But there’s a fine line between schizophrenic and multi-faceted, between two-faced and versatile.
I guess it started last weekendish. Once the weather cooled down enough for me to turn off the A/C, I was sleeping with the windows open. I don’t know if it’s the construction or just general Bedford Avenue traffic, but I began waking up with an increasingly dry throat and needing more than my usual allergy-treating/borderline-recreational Sudafed dose, just to feel like myself.
Marissa always makes fun of me if I complain about being congested, “You’re always congested.” But I guess there’s a level that I’m just used to. People scoff if I say that I’m hoarse with a sore throat, “That’s how you always sound, Ben.” There are, to me, clear differences between the natural sound of my voice, my temporary (this 2-year period) voice as a smoker, and my current state as a sicky.
Also last Friday, I was out literally all night – it was Jeffery and Cole’s closing night at Joe’s Pub and I partied like it was 1999, like literally as if I were still 23 (which would make me only a few months older than they are…)
When I woke up Saturday morning (meaning 2 PM), I felt distinctly under the weather. Unlike my 23 year old self, I didn’t want to run on fumes and I took it easy Saturday night, coming home after a late dinner party and Sunday, rushing home from Carrie Fisher’s amazing dress rehearsal for Wishful Drinking to make sure I’d be well rested for work on Monday.
I tend to enjoy my dayjob in the law office when I feel like I’m in good form, mentally and physically, and when I don’t feel behind on my work and when my ego/insecurity roller coaster is stabilized by being able to excel at my tasks and feel appreciated. On good days like that, I feel like I know who I am in relation to my job and I’m at peace with it. I wasn’t tired on Monday, but I definitely felt like I was coming down with something. One of the lawyers I work for even asked about it – I guess he can tell the difference too.
I decided to cancel my plans for the next two nights and go straight home from work and get in bed hoping to recover, to catch up on any rest my body was still missing from the weekend. I took a Benadryl at like 9 and was able to sleep for almost 11 hours.
When I woke up groggy on Tuesday, I blamed the Benadryl and was off to work with the conviction that I was fine and that I could have a good day at work. I was not and I did not.
By Tuesday afternoon, I was miserable and for some reason, my computer at work pretty much ceased functioning. Argh! I felt like shit and I couldn’t get any work done. All I wanted to do was to be home in bed, but I feel like I need to be at work if I can, because I’m already over my vacation/personal day allotment.
I spent the rest of the day in an increasingly bad mood trying to run virus and spy-ware scans on my uncooperative computer, finally deciding around 5, to thrown in the towel and hope for the best the next day.
It was great to come home, jump in bed, order some spicy Thai soup and surf the TV. I’d already enjoyed watching Dude, Where’s My Car? (for the first time!) the night before, so I knew there weren’t many movies on demand I wanted to see, but I had been procrastinating trying to get into the new series, Bored to Death and Glee, so when I ran out of recorded HGTV shows, I plunged in. Loved them both.
I laughed out loud at Bored to Death, totally sympathizing with Jason Schwartzman’s New York nebbish and charmed by Ted Danson’s Alec Baldwin-esque turn – I love when Hollywood veteran’s play lovably flawed people their own age, as seen through the eyes of younger writers and directors, a la Jeff Goldblum in Igby Goes Down. And I was surprised by how invested I got in Glee, considering that we didn’t have a glee club at my school; Matthew Morrison and Lea Michelle pulled me in at least as much as in their Broadway work and Jane Lynch and the rest of the cast are wonderful – I even got invested in the football game (another omission at my high school, not that I would have participated…).
No, the problem isn’t that I’m bored sick in bed.
If anything, I’m all too happy to lie in bed and watch TV – and chainsmoke. I wind up smoking more when I’m sick because I’m just there alone in my apartment watching TV for hours as opposed to being out on the town or at a friend’s place or even having people over where there are various reasons I can’t smoke or can’t smoke as much.
Then I start worrying that smoking is making me sicker – it certainly doesn’t feel good – and I start making all kinds of plans to quit. “When I wake up tomorrow, instead of spending an hour watching TV and smoking and drinking Diet Coke in bed, I’ll go running and then when I get back, after my shower, I’ll put on the patch and begin the first day of the rest of my life.” The trouble is that waking up sick is the last time in the world I wake up and feel like running.
In my most painful moments of coughing, I’ll even say to myself out loud, “I want to be healthy.” I have this golden image of the me I want to be – waking up early to journal and run, being on time for work and all other appointments, coming home most nights to cook a healthy meal, work on creative projects, and have a few meaningful conversations with people I love. I can see this life for myself, I want it so badly. Well, maybe not as badly as I want to smoke.
Wednesday at work, I felt somewhat better which Mike, the associate at the firm, noticed, adding, “I don’t like Sick Ben.” Excuse me? He backpedaled with, “I don’t like him as much as Regular Ben.” I couldn’t really get that offended, given how short-tempered I’d been the last couple of days, although I really felt it had more to do with my computer, which spent the entire day defragmenting and scandisking like an Upper East Side lady at a spa. It was weird to think of myself being less enjoyable when I’m sick. Last week on Flipping Out, I felt more in love with “Sick Jeff Lewis” than ever.
I’ll admit I’m a little turned on by his “Type A” aggressive perfectionism and perhaps dysfunctionally drawn to his emotional unavailable curmudgeon-ness, but when he was bedridden with food poisoning and looked so helpless and vulnerable all snuggled up in bed, my heart melted in a deeper way.
Now, I like the sick me, but maybe that’s because it’s one of the few times I really hang out with myself. The impact of this me-time is further intensified by me staying completely sober – I know from experience that alcohol weakens my immune system (that ice-cold shot of grappa bullshit is a gateway drug if I’ve ever tried one!) and if I’m seriously going to sit there in bed polishing off almost a pack of Parliaments in my condition, the least I can do is cut out the bong hits…
The result is that when sick, I spend hours and hours clear-headed and alone with my thoughts.
Even while I’m watching TV, I’m laughing, sighing, making black-girl-in-the-movie-theatre comments alone, I’m sharing the whole experience with no one other than the voices in my head. I like those guys. We can always have a good time. Why do I forget about them and spend so much of my life, running around without checking in with myself like that?
I think this was always the case and why I always enjoyed being sick, or rather, staying home from school to fake sick. As a child, I never got really sick. I mean, I had the chicken pox, but I can only remember once or twice when I actually had a fever and felt like crap. Still, I reasoned that I deserved the time off that the rest of the little germ-monkeys got, so playing it by ear, several times over the course of each school year, I’d decide in the morning that I wasn’t going to school that day. And I’d usually make it at least two days, if not three, because it seemed more legit, plus I invariably felt the first day went by too fast and I needed more time. I would stay in bed acting ill, which was easy because I’ve always had allergies and who doesn’t feel kind of crappy on a school morning? Once my parents were gone for the day, I’d be up roaming around the house, looking through the garage, making elaborate lunches, baking, etc.
Now I never would do this while in rehearsal for a play, but I certainly called in sick to my share of waiting-tables and temp jobs. One time, when I was working at a short-lived Brazilian fusion restaurant in the Flat Iron district, Caviar & Bananas, I got really sick, but was afraid to take time off because I needed the tip money so badly. The sexy Brazilians I worked with told me to eat raw jalapeno peppers and garlic, claiming this fiery appetizer-from-Hell would burn the sickness right out of me. Desperate, I actually heeded their advice and I remember feeling significantly better. It didn’t hurt to feel like I shared the fiery hot-hotness of the Brazilians. So what if my mouth and throat were on fire and I smelled really bad? Blame it on Rio!
Not wanting to sacrifice another evening beyond Wednesday this week, I came home from work again going straight to bed and this time, diving into plastic containers of pre-washed jalapenos and pre-peeled garlic. Aaaaah! I didn’t remember it burning quite so bad and I started to doubt my recollection that it had actually helped, although there is something about that heat sensation which, even if just as a distraction, is undeniably more pleasant than the feeling of being sick. After a couple of hours talking back to the TV with my inner Sheniqua, I happened to sing a little (you, know just little random phrases from random songs, a capella while peeing or fast forwarding, like you do…) and noticed that my nasal passages, my whole head actually, felt much clearer. Thank God!
I need to be at work and feeling healthy and productive so I can impress my boss (who’s buying me a new computer) enough to secure a decent raise at the end of the year so I can make this new living alone/paying the rent by myself situation work when my roommate moves out in November so I can redo my apartment and feel like an adult and spend more time in my nice home thinking about stuff so I can get started being healthy and quitting smoking and exercising and cooking for myself and get focused on what I want in life and write something more longform, which will hopefully be my next theatrical venture so I can get my whole life back on track. It’s one thing to think like this when I’m laid up and choking – like people finding God on their deathbed, but it’s got to be long-term, slow-and-steady-wins-the-race to really make a change.
I guess my golden-child fantasy of the “Healthy Ben” I want to be is somewhat unrealistic. But it’s always enlightening how it takes me being down for the count to even seriously ponder where I am and where I’m going. And for that, I have to thank “Sick Ben.”