It’s official. I’m sick. Not sick as in twisted and demented, though I’m sure some people may disagree with that assessment. My wife would be at the top of that list. But that’s okay, I got this cold from her.
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t get sick very often, and when I do it never seems to last long. I’ll get a sore throat or runny nose now and then, but that’s about the extent of it. For me to miss work takes a special kind of sick. Today I can’t stand up without getting dizzy. I guess that qualifies.
I can usually count on one hand the number of times I miss work during the year because of illness, and most times I’ll have a couple of fingers to spare. I hate calling in sick. The boss thinks it’s because I’m dedicated. But the truth is, I can’t stand burning my personal and vacation time sitting around the house sick. I’d rather go to work.
Part of that comes from my days in the Navy. We weren’t allowed to just call in sick – we had to report for duty, then go to sick bay and if the doctor decided we needed the day off, he signed a bed rest order. And it’s hard to convince a doctor that you’re too sick to get out of bed if you already got up, got dressed, went to work, then went to see him. But that’s the military way.
And I don’t necessarily bemoan that. It taught me that no matter how badly I felt, more often than not I could still make it through the day. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It also taught me to take my germs to work and share them with everybody else. It’s one thing in the military where everybody has to go to work – it’s something altogether different in the “real” world.
In a previous job, I was a shop supervisor and some of the guys working for me were … shall we say, wimps? One little sniffle and they were down for the count. So one day I woke up with a pretty nasty chest cold and decided this would be a good opportunity to set a positive example. I went to work, all day feeling like crawling in a hole, but I did my job anyway. The next day all five of them called in. “I must have gotten your cold.” Guess I showed them.
But here’s the thing. When I take a day off, or come home early because I’m sick, my routine is thrown out of whack. The morning isn’t too bad, because I can take some medicine and snooze a little. But after lunch I start feeling it. I get a second wind and wonder if maybe I could have stuck it out. And I think about what I could have done with the personal time if I’d saved it for a day when I felt better. That’s the way my brain works.
By early afternoon, the daytime soaps are on TV, and that’s when it really hits me. I never see those shows because I’m never around when they’re on. “Why am I home in the middle of the day? Oh yeah, I’M SICK!” That just reminds me how sick I am, and I begin to feel even worse. Isn’t it funny how that works?
The brain is a marvelous thing, but it’s got a few quirks as well. And one of those quirks is the inability to filter information feeding into the subconscious. Have you ever seen people under hypnosis? It’s intriguing, and it’s entertaining. It’s almost unreal.
People will do or say just about anything, simply based on a suggestion from the hypnotist. That’s why when my oldest daughter joined a group onstage in a hypnosis show, I left the room. Well, I wanted to … but watching her was too much fun. Especially the part where the hypnotist told them the entire audience was naked, and then asked me to stand up and say hi to her. Let’s just say paybacks are hell.
The reason hypnosis works is because you’re actually not asleep, but the part of your brain that’s responsible for logic and reasoning is temporarily shut down, and the hypnotist is able to speak directly to your subconscious. And your subconscious believes anything it hears. Anything. It’s like typing on a computer keyboard. Garbage in, gospel out.
So as I sit at home and ask why I’m here in the middle of the day, the logical part of my brain speaks up and says, “Because you’re sick. You’re not just sick, you’re too sick to get up, get dressed, and drive to a job where you’ll do nothing more than sit at a desk all day. You must be REALLY sick.” And who’s listening? Nobody. Just the part of my brain that’s so gullible it’ll fall for anything.
And what the subconscious believes somehow becomes reality. That second wind I got from lunch doesn’t last long, and the next think I know I’m back in bed, covered up to my neck, feeling worse than ever. And the whole time, the logical part of my brain is saying, “You’re not that sick Dave! And now you’ve wasted a perfectly good day of personal time that you could have saved for something better.” As I said, that’s the way my brain works.
And I think that’s true for most of us. We all get sick from time to time, and there are days when we should be home in bed. But regardless, we don’t have to feel as sick as we are. We can choose to feel better. It’s really that simple – it’s a conscious decision we can make that has a profound impact on how we get through the day.
If I’m at work, I try to immerse myself so much in my work that I don’t have time to think about how I feel. The side-effect of that is my subconscious brain is able to see what I’ve accomplished during the day and it says, “You must be doing okay to have gotten all of this done!”
During breaks and at lunch (in case the boss is reading this), I try to chat with a co-worker about anything other than how I feel. And if I’m too sick to be around other people, I might find a seat near the “party table” in the break room and amuse myself with their conversation. Sometimes you have to go looking for a diversion, but they’re out there.
And on days like today, where I was just too sick to stay for the entire day, I came home, took some medicine, then relaxed on the couch watching comedy shows instead of the normal daytime programming. It gave me something to laugh about, and it’s physically impossible to feel bad when you’re laughing. Try it.
I’m feeling better than I was when I came home today. Partly because of some rest, partly because of some medicine, and partly because I’m just not the kind of person who stays down long. That’s partly due to my general health, and partly due to my general attitude. I choose not to be sick. And in a battle between the mind and body, the mind generally wins.
We all have our ups and downs, and illness is just part of it. We have little choice in that. But we do have a choice in how we respond to it. So take control of the part you can change. You just might be surprised at the power it gives you over the other parts.
Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon
The mind/body connection is fascinating, isn’t it? It’s why the placebo effect is so powerful, why we physically shiver if we dream we’re standing knee-deep in snow, why emotional stress can make us physically sick…. I love it. 🙂
Incidentally, if you’re at all interested in therapeutic hypnosis (and not just the “entertainment” variety), I heartily recommend this site. That link is to their “Fight a Cold” download because of the topic of your post and because I’ve found it helpful myself here in Minnesota.