When it began I thought I had a stomach virus or maybe food poisoning. After a day of feeling blah, I had gone to bed at the usual time and was lying in the dark beginning to get that feeling that all is not well. I don’t remember why I got up to go to the bathroom but half way there my knees buckled and I sank to the floor where I lay for at least half an hour cold sweat pouring out of every pore. When that part was over I toweled off and went back to bed where I lay until my stomach expelled its contents quite unexpectedly. I dealt with that and got back in bed and pretty much stayed there in my darkened room for the next day and a half. I could only sip ginger ale and look at the ceiling. Everything else was too much effort or made me nauseous.
The more contemporary part of my brain rationalized this was just a bug, that it would pass, and though weak and nauseous I was feeling better with the passing of the hours. The more primitive part of my brain was engaged in magical thinking. In the world of magical thinking there are only two reasons that bad things happen. The most likely is that one has not properly pleased the gods and thus one suffers their vengeance. This gave me the opportunity to review all of my short comings and castigate myself for burning the proverbial candle at both ends, of not eating my spinach or learning yoga, etc., etc. The other place the primitive mind goes in magical thinking is witchcraft. If it is not my fault, if I am pure and have pissed off no deities then it must be bad juju coming from somewhere else. Then I could go over all of the real or perceived slights of others and conclude that only social isolation would solve the problemso I must quit all activities and relationships and become a hermit. Funny how the physical state effects mood. As I got to feeling better I became less puritanical and misanthropic. Maybe I could eat cheese again. Maybe I wouldlike to talk with a friend on the phone. Maybe it was just bad luck and no malfeasance from the outside world or major mistake on my part. Maybe (and this is the hard part) maybe I am vulnerable.
Bringing me further out of myself was one of my dogs, Maria. Maria is about eleven, a
“dauxihauhua” according to the animal rescue lady who passed her and her son Cornbread on to me. Maria was feeling puny and I had to get it together to get her to the vet. I had, of course, imagined the worse and had her terminal. The vet took about three minutes to diagnose tonsillitis. Maria got a shot and some pills and we were back to our beds.
I was feeling better but my energy was still very low. So low that all I could manage was a little day time television. Who watches that stuff? I had seen the court TV shows but wasn’t quite ready for the paternity test show. Maury Pauvich is the host and he must get paid a lot of money for the work is so distasteful. The participants come from a world where mental health is non-existent. The audience boos and cheers. People scream at each other and break down and sob. Maury dispatches each case with the results, yea or nay, pulled from an envelope like an academy award. I hope child protective services is watching because most of the mommas and the daddies on this show need on site supervision. The ads are strange too. Gone are the soap ads and the soup ads. The ads now are for two things: lawyers who will come to your house after an accident to help you sue your insurance company and universities you have never heard of who will train you to do something where you can wear scrubs. I did catch a little Oprah. A little Oprah was all I could do. Oprah isn’t very happy these days because she is fat again. She had one show with her trainer who offered that it wasn’t about food for Oprah, it was about love. Oprah promised she was going to love herself this year by putting herself back into her own schedule with manicures and . . . you guessed it, personal training. On another Oprah she had Suze Orman who is kind of like a lesbian Dr Laura. She shrieks at people and tells them what they must do with their money. I could only take about two minutes of Suze and her rap on debt shame. I was back in bed and my throat hurt.
Feeling a little like Job, first a stomach virus and now a sore throat . . . I called my doctor and went in that afternoon. I had shone a flashlight in my mouth and my throat was red with white spots. Gargling with salt water was not going to take care of this. My doctor is a wry fellow, usually nonplussed but when he looked in my mouth and went “oooh.”, I braced myself. I thought I might have strep and he said it might be and took a culture but said it looked more like yeast to him and then asked the worst question in the world, “when was the last time you had an AIDS test?” Well, I began, about twenty something years ago. He raised an eyebrow. I told him I’d gotten the test a year after my partner at that time had tested positive. That it was a death sentence back then and that I had waited over two weeks in an attenuated anxiety attack for my results. I tested negative but it was traumatic, very traumatic. I explained that I don’t do risky behaviors and he said that he wanted me to take the test anyway (“its time”) and even found one of the quick tests to give me. The nurse, a kind being if ever there was one, administered the test which involved pricking my finger and me waiting for 15 minutes for the results. I “read” a magazine in the waiting room. Time seemed very, very slow and my breathing was shallow though I did not feel panicky. The nurse fetched me and into the doctor’s office I went where he apologized for scaring me and told me that I am still negative. I told him I would hug him but did not want to give him my germs. I left with a prescription for antibiotics which, thank science, worked. I slowly began to come back to myself, my energy rebounded and the spots and redness in my throat went away. Maria’s antibiotics are working too though she is still playing the sympathy card for special food and mercy for peeing on the rug.
Around the time of Freud and Jung in the early twentieth century, there was a psychologist in Japan named Morita. I studied his therapeutic model which is based on mindfulness. In Morita therapy the patient is isolated for a number of days and given nothing to do, just to sit and be with what is. Activities are slowly reintroduced. The patient might be able to sweep his room or clean his toilet. And then work is reintroduced. The patient could chop wood, carry water. When the patient demonstrated the ability to work she was released back into the world. The therapy taught
that we must consider what we do and why we do it. Character, Morita believed, is our destiny and character is established by all the small acts that we do everyday. Most of the time we are going so fast that we don’t think about why we do what we do or how we do it. And then we wonder how things get so messed up and confusing. Strange as it may sound I am feeling grateful to my germs for slowing me down. I am pleased I can do little things around the house. I am grateful I can enjoy my coffee. I am oh, so happy to be able to focus enough to read and to have energy to sit here and write. Tomorrow I will go back to work and be happy to be there. I will take my vulnerability back out into the world and its vicissitudes paying closer attention at each step of the way.