A couple days ago I fell sick. I’ve been feeling well for a good stretch, so this was a drag on a number of levels. Living alone, such spells — when not hospital-bad — come and go and I do what I do to get well and that’s basically that. But my German friend is visiting and I am therefore not just sick but being observed being sick and I’ve been considering how this alters the sick one’s experience. I want to work in that quantum-physics phenomenon about how the behavior of something will change when being observed, but all I could find were five different names for it and something about a cat, so I’d better leave it alone.
There are three problems with having someone around when you’re ill. The first problem is that you need help but you also feel like going into a dark corner and snarling when anyone gets close, wounded animal-style. This is a conflict. The second problem is the mirror problem. When a little kid turfs out on her tricycle, it’s not the skinned knee that makes her wail; it’s the look on her parents’ faces. They panic or look really concerned and bam: the fall is now a Huge Deal, cue sobs. Being sick and observed is a little like that. Yes, my guts are mutinying; yes, I’m walking around like a ninety-year-old. But if I were alone, I’d probably just feel crappy, frustrated, and seventy-years-old. The look on my friend’s face when I shudder and sink into my easy chair makes my state way worse.
The third problem is the fixer-upper problem. Like any caring person, my friend wants very much to fix me, to fix the situation; I’ve dealt with this kind of beautiful, valued concern for years and you mustn’t think I resent it. But idea after idea (e.g., “What if you ate more yogurt?”), suggestion after suggestion (e.g., “You need to sleep eight hours; no less”), and indeed remonstration after remonstration, (e.g., “You put so much pressure on yourself, Mary” and “You travel too much,” etc.) serves to make a person feel guilty and that her behavior is the problem. If only I could find the perfect food formula, if only I would change one thing about my lifestyle, if only I would be someone else, then I would be okay — and be okay forever. Talk about pressure.
Should I live alone forever? Am I less ill if I am alone? Is any person with chronic illness or even a bad cold less ill when in solitude? This is a worthy question to consider and I’m sure I’m not the first to consider it.
It’s also true that I do not notice the gallons of tea I drink every day until someone points it out.