Mono And Despair
As most of you know, I’m still struggling with a relapse of mononucleosis. This is my second relapse of the disease, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr Virus. This relapse is now into its fourth month. This morning I woke up and felt like it took all I had to get out of bed. I went to church, but had to duck out about 20 minutes into the liturgy and go lie down in the rectory. This is not a normal kind of tired. When you’re normal tired, you feel that rest is rebuilding you. Not with this. Rest is like pouring water through a strainer; you never do feel like you’re catching anything or getting ahead.
It’s started to mess with my head, bigtime, especially now that summer heat and humidity is here in south Louisiana. Mono makes me especially susceptible to heat. All I have to do is be outside for a length of time and I’m waylaid. Before I was diagnosed with this stuff last summer, I mowed the grass and came in with my face flushed and my heart racing. I was sweating even in the air conditioning.
The consequence of all this is that I’m even more useless around the house than I normally am, which puts more of a burden on my wife, which in turn makes me feel guilty. She doesn’t complain, but I can tell it’s a real strain on her, especially because we don’t know when or if this is going to get any better (and then we don’t know when or if it’s going to return). Plus, I’m going kind of stir crazy being so tired all the time. I can’t remember what it was like to feel normal. I can push myself to do things (e.g., a book tour, a party), because I want to do normal things, but there’s almost always a physical price to be paid.
I keep thinking it will help to think about how Ruthie was far, far sicker than I, but never complained, and always kept a brave face. It makes me feel small and shallow to be philosophically and emotionally downcast with this chronic fatigue, given how much greater my late sister’s burden was, and how much more admirably she carried it. Still, it’s starting to feel really claustrophobic inside of this seemingly never-ending illness. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have the kind of job that I can do from my sickbed (from where I’m writing this, actually, on my laptop). If I had a physically demanding job, I would be on disability now. I’ve heard that men who suffer from long-term unemployment often slide into depression because they feel so useless. I think I’m starting to get an idea of what that might be like.
This has given me a greater understanding of what my father struggles with. He’s 78, and not in great physical condition. It’s just old age, which, for him, means just one damn thing after another with a body in decline. But his spirit is still strong, and his mind is clear, which only makes the fact that he’s not strong enough to do what he used to be able to do that much harder to deal with. I’ve often been unable to understand why this is such a big deal to him; I look forward to my old age, when I have nothing better to do but sit around and read. But this chronic fatigue mess has made me far more sympathetic to his ordeal of physically enforced idleness than I was before. Maybe there’s a blessing in that.