Monday, August 29, 2016

Zen and the Art of Having Mono

I had been sick for six weeks before I was diagnosed, and while I knew I was sick, I didn't slow down as much as I should have. The first doctor I went to said I had strep throat. The second said it was a sinus infection. I went through three different courses of antibiotics, and it wasn't until the fourth doctor visit (new theory: "Are you absolutely sure you're not pregnant?") that I asked for a mono test.

Mono is an illness that is treated with rest, rest, and more rest, and nothing else. Once I knew that, and once I gave myself medical permission to let down, I found that rest was all I wanted to do...and that it did, indeed, make me feel better. At first, rest mainly meant binge-watching the Olympics. Then, when my head was a little clearer, I started reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I'd been meaning to read for quite a long time, but apparently needed a convalescence to follow through with.

Lifelike representation of the author.
I read a digital copy, and according to my iPad, I highlighted 65 passages, a rather staggering number for someone as stingy with a (digital) highlighter as I am. And yet for all that highlighting, I don't know that I enjoyed the book, which is an introduction to philosophy wrapped in a cross-country motorcycle trip. Parts of it I found eye-opening, but parts of it made me deeply uncomfortable...though perhaps that was the entire point. It took me a while to get through because it wasn't really a "rest" book. It was a book that required energy.

This mono business hasn't left me bedridden, but it has slowed me down just enough to disrupt my routine and force me to pause. And here's the thing: I keep telling people I want to get back into my routine because it seems like the right thing to say, but I'm not sure I do want to get back into my routine...or at least not the exact routine with no changes at all and everything precisely the way it's always been.

Sometimes I don't know from moment to moment if I'm tired right then because I'm sick, or if I'm tired because there's all this stuff, all these things, that fill up my time and I'm anticipating the weight they'll bring when they come flooding back. And there's part of me that feels guilty for even thinking that way, since these weights I'm talking about aren't bad things, and I know people who are consistently busier than me.

AND YET. It's me, so of course I'm going to take something totally mundane - like having an illness that most people get as teenagers - and use it as a learning experience, but that's what I'm talking about. This rest, this reprieve, this downtime that I have spent, in part, reading that damned book, is allowing me to not think about the life that I am not fully immersed in right now and instead think about other things, and oh my God, there is such a world of "other things" out there that I never take the time to think about.

Creativity is birthed from boredom, and boredom can't emerge without time, and time is something no one ever seems to have enough of.

But that's stupid. So much of what we do to ourselves is stupid. If you're going to be healthy, it's necessary to sometimes spend your time doing nothing at all. This is vital.

And that's the lesson I'm taking away from having mono.


  1. I'm a little confused. You have to be busy all the time, unless you are sick. Now you are sick so you're not as busy. So . . . you learned sometimes you need to do nothing at all? I would like another post with more clarity please. If you have time.

    1. :) I'm not overwhelmingly busy (except at work...always), but I have a full life. Now that I'm taking a little break from that fullness, I'm wondering if I'm using my time in the best way. Or am I just doing certain things (and, to be honest, maintaining friendships with certain people) because it's convenient and it's simply "part of my routine" at this point? I hadn't taken the time to think about it...and things that I HAD been thinking about were maybe not worth the energy I was putting into them. If that makes sense! It's like, by slowing down, I'm looking at everything from a slightly different perspective, and in the new light, my priorities may be shifting.

      If I'm struck by inspiration for a better way to convey this, I will definitely write a second blog! :)

  2. OK, thanks for clarifying. Did you ever read this book? It's not quite what it sounds like, but she's got great ideas (more than 1 person can ever do) for clarifying things.
    The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
    Her book Better Than Before is also helpful

    1. I haven't read either of her books, but The Happiness Project has been on my list for a while. :) I just posted an epic blog entry that may or may not make things clearer, but I had a lot of fun writing it!