Wednesday, August 26, 2015

About illness

My sketch of the miseries of influenza.

There is an art to being sick. And one's philosophy of life plays into it.

I came down with a nasty strain of influenza in July. For two weeks, I was flat out in bed unable to move much, headache, body aches, fever and chills, sore throat, laryngitis, congestion, coughing, know, the flu. It's been a very long time since I was this sick.

I had the chance to live my Stoic philosophy. I failed in the moment, but learned much.
If you didn’t learn these things in order to demonstrate them in practice, what did you learn them for? ~Epictetus
Stoicism (not the "stiff upper lip", stand-and-take-it with no emotion kind) is an ancient Greek and Roman philosophy with some coping techniques for the ups and downs of life. One outcome is increased positive emotions and decreased negative emotions. Another is peace of mind.

You seek through virtue (courage, temperance, justice, wisdom) and logic to respond to life in a way that helps you find happiness in adversity.

One exercise is to imagine a loss, or being without, for a brief time every day, and then through the day keep that perspective in mind, along with thoughts of gratitude. This helps you not take for granted what you have (job, possessions, family, friends, health) and prepares you for the certain losses that life brings.

Among other techniques, you manage your emotions and achieve peace of mind by evaluating what you can control and what is beyond your control, and through practice, learning to become indifferent to that which you cannot control.

In theory.

You definitely can't control the flu. I was not indifferent.

I was miserable, complaining that it wasn't convenient, that it never let up, that I was taking too long to get better. I was counting the minutes and dreading the night. My emotional misery added to my physical misery. It was only after I finally gave in and rested, and did what I needed to do to get better, that a bit more peace of mind came to me. I eased up on my own expectations.
Things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; so our perturbations come only from our inner opinions. ~Marcus Aurelius
Forced suffering teaches.

I learned that not as much matters as we think it does. Your health is a precious thing to appreciate and protect above all. It can be worse quickly. We are all temporarily able-bodied. Wellness will be more appreciated.
‘Being healthy is good, being sick is bad.’ No, my friend: enjoying health in the right way is good; making bad use of your health is bad. ~Epictetus
I learned that our stuff, our things, what others think, and the events that happen around us should all fall into a low priority, really, illness or no. Keeping that perspective is important to peace and well-being.
Being attached to many things, we are weighed down and dragged along with them. ~Epictetus
I had confirmed clearly that I am too soft and spoiled, and privileged, in my life in general. More Stoic practice is needed.
“But my nose is running!” What do you have hands for, idiot, if not to wipe it? “But how is it right that there be running noses in the first place?” Instead of thinking up protests, wouldn’t it be easier just to wipe your nose? ~Epictetus
I became grateful for food, water, a deep breath of air, throat drops, ice, soft Kleenex tissue and sleep. I've just been rushing through life, not paying attention to or appreciating the simple act of living.
Very little indeed is necessary for living a happy life. ~Marcus Aurelius
Moments of ease between pain are precious. Living more in those moments extends them.
The present is the only thing of which a man can be deprived, if it is true that this is the only thing which he has, and that a man cannot lose something he does not already possess. ~Marcus Aurelius
Loved ones and friends became more dear. Their concern and kindnesses however small were so welcome. We need to treat each other with more TLC.
To care for all men is according to man’s nature; and man should value the opinion only of those who openly live according to nature. ~Marcus Aurelius
And, I didn't get worse. I'm still here among the living. I didn't get bronchitis, pneumonia, sinus infection, strep throat, dehydrated or a list of other complications. I very Stoic kind of appreciation.
It isn’t death, pain, exile or anything else you care to mention that accounts for the way we act, only our opinion about death, pain and the rest. ~Epictetus
I feel changed, clearly, and don't think I'll be the same again. Unless I forget.
How quickly things disappear: in the universe the bodies themselves, but in time the memory of them. ~Marcus Aurelius
My duty is clear.


For the next time, for others. To be more "artful", to be more philosophical in practice than in theory.

Read more about Stoicism:

How to Be a Stoic, Massimo Pigliucci
Indifference is a Power, (Or why Stoicism is one of the best mind-hacks ever) Lary Wallace
Stoicism 101, How to be a Stoic
Stoic Ethics, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy