How to Win Friends and Influence People When You’re Sick

Have you ever been really sick, but had to leave your house and deal with people anyway? Say, you had to go to the grocery store to buy more drugs because everything you already had in your medicine cabinet expired in 2005? Or you just couldn’t afford to miss work, because, say, you’re starting pitcher for game 7 of the World Series or something like that?

In those situations, it’s interesting to see how one’s body conserves energy. It takes so much effort simply to stand up and walk from here to there that a lot of the things that you would otherwise spend energy on just don’t happen.

For instance, I am a remarkably socially awkward person. I once got a note from Emily Dickinson that said, “Loosen up, dude.” And being that awkward — with all the second-guessing, fretting, and eye-contact avoiding — requires no small amount of energy. But when I’m sick, all that stuff is gone like self-respect at the Golden Corral dessert bar.

There is a certain feeling of liberation that goes along with being so sick that you don’t care what anybody thinks about you. The part of my brain that filters output completely shuts down, and I don’t do all the tedious self-editing that I normally do. As a result, I think I relate to people better. Maybe I’m just delirious from the fever, but I feel like I laugh more easily and make others laugh more easily. I listen better and speak more honestly. I’m more concerned with people than appearances, as it should be for anyone wearing a sleeveless sweatshirt and 20-year-old running shorts in a Walgreens at 4 in the afternoon.

When I’m in that weakened state that goes along with illness, it seems like a lot of the right parts are the weakest, the parts that normally keep me uptight and distant. It bums me out that I can never get those parts to stay weak, to shrivel up and waste away entirely. When I get well, they come back as strong as they ever were. It’s too bad, because I’d like to be able to relate to people that same way when I’m strong enough to lift my head, when I’m not afraid of spreading the Plague to everyone I come into contact with.

My body seems to know on its own what parts of me I can do without when energy is scarce. Eventually, I hope I can take the hint and start redirecting my energies better when I’m well.

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