Sickness and Recovery: Perspectives from a Type A Personality
For all you Type-A personalities out there, not much slows you down. Driven and motivated, we are the self-starters, go-getters, high-functioning doers who succeed at so much and strive for so much more.
What rocks our world? Lists, plans, checking off those items on the list and making more plans. Getting things done stimulates the equivalent to an athlete’s endorphin rush and brings us back for more. For us, there is a direct correlation between productivity and self-esteem. Visualize this: as on an X/Y axis graph from junior high school math class, productivity is the X axis and self-worth is the Y axis. Plot the points according to your list and watch the lifeline and sense of self fluctuate with tasks accomplished and goals set.
What body-slams our world? Having to slow down and “take it easy”. How many times have you been told in your life to “chill out”, “relax”, “take a load off”? For me, countless. Most times I nod, smiling in acquiescence, mainly to avoid further uncomfortable conversation while simultaneously, and silently, determining the next few tasks I will accomplish. A part of me recognizes the truth and wisdom in these statements, but I don’t actually embrace them until I have to. Like now.
Usually my ‘down time’, apart from an hour or so each evening after a full day, forces itself on me in the form of a cold, flu or other prolific bug. In college I was one of those students who was healthy throughout the quarter but come Christmas or Spring break, would come down, like clockwork, with an illness of common variety. As an adult this usually happens when I take a vacation. And I find this most inopportune (read: unfair)!
There is never a good time to succumb to illness*.
This week I got lambasted by some virus that has forced me to recognize the good fortune of my normally healthy state of being. Upon waking up with a ragged sore throat and heavy head, there is usually some denial of symptoms, then anger, some bargaining, then slow acceptance; the stages of grief sotto voce. Once the acceptance settles, I usually have moments of secret, internal joy of doing things I never allow myself to do while healthy. Therein is an aspect of novelty. I get to lie on the couch in my sweats during the day. I get to read that book that I’ve been only getting glimpses of in the evenings as I immediately drift off to sleep. I get to say “no” to things.
Symptomatically, I wonder if there is an underlying case of “Bad Boundaries”…
What I had to say “no” to this week, much to my consternation, was: work, my first triathlon of the season, and coffee with a dynamic, go-getter woman whom I hope to woo into being my mentor. And it was hard! Even though my body was begging me no, my head, doing its usual alluring dance of “if onlys”, actually had me thinking twice: could I? Maybe I could if I arranged it this way? If I took more medication? If I napped beforehand? If I kept it short? Ad infinitum.
In the end my Type A self ironically wins. I’ve got a new goal: health. I go about it in usual Type A style: diligently and perhaps to excess. I’m supposed to drink four cups of herbal tea a day? I drink 10. I’m supposed to rest a lot? I dose with Nyquil in order to sleep a minimum of 12 hours a night. So I said “no” to all my potential engagements because I want to get better as fast as possible so that I can be healthy for my next triathlon in two weeks, for my training workouts that I want to start on Monday, for my coffee date with my potential mentor, for my demanding job.
My points are plotted. My sense of self is safely contained within the trajectory of productive recovery. In my sweats, on the couch during the day, I’m already feeling better.
*I write this post while addressing the common, uncomfortable ailments. I’d like to fully acknowledge that I will not be delving into the horrible, life-changing aspects of more serious diseases that are a part of our human condition.