When I was younger, I went through a period of my life where I would wake up feeling more or less like garbage every day. My head constantly hurt, and I would frequently be unable to see out of my right eye because of the aura of my headaches. Not surprisingly, I was always tired, irritated, nauseous and had no appetite.
This period of my life lasted a year. No matter how many painkillers I took, or how long I slept, my malaise had seemed to become a part of me. I began to learn how to cohabitate with it – how much time I could spend at the computer before my headache intensified from the blue light, etc., etc.
While I was very acutely aware of the symptoms of my era of headaches, I could not have told you what had caused them. I didn’t even know whether my problem was really just headaches – sometimes my head merely felt cotton-y, but my nausea was extreme. It was rather distressing. I tried to do my daily routine as strictly as possible, and still, the odd symptoms persisted.
It turns out that my problem was chronic migraines. I had to go to a number of doctors and explain my disparate symptoms before one of them referred me to a neurologist, who promptly gave me this diagnosis.
Finally, I had a name for the malaise. No longer was I like a feudal peasant plagued by some unknown demon. The problem then was what caused these migraines? Nothing in my life had changed significantly from one year to the next. I was living life as I normally did – or so I thought.
My neurologist gave me some pretty sound advice – keep a log of any bad symptoms, in conjunction with what you did that day which may have potentially caused problems. Over time, you will amass a great body of data about the degree of pain, the location of the pain and the potential causes of the pain, such that you will eventually be able to narrow down precisely what the problem is.
For me, the problem was stress. In hindsight, it was very obvious that my problem was stress. I was going through one of the most difficult years of my life. While I was keeping it together mentally, my body was rebelling against me, so to speak. I had become so alienated from my somatic experience that I would have been unable to pinpoint the cause of my “disparate” ailments had I not engaged in this systematic logging of my symptoms and the possible causes of them.
I was too busy managing other things to pay attention to my body, and it was only when things became unbearable and I needed to be medicated that I finally decided that enough was enough.
I’d say that, given the current political climate of our country, and the ongoing pandemic, most of us are pretty stressed out. I’d venture to say that we are so stressed out, we frequently forget to pay attention to the ways we feel, and what causes us to feel certain ways. We just accept that we feel bad and hope that it goes away because as college students, we do not particularly have time to entertain everyday maladies.
I’d like to suggest that this mentality is fundamentally destructive of one’s health in the long-run, and that, in fact, because of this ongoing pandemic, it is even more crucial for us to learn to understand our body and its responses to external stimuli.
This sounds like quite a chore. Where are we to find time and energy to closely monitor ourselves so that we can come to a better understanding of the ways in which our body functions? And anyway, we are not doctors, so the understanding we are going to come to is going to be necessarily limited.
I capitulate to the second objection. It is quite true that most of us have little to no medical understanding, and, as such, our knowledge about potential causes for aches and pains is limited. We cannot accurately self-diagnose – and even if we were doctors, doctors cannot accurately self-diagnose either anyway. However, that does not mean that we cannot come to at least understand, at a very basic level, what the most likely cause of a pain could be.
In fact, I would argue that as the embodied individual, we are in the best position to understand what could potentially have a direct negative effect on us. My neurologist could not have trailed me around all day and indicated to me my pain levels at different times. This is a practical impossibility and I am the only person who knows whether or not I am in pain.
If I start to pay some minor attention to my symptoms – if I take one moment to sit down and think about potential variations in my day – I can usually come up with a pretty good idea of what happened.
For example, one day I had a sore throat. By taking 10 minutes to think about my day and any potential changes to my routine or my environment, I realized that my sore throat had been caused by a change in the humidity. It was getting cold at William Jewell College, and that means that the air supports fewer water molecules, and my throat dried out. I remedied this by drinking extra water, and no more dry throat!
This introspection is made all the more easy by the plethora of apps created for the purposes of tracking your daily health. For my migraines, for example, I frequently used MigraineBuddy to analyze my headaches.
I could have freaked out about my sore throat and determined that I had COVID-19 or perhaps throat cancer. But such fears would have been rather excessive.
Still, one can quickly see the importance of being aware of one’s body during this pandemic. Say I had woken up with a sore throat and had just ignored it and went about my day. Perhaps the cause of my sore throat, which I would have discovered had I taken a moment to deliberate, was because I had come in contact with some new individuals on campus who were mask-less. I could have then taken the necessary precautions to ensure that I did not come in contact with anyone else and potentially spread disease.
Thus, I suggest to everyone on campus – do not ignore your body! Aches and pains do not materialize out of thin air, nor do they always magically go away. It is important that we take time to be mindful of our bodies. Otherwise, we risk long-term damage and, in this pandemic, perhaps an increased rate of contagion.