Like most people, I get ill sometimes.
Acute illnesses are really easy to spot, like the stomach flu I had a few years ago that meant I couldn’t run my half marathon. Taking the time to recover from those kinds of maladies is not hard because they are so crushing that there is little choice.
However, I’m not always good at spotting things with a more gradual onset, or which look like things I get anyway, or… well, here are a few examples.
It’s Not That Bad Really
I wrote the other day about getting treatment for strep throat. This came after weeks and weeks of colds and runny noses, minor fevers and occasional muscle pain. In retrospect, I should have gone in to see someone in November. I might have got treatment for symptoms and had a less awful close to 2017, but in the moment it was always just a cold and I would be fine in a week, then I would feel better for a day or two before symptoms would recur.
Lesson 1: go to the doctor when you are ill for more than a couple of weeks. They might be able to help.
I was Fine Last Week
We used to have cats. I like cats, and I get on with cats, but it turns out that I am debilitatingly allergic to their charming fuzziness.
There’s form in my family for this. Some of my close relatives are acutely allergic, starting up with the sneezing and runny noses almost immediately, but I never was. Living with cats during the early years of my marriage was nice (mostly). I did seem to be tired a lot, though, and I spent a lot of time congested.
One weekend we went away cabin camping and I suddenly realised that there was a problem. It was February and we all had colds, but I felt better than I had done in weeks. Could it be because I wasn’t breathing cat fuzz?
It was. Turns out I have been getting more chemically sensitive as I have aged, including intolerance for oil-based paints and an intense reaction to oranges. But cats — cats are my nemesis.
Lesson 2: things that you used to be tolerant of can become a problem later. These can be hard to spot because it might be a gradual onset.
Lesson 3: being congested makes me stupid.
I Don’t Know About You, But I’m Depressed
I am not neurotypical, but I have not always known that.
I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, but I am fortunate in that my depression is mostly a consequence of my ADD. Since I learned about my having ADD, so much of my early life and early career makes sense.
The funny thing is that this is a case where I probably couldn’t have got help much earlier than I did. ADD is recognised now in Britain, but it still doesn’t seem to be taken as seriously as in the US and when I was living there it was really only just being talked about.
However, getting a diagnosis has helped me enormously because it has been a new lens to view my mental quirks through. Does ADD explain everything? Of course not, nor is it an excuse when things go awry, but it offers explanatory power and sign posts to work around situations where my brain just won’t do that. And knowing that not accommodating my ADD is what triggered my depression has helped enormously in not falling into that hole again.
Lesson 4: get help, and if it doesn’t fit you then try again.
What’s It Supposed To Look Like?
I’ve been wearing glasses* since I was 4½. I have a complicated prescription in both eyes, and I also have a squint.
I also do not have stereoscopic vision, a condition I share with around 10% of the population. I learned this at a museum (probably OMSI, although I don’t remember exactly) where there was a collection of optical illusions. Most of them worked for me, but none of the ones that required stereoscopic vision did.
When I realised that, I suddenly understood why I could only erratically hit the ball in tennis or volleyball…
Actually, if you will excuse the digression, I want to talk about volleyball.
I really like volleyball. It’s the only team sport I fully enjoy. I started playing at school because (no joke) the ball was big and I could see it without wearing my specs. Later I joined the volleyball club at one of my jobs in Britain, and was lucky enough to play with a county-level player who taught me a huge amount. But then she tried teaching us to spike the ball.
This is a skill where the setter places the ball close to the net right where the spiker is going to be. Then the spiker smashes the ball down, hopefully avoiding any of those pesky blockers. And I just couldn’t do it – I might hit the ball sometimes, but rarely and never with a clean contact. I was frustrated, the coach was frustrated, and I had no idea why I couldn’t hit the ball. This inability only made sense when I understood that I didn’t have stereoscopic vision.
There have been many other incidents over the years, from pouring acid on my thumb instead of into a test tube to lunging the wrong distance in fencing, but they all come down to one thing: I can’t tell where things are in space to the level of accuracy needed to do these things.
I don’t get eyestrain, though. I often hear people complain about having to take a break from their screen every now and then, but I’ve never had that need.
Lesson 5: sometimes, your body just doesn’t do that.
Our Bodies Are Complicated
These are the lessons I draw from these incidents
- go to the doctor when you are ill for more than a couple of weeks. They might be able to help.
- things that you used to be tolerant of can become a problem later. These can be hard to spot because it might be a gradual onset.
- being congested makes me stupid.
- get help, and if it doesn’t fit then try again.
- sometimes, your body just doesn’t do that.
I hope they help you too.
[*] some people say “corrective lenses” in this kind of remark, but I have always worn spectacles. I can’t do contacts. Just no.