I felt ill on Friday and decided to stay home; my sickness was minor (and legitimate), but reminded me of fodder for my blog. Fodder. My blog is cow-like, grazing on ideas like a ruminating ruminant. I’m sure there is a corresponding analogy for the udder, but in the interest of my readers I will avoid going down that path!

My wellbeing, or rather my estimation of my wellbeing, is easily influenced. My brain, upon hearing about illness or encountering a sick person, immediately begins to suggest, to hint, to my body that it also suffers from the same affliction. I am aware of this problem – I do not actually believe that I am sick, but somewhere deep in the grey folds of my brain a few synapses decide that I will respond accordingly, regardless.

Synapse Fred: So… hear about that swine flu?
Synapse Charlie: Ah, yes, swine flu.
Synapse Fred: Nate doesn’t seem too worried about it.
Synapse Charlie: Nope, seems not.
Synapse Fred: I was thinking…
Synapse Charlie: It takes at least two of us to call it thought. That’s why there’s two of us in this story Nate is making up!
Synapse Fred: We were thinking, how about making Nate feel sick? You know, nothing serious, just a general malaise with associated effects.
Synapse Charlie: Let’s do it. You call the stomach and get things unsettled while I check in with the lungs and work up a tightened chest.

As I said, I am well aware that these devious synapses fire as they do. Interestingly, that knowledge is not sufficient to prevent the feelings. Instead I am forced to outsmart my own brain. (Who, then, is doing the outsmarting? Perhaps my estimation of my own intelligence is equally unbalanced!)

There are some symptoms of illness that the brain cannot fake, and I check these whenever I am feeling sick; if these symptoms are not present I ignore those that are.

  1. Muscle tone: when you fall sick, in general, muscle tone increases. This means that when in a resting position your muscles are slightly more tensed than they would ordinarily be. As I am very thin this is easily detectable.
  2. Wheezing: I become slightly asthmatic when I get sick, a minor inconvenience that I’ve had since I was a baby. I have an inhaler for this purpose. The difference between a tight chest and asthmatic effects are easily distinguishible.
  3. Fever: Fevers, I have read, are related to confusion of the glands that control temperature monitoring in the body; as they recalibrate and tell the body to cool, the sufferer feels alternately hot and cold. As this is an unintentional feature of a sick body, my brain does not fake it and the hot-cold feverish feeling is a true signal of illness.

Some signals I cannot trust, and have learned to ignore as they can come and go as quickly as the duration of a new pharmaceutical advertisement on television.

  1. Headache: my brain will summon a headache if I so much as think about the words “head” and “ache” in a 30 minute timeframe.
  2. Nausea and related stomach annoyances: did I read about someone falling ill? Meet someone who coughed? Eat a piece of meat that spent more than 30 seconds on the plate between cooking and consumption? How about a nice upset stomach to go along with it?
  3. Dizziness: the illness in question need not even include dizziness as a symptom for my mind to induce the same.

Now after all this one might think of me as a hypochondriac. That is untrue however; after a long time dealing with a brain that inflicts symptoms on a whim I have become astute at distinguishing between the two. Originally (when I became aware of this issue) I hoped that as I became used to ignoring false witnesses to my health I would naturally stop reacting in such a way. Unfortunately this seems not to be the case.

Does my body want to be sick? Does my brain have it in for my body? Is this all leading up to a fatal retelling of the tale of the boy who cried wolf? Am I to be done in by a cold after long ignoring annoying minor symptoms? Let’s hope not: I’m not likely to start listening to my brain’s diagnosis now!

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