The last time you were sick

Think about the last time you were sick. Maybe it was food poisoning. Or the flu. Or a nasty bug that just knocked you on your ass. As you laid there, soaked in your own sweat, or as you made your way back to the bathroom to empty the contents of your stomach once again, you probably thought to yourself: When will this end? When will this be over? As the days dragged on, you started to think, “I can’t go on like this. It’s too terrible. Dying might actually be a relief.”

It was hyperbole, sure, but you were in real pain. We’ve all been there. The mind goes to dark places when we’re sick. But it’s interesting to think about how long ago that all seems now. Even if it was two weeks ago, those feelings have receded far back into the distance. Like it never happened. You won’t think of those feelings again…until the symptoms return the next time you’re sick.

It’s a reminder of a line from Marcus Aurelius, who himself suffered from a number of nasty illnesses, many of which were chronic and painful. “If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining.” he said. “If it’s unendurable . . . then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well.” His point is one worth remembering: Pain is either endurable or its not. And if it’s not–as the third day of a flu’s fever delirium can sometimes feel–well, you won’t have to put up with it much longer because you won’t be here!

That seems dark, and it is, but it’s also a relief. It just means you don’t need to make yourself more miserable extrapolating out how long this is going to last and whether you can handle it. Either you can or you can’t. So let it happen. And remember that in due time, after you recover, this will all feel like a bad dream and you’ll forget it.

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