The Psych of the Sick

by Tom Swift

I am not a good sick person. I don’t deal well with not feeling well. Simply put, I am bad at illness.

This week I have tried a trick that people with health issues of a more acute or chronic nature no doubt figure out: don’t identify too closely with your health.

Call it the Zen of the Crud.

In the past I have tended to consume myself with a given illness. Of course, to ignore a health issue would be to potentially exacerbate it. You have to take care of yourself — eat and drink the right things, not eat and not drink the wrong things, get sufficient rest, and so forth. Yet to focus solely or too closely on the malady, I am learning anew, can be it’s own countervailing force.

Instead, as I take self-care steps like those I wrote about yesterday, this week I am also not talking or thinking much about the matter during the course of the day. In a way, I am acting as though there is nothing amiss. When someone asks how I am, I answer with, well, a lie. It’s a subtle strategy but it seems to make a difference to me, psychologically. In the past I might say, “I am fighting that bug going around” or something like that. And I would notice that as soon as I uttered those words I would feel a wee bit worse. This week I have just said “I am great,” and moved on.

And, really, am I lying? As one of the wise philosophers of our time, George Costanza, once said, “It’s not a lie, Jerry, if you believe it.”

When I say I am great, well, I feel a little better because, hey, this really isn’t a huge health issue and I got this. On some levels I am great. Again, this isn’t tuberculosis.

Now, of course, colleagues at work have heard me sneeze or blow my nose. And I have shared more details with a friend or two. The goal isn’t to feign ignorance to the obvious. Also, clearly, I am talking about it for I am writing about it in this blog. (That, too, seems to provide a psychological lift, as I have a means to channel my neuroticism. I set it down here and walk away.)

So it seems I am circling back to another subject I have been writing about of late: the power of expression. We are always talking, to others or to ourselves. We always have a choice about what we say and what we choose changes us.