When I hear sick people saying “I never get sick”─and I’ve heard this a lot this winter─ I wonder if their illness has impaired their memories. I’ve never met anyone that never got sick. I find it very hard to believe that they had never had a runny nose, hay fever, asthma, headaches, colds, stomach bugs, flue, coughs… the list of minor illnesses is endless. Maybe because in recent times people close to me have been afflicted by serious illnesses I find it annoying hearing that less than accurate account of the truth about people’s wellbeing.
But I’m also guilty as charged. I recall having that attitude in the past. Last year I clearly remember getting sick with the flue both in March and October. I got so sick I had to call the ambulance both times. When I came down with the flue in March I remember saying that “I never get sick”─surely this was just a one off event. But in October I could not fool myself into thinking that I never get sick (this time my sickness did not impair my memory!). But I still had justify my situation: My explanation for getting sick for the second time in the year was that I had run a marathon and was also sleeping pretty poorly so by immune system was under a lot of stress.
I find that it’s silly that we have to justify our ill-heath to society and to ourselves. We all get sick! It’s part of being human. I couldn’t find official statistics about how often people get sick but one study revealed that on average people call in sick 164 days in their work life. If we assume that our work life spans 45 years, the average person gets sick 3.6 times per year. Let’s round it down to three times as some people may call in sick for other reasons as well.
We shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed and pretend that we are part of a mythological group of people that are supper-healthy-and-never-get-sick. I think that at a conscious level we all know that but we just can’t help ourselves; we want to be part of that mythical club. We forget that even the super healthy get sick. I have friends that get sick more than three times per year and others that don’t get sick every year. In both groups I note that some of them are what would qualify as super healthy; they are fit, eat well, don’t drink or smoke and get plenty of sleep.
Maybe it’s our need or desire to be in control of our lives that makes us believe that we are super healthy and immune to disease. If only we manage to get our ticket into the super healthy club we are safe and in control. The occasional flue is just a super virus that struck our immune system by surprise. More vitamin C and kale should do the trick next time… When we get sick we are no longer in control. I think that being sick reminds us that life is much more random than we would like it to be.
Illnesses also exposes our vulnerability to the world. When we get sick we become just like everybody else. We are no longer in the ‘I never get sick’ club. When you are in the club you feel endowed with a super genetic prowess that prevents you from getting sick. Sickness reminds us that we are all ordinary human beings and as such are afflicted by ill health.
I try to look after my physical and mental health by following a relatively healthy diet (but I love sweets), exercise and meditation. I believe that this leads to better health overall but I’m not convinced that people live a life free of illnesses by controlling those elements. This article from Harvard Medical school explains that there is no conclusive study showing that we can boost our immune system and thus, not get sick.
Next time I’m coughing my lungs out in public I’ll try to be more accurate and instead mutter that I don’t get sick as often as the average population. It’s not as impactful but much closer to the truth. Or maybe I’ll just say nothing. I think this sounds better.