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Do You Miss Being Sick?

by Hayley Doyle

Are you prepared to get a little nostalgic? If so, here we go…

Do you remember the days when you’d burnt the candle at both ends, worked too hard and forgotten that all-important self-care? You’d experience something that was known as, Being Run Down. Often, you caught colds or a virus, of varying levels of misery. Nasty illnesses such as tonsillitis and ear infections sometimes needed a course of antibiotics, but within a few days you’d feel much better. Mostly - and thankfully - even the worst bout of flu could be taken care of with over-the-counter painkillers, plenty of fluids and rest. REST.

Gone are the days when we were allowed to simply get sick. You know, a cough. A sore throat. You’d feel a bit sorry for yourself and crawl under the duvet with honey, lemon and movies starring Julia Roberts. You’d devour Sex and the City DVDs and when you suddenly felt like eating, after days of feeling off your food, some kind and loving person would heat up the chicken soup or give you the welcome nudge to order that pizza and the extra garlic bread. Gosh, they might have even hugged you.

Oh, how things have changed.

The other day, I took my son to a swimming lesson and (behind my mask), I coughed. I wasn’t actually ill. Sometimes you just swallow a bit of air, right? Who knows? It was a bit of a cough, anyway. It lasted about three seconds. Well. If. Looks. Could. Kill. I’ve never experienced such eye narrowing, such huffing. A woman picked up her child’s bags, clothes and shoes and practically flew to the opposite side of the changing rooms. Anyone would think I’d walked into the leisure centre with a tattoo on my forehead announcing that I had the plague. BEWARE! Except, I didn’t. I just happened to need to clear my throat.

However. I did wonder. What if I do have something contagious? I felt fine. No symptoms. But what if my little cough wasn’t just a little cough? What if it was about to turn into something much more severe? What if my negative lateral flow wasn’t really negative? Who was I going to infect?

Two years ago, nobody reacted this way unless they suffered from hypochondria. A cough was a cough. A throat clearing was a throat clearing. A runny nose required a tissue and no further thought. We’re no longer allowed to just be sick anymore, are we?

Oh, unless you have Covid.

Then, it’s alright.

You can go to bed, hide from the world (and work) and be showered with messages, “Are you feeling okay?”, “Taking it easy?”, “Remember to rest up”. People are genuinely concerned, even if your case is mild. Because we’re all in this together, aren’t we? The Covid thing. It shut the entire planet down. We know how serious it can be. If you happen to suffer badly with Covid, then that spreads fear and anxiety amongst those who hear about it. If you’re suffering, they worry that they will suffer, too. Or perhaps there is some strong solidarity going on. They know how rotten you feel because they experienced the same thing recently. But if you’re feeling okay, you know, just a few sniffles, then phew! Maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe it will all be over soon…

Covid is serious, though. Still. It’s a relief that statistically, most people who catch it will suffer a mild illness, but it doesn’t mean we can be flippant about it. The death toll continues to rise and families are grieving. Maybe this is why you can’t be sick anymore, unless it’s Covid. Nobody has the energy to comprehend another illness. Covid invaded our lives two years ago, unpacked its bags and decided to stick around. As we get on with our daily tasks as best we can, creating some normality and a clear headspace, it taps the back of our brains…tap, tap, tap. It’s always there. The sheer unpredictability of it. Two years might seem like a long time, but this virus is only two. It’s a toddler. It’s learning and evolving, and we have no choice but to adapt to that constantly. Knowledge can only come with time. Our patience is weaning, but there’s very little we can do about that other than practise becoming, well, more patient.

And thanks to that, if you’re struck down with a different horrid virus, no sympathy. Sorry.

Even the doctors don’t want to see you. The message is clear, isn’t it? Stay away unless a severe emergency. But what if we don’t see that emergency coming? What if we’re ignoring a problem that can fester and become much worse than it seems? Dr Google isn’t the most reliable for a diagnosis, and yet Dr Google has been inundated with work since this pandemic hit. Although it doesn’t take some anxiety-riddled scrolling to confirm that if you’re unwell, you need to rest. That’s plain old common sense. However, scenarios are popping up left, right and centre where the sick can no longer rest. The show must go on!

Let’s take the workplace for example. It’s likely that one of your colleagues is currently affected by Covid, whether they have recently tested positive, or somebody in their household has. They must either self-isolate or take on extra responsibilities, perhaps caring for a child, elderly relative or picking up the everyday duties of a partner. So if you have a regular cough, cold, flu, chest infection, excruciating PMS, sickness and diarrhoea - you name it - you might feel obliged to show up for work. Gone are the duvet days and hot toddies. Your place of work is already understaffed for obvious reasons, so wash your hair, knock back a couple of paracetamol and have a strong coffee. That’s the spirit!

Mental health and creating a better understanding about its complexities should be at the forefront of our wellbeing. It’s certainly promoted on social media in abundance. But are people really practising what they preach? It’s easy to share a meme about self-care, but there is a lack of support when somebody needs to be off sick. The notion that it’s okay because you can’t catch it, or that it’s easy to find a remedy, means that a lot of people aren’t taking illness seriously unless it’s Covid. And this is a quick fix. A momentary reaction. Because people are so desperate to get back to any kind of normality that we’ll put up with a runny nose and rattling chest to keep things ticking over.

If you’ve tested negative, of course.

Our heads are crammed with so much information these days that it’s impossible to feel our true feelings or make bold decisions anymore. One cough can send you into a panic. A head cold can make you attempt to rule the world. It’s completely bonkers. So we must remind ourselves that Covid entered into a world already riddled with disease. Many of them are managed well, thanks to modern medicine, but all of those pesky germs haven’t gone anywhere. They can still make us sick. Covid didn’t eradicate every other illness on the planet.

You know you. Listen to your body. If something isn’t right, try to find out why. Seek the professional help that is still out there. Rest, please. Hopefully, you’ll only need a few quiet days in your PJs, but make sure you do! The world will continue to spin while you get yourself sorted, so stock up on the honey and lemon, and dust off those old DVDs. You want to be well enough to celebrate when we finally see the back of Covid, right?


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