mandag 1. februar 2016

I thank my flu

I was about to write that I love my flu, but that would be an exaggeration. My nose keeps running. I have red spots under my nostrils. I'm tired from not sleeping well due to waking up with bouts of uncontrolled coughing. My throat feels like sun-dried cardboard. Still, I thank my flu.

Health anxiety

I thank my flu because I used to have severe health anxiety. Now I don't. I don't have it anymore. When I cough, even though my back hurts, I don't expect my ribs to crack. I know it's just a flu. I know it will pass.

Though I wouldn't wish severe health anxiety upon anyone, I learned something from that period of my life. I learned how it feels to fear for one's life. I know how it feels to be frightened when noone sess or understands why, when the cause is invisible. That period made it easier for me to empathize with old or sick people, and it made me appreciate being alive and making the most out of it.

After having recovered from my health anxiety, I soon faced a challenge when I got some kind of food poisoning and fever. Deciding it should not freak me out, I decided to watch my feverish condition with interest. Okay, so I have a fever. Interesting. Now how does this feel? Okay, so I had an uncomfortable dream. It was different. It was exceptional. It was unique. It will never return again. What can I learn from it? I came through without problem. I wasn't scared.

Lessons from Nietzsche and the Buddha

What had changed? Well, first of all my outlook. Instead of believing the point of life was to be always happy, hedonistically understood, I started believing it was about developing myself and living my life. To exist is to live one's own exceptional story, including living through one's own particular pain or discomfort. Now, the psychological component of suffering almost disappears when one watches one's physical suffering with the eyes of a scientist, with interest. With mindfulness. I had come to believe what Nietzsche said: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger".

Nietzsche also wrote: "To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering". I agree wholeheartedly. Amor fati. Love your destiny, embrace your history, your biography.

Now, this parallells the Buddhist teachings of the inevitability of suffering, of aging, sickness and death. However, instead of seeing the suffering as a problem in itself, Nietzsche saw it as a tool for hardening oneself and growing. I side with Nietzsche, although relieving the suffering that can be relieved, should be done. If not for anything else, than so in order to free the individual from the disability caused by agony. However, also the Buddha taught that everything is transient, nothing remains. Nothing is stationary. Reality is a process, not an essence.

Learning from my flu

Now I'm in the process of having a flu. So what can I take from it?

Yesterday I was on a train that was almost completely full. Accordingly, I was sitting next to another person, which in Norway, one does not do voluntarily unless one is intoxicated or has a psychiatric disease. Now I was coughing uncontrallaby, and had to sneeze repeatedly, though less often than I had to blow my nose. Not having napkins I kept having to go fetch paper from the bathroom or "tea section". Sitting next to the window, I felt like quite a nuisance to the guy I was sat next to. In short, I felt a bit shameful. Why? Because I felt weak? Because illness is disgusting? What norm does that reflect? Why should it be shameful to be sick? Now, this is something to reflect on. Which I wouldn't have if I wasn't exposed to that situation.

I discovered that when walking fast, or normally, I had to cough more. Thus I needed to walk at a slow pace. This made slightly impatient because I consider it a waste of time. So I am aware of that now. Also, I felt a bit annoyed when people were rushing past me on the bus when I was paying for my ticket. I felt slightly envious of the healthy people, and thought they were disrespectful not to wait in line till I had paid my ticket. Now, my flu is transient. It will pass. In a few days I will be among the rushing people again. However, some people have permanent health problems. They have to live with a slowed pace everyday. Although a flu is a flu, being sick in general will help you relate to other people being sick. Thus, the experience enables me to understand others' experiences a bit better, if never perfect. This enables bonding between me and them.

Today I slept at day time. I never do that. I did it because I felt I had to. Having the flu also makes me more generous with myself. I don't expect myself to make big dinners, being social or sleeping at regular hours. It's a state of exception. It disrupts the daily routine. Disrupting the daily routine is good. Then one sees that the world doesn't end by breaking the habit.

Still, I don't love my flu. I look forward to getting rid of it. I look forward to being a rusher again. Then I'll be thankful for being healthy.

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