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Friday 2 October 2015

Feeling Strangely Fine

I'm sorry to disappoint anyone misled by the title, but this blog post isn't about Semisonic's second album.

The following disclaimer can probably apply to every entry I put into this blog but I feel it deserves repeating anyway: this entire thing is going to be from a very personal perspective. If I generalise, please understand that I am really only speaking for me. I wouldn't presume to speak for anyone else - but if you see yourself in what I write, then know that we understand each other, at least a little.

Everyone knows at least one hypochondriac, although they may not self-identify as such.

You know the type. They are sure they are sick most of the time. Either they go to the doctor once a week with a new complaint, or they never ever go to the doctor and self-diagnose instead. Either way, whenever you haven't seen them for a few days, the next time you speak to them - there's something new wrong with them.

I'm not going to say they aren't sick, or there isn't something wrong. That's not for me to say, and it's none of my business.

Here's the contrast, though; I have noticed that people with a chronic or ongoing condition, almost universally, respond to questions about their general health with a neutral or vague-positive answer. "How Are You" is replied to with terms like "Fine," or "Not Bad", or "Okay" - most of the time.

There's exceptions of course. Once you're past that moment in the street, sat down somewhere and talking and get onto actual conversational topics, and words like "In Yourself" and "Really" get tabbed onto the end of the original question - that is when more pointed answers come out.

If we went out the night before and drank enough liquor to stun a platoon of Royal Marines, then we'll happily talk about how we now have the hangover from Hades. Broken arm? Yep, look at this cast, yes I chose pink fuck off I like it. Fatigue? Arthritis? Anything chronic or perpetual? ...yeah, fine, not bad.

In my case at least, there's a lot of reasons for this.

One of those is that I'm hyper-aware of the depressing effect of hearing that one of your friends, colleagues or associates is suffering, especially if there's nothing you can do about it. I'm usually reluctant to lay that on someone. Another is a kind of insecurity; talk about how shit you feel but try to put a brave face on it and you come across as something of a martyr, whereas the lack of brave face can come across as being very moany. Again, two things I don't want to lay on anyone.

(All this is in my own head of course. Anyone else talking to me about things they are going through, I would never think that they were moaning excessively, or nailing themselves to a cross. I'm just bad at taking my own advice.)

Another factor that influences the answer to the How Are You - the scales are different. If in general a person is okay, and isn't in much pain, and doesn't find anything difficult, then their knee joint being particularly painful of a morning is going to warrant explanation or exclamation. I, however, have a very odd relationship with pain. It's worthy of comment when my joints DON'T hurt - or when they hurt enough to stop me doing my already-reduced average daily allotment of doing things.

It becomes the new normal. At first you rail against it, hate it, loathe it, want nothing more than for it to not be happening...but over days, weeks, months, years, it becomes life. It is something you work with and around rather than something you mindlessly defy. You get zen about it, or you go a little crazy.

That doesn't mean to say that you should try second-guessing people if you know they're ill and they say they're fine, because there's another reason why we say as such: some of us don't like a fuss made of us, or the attention that a full and frank explanation of our condition and its current effect on us might draw.

I'm the kind of guy that deals with sickness pretty much alone. If I have the flu, or a cold, or anything like that - I retreat into a little cave and stay there until I'm better. People bugging me doesn't help me, and in my experience, keeping your head straight helps you heal. Psychosomatics and all. So if one applies that to a condition that is not only life-altering but also totally ongoing, then, well...who wants a barrage of questions every time you get asked if you're doing okay?

It's a shitty thing to have to manage. If we look at it like a car, then it would feature numerous structural problems that make it awkward and ungainly to handle, but taking it to a garage sometimes makes it worse. Drive that for two years, and you'll stop bitching about the stiff gearstick real fast. Sooner or later, even the desperately uncomfortable seat becomes a background annoyance rather than a bane of one's existence, if you can't change it.

In the end, it is what it is. Keeping your head straight is the most important thing - it is easy to lose hope and become demoralised, even easier to focus on the debilitating effect of one's condition rather than...well...anything else, really. Some days it can feel a lot bigger than you, a lot bigger than the rest of the world even.

One way of preventing that - one way of looking illness in the eye and letting it know that it isn't all that big a deal after all - is saying that we're fine. Saying we're okay. A dismissal. Sure, most joints I have from the neck down feel like they're filled with broken glass, and my lungs are half-filled with scar tissue - but you know what? I'm fine. Can do. Can deal. Can cope. I am London circa 1941, and the illness is the Luftwaffe. Fuck you mate. I'm alright. Coventrate my fat ass.

So...yeah. I'm fine, I guess.

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