Updated: Apr 27, 2021
In a few days, I’ll supposedly be fully inoculated. But this isn’t an entry about the particular set of feelings and realizations that might accompany that new reality. Rather, it’s about my reaction to the possibility of being felled [momentarily] by my second dose just under two weeks ago.
I was very conscientious, rescheduling nearly all my plans the day after my vaccine so that I might stew in my potential side effects to my heart’s delight. I don’t choose this word “delight” sarcastically or incidentally: I didn’t particularly dread or anticipate any disastrous reactions and instead somewhat relished the possibility of sickness without guilt. After a year of treating health as my civic duty, I was liberated by the fact that even while exhibiting symptoms, I wouldn’t contaminate anyone. I’d be ill because I had done the right thing and could suffer with peace of mind. I couldn’t be blamed for getting sick.
When you constantly feel that you owe the world your productivity, there’s a blessing in simply not being able to deliver. Your body won’t allow it; it’s the luxurious silver lining of the sick day. But when to take that sick day? We’re nearly all remarkably bad at trusting our needs, alarmingly good at pushing ourselves past the point of logic. Probably the most pernicious aspect in my case is that I take allowing myself to get sick as a moral failing. In the world of singers, where even a sniffle can be surprisingly debilitating and people try to read the daily molecular makeup of their throats like the augurs of animal entrails, it’s particularly hard not to internalize even a cold as a sin.
Beyond the necessities of making a series of tiny muscles perform acrobatic feats, my assertion that every physical breakdown might be my fault in a grander, moral sense is a testament to some typically problematic lines of thinking on my part: an absurdist perfectionism, as well as an overblown belief in my abilities to control and impact every aspect of the world around me, even on a microbial level. And it also illustrates how much I take for granted, in this blind sense of responsibility, as someone young and able-bodied. How I assign agency to an able body rather than a disabled one, and how easily I can turn the ableist intertwining of health, morality and worth onto myself as culpability. How easily I undoubtedly do it to others, as a result. And if we’re in the business of moral duties and accomplishments, wouldn’t I be better served recalibrating these assumptions rather than flagellating myself over a runny nose?
If you’re wondering, my side effects were very minor. No great surprise.