Not whether, but when

Sonnie Bailey

6 January 2023

After avoiding Covid for two and a half years, I finally tested positive in August.

It was an interesting experience. Even though I was testing negative, my brain was foggy for nearly two months.

Making decisions took longer, and took more bandwidth. The quality of my decision-making wasn’t as high, either. When I was at the supermarket, I didn’t have the energy or inclination to work out what item had the best unit pricing – my main criteria was what was most convenient and looked best.

When I was interacting with people, I was a beat slower than usual. Where it was usually natural for me to do the “dance” of moving out of people’s way when I was in the kitchen or the supermarket aisle, I couldn’t do it. It was hard to put myself in someone else’s shoes and think about their experience, I just wasn’t functioning as effectively.

It was a striking experience.

It reminded me of the saying – “there but for the grace of God go I”.

It’s easy to take good health, and all of the other benefits that flow from it, for granted. In some ways, it’s a bit like the difference between playing a computer game on “easy” mode rather than “hard” mode. For me, having Covid was a visceral experience of living in hard mode.

For most of us who are fortunate enough to have good health, there will be a time when we can’t take it for granted.

Instead of coming down with something temporary, it might be a chronic illness that lasts for months, years, or longer. It could be a terminal illness.

It could simply be the aches and pains and strains from growing older.

One of the most useful frames for thinking about these things is not to think of whether I’ll ever feel this way, but to think in terms of when.

Not in terms of trying to predict when I won’t be fully operational. But in terms of expecting it to happen at some point (or points) in time.

In terms of being prepared for when it happens.

Personally, this has a few consequences:

  • It makes me feel especially grateful for my good health and fluid intelligence when I have it. If I’m lucky enough to live a long life, I will look back on these qualities and think of them as luxuries.
  • It reminds me to plan for when these things happen. To have contingencies in place. To be in a financial position where you can wear the added expense of buying the $6 jar of jam rather than the $4 jar. Of having insurance so I don’t need to worry about the financial repercussions so much. Of trying to stay as healthy for as long as possible so I can increase the odds and speed of recovery when I’m not at my best.

At a bigger picture level, it makes me more sympathetic for those people who are in struggling in one way or another. Lots of people are struggling in all sorts of visible and not-so-visible ways. I might not be struggling physically right now, but there will be, and have been, times where I haven’t been as lucky. At the end of the day, we’re all swimming in the same water, and I consider it important to be compassionate for one another.


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