HOMEGROWN HOLLYWOOD: Why we shouldn’t wait for sickness to slow us down

LOS ANGELES — Last week I was sick.

I had the kind of cough that makes people scoot their chairs a few inches away and look at you with a mix of pity and disgust — like I was a poor Victorian woman dying of consumption.

My husband, Jason, claims the only time I’m ever truly honest about how I’m feeling is when I’m sick. If I’m healthy and he asks me a question, I’ll usually respond like a good Midwesterner, “Fine.”

“How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“Is your steak undercooked?”

“It’s fine.”

“Are you angry at me?”

“I’m fine.”

As Jason likes to point out, Eskimos may have a hundred ways to say “snow” but Midwesterners have a thousand ways to say “fine.”

All that stoicism gets dropped when I’m sick. Every emotion I’ve been storing up for months comes flooding out in pitiful moans and sad little whimpers and by the second day Jason wants his non-emotive, passive-aggressive wife back.

It’s not that I’m a baby (I say defensively) but rather, being sick is the only time I allow myself to be honest about how I’m truly feeling and, more importantly, let myself slow down. It’s the only time I really listen to what my body is telling me it needs.

In fact, when I start to feel a tickle in my throat or an ache in my muscles, I feel a tiny bit of relief. Finally, I think. I can just lie on the couch and read a book.

So why does it take the Bubonic Plague before I’ll take care of myself?

The truth is, taking time to relax and let my body and mind rest a bit, doesn’t feel like a legitimate reason to slow down. When I do sit on the couch with a book, or binge watch Netflix in bed, the guilt almost overwhelms the enjoyment.

“What are you doing?” My mind whirs at me. “You should be using this time to do something important like writing the Next Great American Novel or working out to that dance video you bought last year after you decided you were going to really commit to your abs.”

Eventually the guilt wears me down, and I’ll rise wearily from the couch and start working again — just to make the voices stop.

(I just said, “make the voices stop” in a widely published paper so whatever happens to me after this is really on all of you).

It seems these days it’s cool to be overwhelmed. Clutching an americano in your hand, shaking from lack of sleep and feeling a sense of self-satisfaction that you’re still upright. Proud that there is nothing left for you to give.

I’ve been that girl, sliding into work with a coffee in her hand because I’d stayed up half the night writing or brainstorming or, let’s be honest, not doing anything other than worrying. Hating how I felt, but for once feeling a little relief from the knife-edge of anxiety at the back of my throat.

My friends and colleagues would look at me on these days with sympathy but there was also no mistaking the tiny glint of jealousy in their eyes. I recognize it because I’ve felt it so many times before.

They wanted what I was having because it meant I was doing something important. It meant I was going to really deserve the success I was working toward.

Does it?

Or does it just mean I’m hurting myself? When did stress become the latest accessory you can’t leave home without — like your wallet or those new chokers everyone’s wearing that I don’t understand?

It’s no wonder when I feel my body sliding into sickness I rejoice to have an excuse to close the computer, cancel the meeting and just sit down.

My latest cold lasted a few more days (full of books and sleep and Jason bringing me juice) and the day it was over I came home from work and opened my laptop.

Jason looked at me, concerned. “Are you sure you’re feeling up to that?”

“Of course,” I said. “I’m fine.”