It’s flu season again and, like most men, I’m not very good at being sick. I have fairly low pain threshold and tend to feel pathetically sorry for myself when struck by the nasty virus. It really feels as though I’ll never be well again!
In the English language, there’s a colloquial term that sums up men’s inability to cope with illness: man flu.
Personally, I believe I can differentiate the flu from a bad cold. And let’s be fair, the influenza virus can and does kill. So the body knows it is under relatively serious threat.
Besides, there are evolutionary factors. For thousands of years men were responsible for hunting and protecting the tribe from external threats. Thus any form of illness in males would put at risk the safety of the entire clan. Which might explain our anxiety when it comes to feeling poorly…
Or am I just making excuses?
In this day and age, however, being sick has its advantages: it allows you to stop, or at least slow down, without feeling too guilty. The fact that resting is the best way to recover can make you feel entitled to do as little as possible. And if you’re lucky, friends and family will express their sympathy. Some may even offer to help!
We all lead busy lives and often forget to pay attention to what matters most: human relationships. The vulnerability that comes with feeling ill can be a useful reminder of how much we need others – emotionally way more than practically.
Another perk of being sick is, at least for me, the fact that the enforced rest can promote introspection. It’s almost as if the body decided autonomously, by lowering its defences, that it’s time for us to take a break and look within.
While ill, I’ve allowed myself to grieve past losses I hadn’t yet grieved fully. Because as well as being bad ‘patients’, men are generally not very good at grieving. Which is why, according to some research, men never really get over a breakup, as it’s only when we allow ourselves to feel the full pain of a loss that we can truly heal and move on.
Recovering from the flu can also have the effect of awakening a sense of gratitude. Suddenly, we appreciate being able to carry out those daily activities we would normally find tiresome or simply take for granted.
For workaholics and compulsive types, coming down with the flu can be a great opportunity to practise letting go. Sadly, we live in a society in which restaurant chains will threathen their staff with disciplinary action if they call in sick. But you can rest assured that no job is so important that if you take a few days off, the world will stop turning.
Paradoxically, the best way to fight the flu is to submit to it: embrace it and make the most of it!