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Trying...to be ill
It all started at a lovely restaurant and ended in the loo.
As all things tend to do.
This week a vomiting bug came to haunt my every hour. And wiped me out for four days while I shivered and writhed about. I loathe unmaking plans. But I was unmade and the diary duly cleared, in perfect time with the contents of my aching body.
And then I, and anyone unfortunate enough to come into brief contact with me, remembered how bad I am at being unwell. I mean, who is? I am really good at the vomiting bit - the dramatic ill and painful part, less accomplished at the recovering part. Sitting still or even watching TV for long periods, has never been a strong suit. I like ‘to do’ and don’t know what to do when I cannot.
As someone who lives with a chronic illness (endometriosis) and has been living on the hormonal rollercoaster that is IVF for two and half years - I am actually pretty accomplished at being seriously sub-par. And painting a decent face on it.
But properly horrifyingly ill? No, I am the pits. I never missed school if I could help it (unless something was horrifically contagious) - preferring if I could to mope to lessons to try and find some strength from normality. The same is true in my adult life. The worst recent example was post the first Covid jab when I felt ghastly for 24 hours and staggered on air to do my radio show. I always feel buggering on and eating a lot, preferably chips, will solve all. And lashings of chicken broth.
Annoyingly, being good at being quite poorly is no prep for those usually rare times in life - when you measure your life in how many minutes you can keep a miserable piece of toast down and how long it’s been between loo trips.
Each time these moments happen - the proper flu I had eight years ago on Christmas or the salmonella outbreak when I was seven (definitely no moping into school then) - I vow to never take full health for granted again. It’s as if I believe this solemn ritual will protect me from any future illness. And I really do it, especially for the first few weeks post release from my sweaty bed chamber. I am doing it now. Vowing to never take health again for granted. Honest guv. I won’t. Promise.
But being unwell is a key part of being human. It forces us to let go and humbly submit to our mortal reality. It also makes us think of others; others for whom life in the unwell trenches are the daily norm or as they contend with regular treatments like chemotherapy that make them properly poorly in a bid to be well again. Over the last two years I have spoken to or heard from many who are also living lives drastically altered due to the ravages of long and very misunderstood Covid. Our aperture when we suffer widens to include those we don’t think of enough.
However grim a period of ill health is, for most of us it is an experience tempered greatly by the knowledge it is highly likely our new status will be temporary; a luxury others do not have.
Just before I tunnelled into my poorly week I had the chance to interview the Dalai Lama. Not an everyday occurrence I grant you. Nor was the 2am alarm clock as I blearily made it into my Bloomberg studio for 4am, fully made up and one hard boiled egg down, to talk to His Holiness who lives exiled from Tibet in India. He rarely gives interviews but his words will stay with me for more reasons than the rarity of them.
At 87, after a lifetime of studying, talking to many people from kings and queens to presidents to simple Buddhist monks, he only has one message: compassion. And the need to spread it.
Many would struggle to define what the word means. They think they know. I thought I did. But the key part of compassion is about the alleviation of someone else’s suffering. That’s what should guide us in our daily dealings. In a world filled with self styled gurus preaching self care and self love, and sayings such as “you do you”, it was a much needed reminder of what really bloody matters: others.
Often before an illness, the last conversations you had or things you did while well, stick in the mind for the next few feverish days. I was in the unusual position of one of those conversations being with the Dalai Lama. Oh and our decorator.
But contemplating how compassionate I really am was a decent mental project that concluded with me knowing I had far more to do.
The full interview will be out later this week on Thursday. But I wanted to share a preview with you, after the weird week that was.
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