on taking advice

by s.

The Carl Sagan quote about how if you want to make an apple pie, you must first create the universe never rings more true than when you are sick. When you are sick, of course, is when you need such things the most: not apple pie, necessarily, but things made from scratch. Things made out of produce and spices, warmed, bubbling. Toddies with lots of lemon, cinnamon-flecked apple ciders, pretty much anything you can possibly call soup. 

These are of course the last things we’re capable of when we’re really feeling down. Yesterday, in bed with a fever, I could think only of cold things and felt no affinity for flavor. When I finally ventured out of the house to find any kind of drug that would help break the heat, what I ended up coming back with was a bagel with pumpkin cream cheese. It wasn’t just that it was the only thing I could find – even the bagel place has soup – it was that it was the only thing I could stomach. When you are particularly sick, there are moments when your taste buds can’t force themselves to do the right thing and you flounder. This is why we spend our entire lives fighting to be healthy: it’s not easy.

There are only a handful of people from whom I will take advice, and only when it comes to a handful of problems. This week alone, I’ve stubbornly ignored love advice, work advice, and makeup advice without a second thought, but yesterday after I ate the bagel, I thought hard about what it said about my health. “I’ll make up for it later,” I said. I wondered if I deserved to be sick, if this overblown cold was simply my body’s cry for an adjustment. I eat well, most of the time, but we can all stand to do better. We can all always do better.

Shortly after my fever broke, Rebecca sent me a link. “Just make this,” she said of a simple coconut curry broth. I had been asleep for six out of the previous eight hours. I was beginning to play mental tricks on myself. Making anything felt impossible.

But I slept and I woke up this morning and headed rather gratefully to the office, making it through the day on a lifeline made mostly out of shumai and a litre-sized bottle of lemon Perrier. As anyone recovering from an illness does, I faded towards the end, and I faltered while walking through Whole Foods this evening half-craving their thick vegan cake slices. I stopped then, breathed slowly, and for once let someone else do the thinking for me. I came home and swirled my purchases around in a pan – coconut milk, herb and sea salt vegetable broth, a hearty scoop of red pepper curry paste – with last night’s roasted vegetable leftovers and some tumeric. I ate it. Rebecca was right: it helped. Then I made the lemoniest hot toddy I can stand and I’m drinking it now with the feeling that it’s all up from here. 

It is true of both physical and mental health that there will be points where doing the right thing not only feels impossible, but that doing the opposite thereof is a relief. At those points, we have to step back a minute and let someone else drive the ship. It doesn’t ever take a million inspirational quotes or even the right healthy recipes. If it did, we’d all be perfect all the time. All it takes is a shove at the moment when you are lying feverish in bed and only thinking about water and bagels. It’ll take a day, maybe two, but eventually you’ll eat the goddamn soup and feel better already.