve never been good at quieting my own thoughts; and this just felt magical and auto-pilot-y, like some other force was doing it for me and I will never forget it. I felt like if I could just hold onto this feeling… just memorize this feeling of being temporarily UNABLE to manage the list of anxieties occupying my head and being okay with it… that maybe I could recreate it at a later time. What a glorious trick the flu would be teaching me.
So, I’ve been going slow. Walking slowly. Making dinner slowly. Not letting some irrational sense of urgency hurry me along. I really hope this lasts.
No flu reflection would be complete without the requisite “what is it, again, I do for money?” and the resulting feeling of supreme letdown. While I am proud of what I have accomplished in my life, I am also, well, getting bored. Yesterday, i finally left the house for the first time in five days, and decided that I needed to trim the yellow, fuzzy halo of baby chicken down that has grown out of my formerly awesome haircut. And when I sat in front of that ginormous mirror, most of my body shrouded in a black vinyl cape, and the stylist asked, “what do you do?”, i felt the smallness of myself as I answered, looking straight at my reflection, “I’m a bookkeeper”. Ugh. Of course that’s not all I am. Of course I am annoyed that in America, that question is one part small talk and one part the hallmark of our culture. I hate that it’s so loaded. I hate that I assign such weight to it. What we do, for money, is important to us collectively, no matter how healthy our relationship is with money. And I could be all Ram Das about it and claim that, hey, man, i don’t work for the man, and hey, man, like lay off and stuff. But the truth is I’m getting sick of answering that question. Mostly because I feel like such a loser when I answer it. And why should I, really? How petty of me. I mean, hello! There are are people who DON’T HAVE JOBS, you selfish jerk, people who are struggling to make ends meet. You see? This is the battle that wages itself in my head. This is where all my dichotomous feelings about worth and accomplishment and happiness get all jumbled up. Who am I? How do i reconcile my feelings of utter boredom and love of mastery? How do I reconcile these feelings of supreme gratitude for the opportunity to work, in my jeans and sneakers, no less, with my feelings of dissatisfaction with that work?
All this, of course, is exacerbated by this one thing. See, when the Advil finally kicked in and I had about four hours of normal body temperature, shivering free time to myself, i decided to do something a little weird. I decided to do something that I have always wanted to do but never really had the time time to: read Dooce’s blog from start to finish. I’m a little embarrassed to be reading a MOMMY blog, for godssake, but there it is. I said it. She’s wickedly funny, and a friend of mine turned me on to her because he thought she was brilliantly funny. That she’s also a new mom is really just incidental. Before she was a mom, she was single, worked for a corporation, blogged about her coworkers (in a less than complimentary way, shall we say) was discovered, got fired, found the man of her dreams, got married, moved to Utah, bought a house, and started a family… all the while documenting the whole damn thing. Well, I’m up to year four or so (there’s eight year’s worth of stuff to read, people), and though i am totally loathe to admit this… i feel this incredible sense of companionship with this woman stranger. I don’t want to admit it because, well…. here’s another battle that goes on in my head daily, and it’s the reason I don’t belong to Facebook or other social networks (and can’t sleep at night): I don’t honestly believe that the connections people are feeling to people’s updates or wall scribblings and stuff are, well, REAL. I know, i know. What a cold, soul-less bag of garbage I am. Before you write and tell me that I am a cold, soul-less bag of garbage, you should know that I am changing my stance on this. Not that I’m going to join Facebook anytime soon, but I GET IT. You CAN have things in common with strangers, or people you haven’t spoken to in twenty years. You can also have absolutely NOTHING in common, too. But, you really can feel a sense of connection, and that’s what everyone is so damn addicted to. I get it. I really do. It’s not that i didn’t get it before. It’s that I didn’t want to admit it was true. But now I have to. ‘Cause I really feel like this Dooce is my long lost twin sister or something. And I have been silently crying when I read about her hard days, and I am laughing out loud when she writes funny shit, and I am deeply moved when she discovers something profound about herself or her relationship or her child. Her relationship with her husband is one of the most moving things about the blog. I have learned SO MUCH about … gulp… LOVE from this woman, I am embarrassed to admit it. Who ever heard of such a thing? Learning what other relationships look like, and therefore how mine could improve, via a blog? When CLH couldn’t get my attention the other day because I was so deeply engrossed in it, and he gently chided me for becoming so obsessed with reading this blog, i actually snarled at him:
HEY! I’M LEARNING HOW TO LOVE YOU BETTER, OKAY?
So, Dooce, and everyone else out there who has managed to crack open my hard, bony heart with your honesty, I thank you. Thank you for letting me into your poopy diapers, the workings of your relationship, and your swear word filled rants about annoying neighbors and dumb coworkers. You have given me courage and hope. You, and the workings of the flu on my exhausted body. I am always left grateful at the end of ordeals like this, and I have a long list of thank yous to deliver. Thank you for giving me perspective. Thank you for making available, through the magic of the Interwebs, your unfiltered life, so that people like me can stop feeling so alone and sorry for ourselves. Thank you for making me feel like I too, might be reaching someone right now with my long winded diatribes about insomnia and the horrors of trying to buy jeans that fit. Thank you for restoring my humanity. Thank you for making writing for a living a possibility (take THAT, you effing nay-saying family members of mine). Thank you for making this flu a bearable, teachable episode in my life.