The 2017 Winter Super Virus Survivors Club
I am nearing the end of week five. It was more than a month ago that I first felt the unremarkable tickle at the back of my throat. I knew I was getting something. So far, so normal.
But the last five weeks have been so miserable that I've decided to write it down because although I feel like I'm suffering on my own, I know from talking to other people, there are lots of us out there. Yes it's only a virus and it's normal and this happens every year but if I can reach anyone with empathy and share sympathy then I will feel better about the whole thing and create connection from isolation.
The defining feature of The-2017-Winter-Super-Virus (T2WSV), as I have decided to call it, is its tricksy, misleading nature. Arriving on the scene like your average cold; sore throat, fever, runny nose, it has pretty unremarkable beginnings. Three or four days in, you think you've been through the worst and you're on the way up. You go back to work, you get busy with the day-to-day of family and routine and then suddenly it's back, only this time it's worse. Not a whole lot worse, but definitely worse than before.
I've caught another cold, you think to yourself, how unfortunate. The sore throat's back, but sharper this time and more painful. Your sinuses are blocked and you can't breathe and you've got a headache and the nostrils are encrusted and bleeding and you can't sleep.
Meanwhile the children have got it again (they had it first by the way) and they're starting to cough relentlessly. Not only that but I can everyone next door coughing relentlessly too, on both sides, and as I walk down the street I can hear lots of people hacking away. Then my throat gets so sore and aggravated by the coughing that I lose my voice.
Now I'm starting to fear the worst. Energy levels are low, and having initially dismissed all these people for being ill for far too long and speculating about the spectacularly unhealthy lifestyles that must be behind the longevity, I'm now feeling the cold hand of fate pressing upon my shoulders, which ache and are hunched up around my ears.
Just when it's getting worrying, it eases off again. You've had a day off work and cancelled a few diary engagements that were a stretch to far. There's a small but significant burst of energy and you pat yourself on the back for having kicked it. At three weeks you're wondering what took so long but at least it's on the way out.
Or so you thought.
It's the day after the small burst of activity and now you're really ill. The cough has seized your lungs and infected your chest. You're completely depleted. You've lost your voice and your back is in spasm from all the coughing. It's a dry cough that doesn't catch the stuff it's trying to expel and it's loud and aggressive. Now everything's cancelled. You're off work again but for longer this time. Your work colleagues don't get it and your boss thinks you're malingering. Your partner has long run out of patience and sympathy and you're bed-ridden and very poorly. It feels like flu now.
You're just as confused as everyone else and would be really quite frustrated and angry if you could muster any energy, which you can't. You haven't had a shower for three days and your pyjamas smell from the nights of fever. It's week four and you've cancelled countless social meetings and work events. Life is passing you buy. A whole month has been lost to illness.
For me week four was the period in which I retreated into isolation and despair. Spiritually compromised and all out of hope, I was defeated. I'd long since given up on Floradix and echinacea and vitamin C. Death visited me again and sat by my side, compelling me to look again at my mortality. Then it was my birthday. Hitting 38 and feeling keenly every one of those years I did get out in the morning but suffered in the afternoon when the energy deficit caught up with me.
I'm into week five now. I'm back at work but still coughing and depleted. I've been a horrible father and partner and have very little energy to do anything other than work and a few chores around the house. All my projects are on hold, my momentum has ground to a halt and my inspiration has plummeted. My woman has taken a big hit, having to pick up the majority of childcare and chores and continue to work, all while being pregnant.
I have never had an illness like this before. One that has behaved in this way. Leading me into a false sense of recovery and then dragging me down deeper than before, with at least three waves of attack. It's not the most serious disease in the world but it is miserable and it has affected many people as far as I can tell from the stories others have told me.
If this story is familiar, I feel for you. Please take care of yourself. I've remembered a lesson of empathy and compassion for others who are suffering and I have once again experienced first hand how difficult it is to deal with these illness scenarios in our limited family units when we're isolated under one roof, within four walls. The burden is borne by very few pairs of shoulders and it's a heavy weight to carry.
T2WSV is out there and it's seeking new hosts. My kids are in phase 3 or 4 or 5, I've lost count now. It's clever and tricksy and misleading and it's very unpleasant. Getting ill is not a failure. Nothing's gone wrong. It's a natural part of being human but this one is horrible and unusual and apparently rampant. I hope you don't have to experience it.
Share back your story if you're a T2WSV survivor. Empathy and sympathy. Connection out of isolation. What can we learn and how can we help each other. Thanks for listening.
Ben (formerly known as 'I don't get ill, I do yoga') Parkes