I don’t get sick a lot. When I do, it’s such a relief to be able to take the time to sleep and recover, knowing that I don’t have to rush anywhere. I have a few firm commitments coming up in the next few weeks, so I want to make sure I’m at the top of my game then. It makes sense to take it easy now so that I can reduce the risk of missing out on important things. Besides, W- has my back, and we have a safety net. Even if we don’t get a lot of cooking done during the weekend, we can grab pizza or sushi for J- (since she prefers fresh meals) or dig into the meals we stashed in our freezer.
2014-09-14 Dealing with feeling under the weather
When you’re fuzzy-brained, thinking of options can be difficult. It can be good to think about the trade-offs, backup plans, and workarounds in advance. Knowing what I can swap out and what I need to do can help me get through these fuzzy times a little bit better.
Writing and drawing are a little more difficult during fuzzy times. I don’t feel like I’m writing anything particularly useful or interesting, and I catch myself repeating similar thoughts. Fortunately, I’ve given myself permission to be boring too. I think of these more as notes and raw material that I can collect for a future Sacha who might be able to make sense of things.
Thanks to a bad cold and a bit of a sore throat, I’ve been under the weather lately. Fortunately, I can adjust my schedule to rest as much as I want to. Besides, this is a good opportunity to figure out how to write and do things while tired, because I’m sure this isn’t going to be the last time I feel fuzzy.
The easiest thing to do is to sleep. There are all sorts of other activities that don’t require creative thinking: tidying up around the house, watching movies, reading books, answering e-mail. But I’d really like to get better at writing, drawing, and coding even when I don’t feel alert and awesome. These are skills that get better with practice and rust with disuse. If I can get the hang of making things in suboptimal situations, then fewer and fewer excuses can get in my way.
I want to keep up the rhythm of publishing a post a day. There’s so much to learn and share, and so much gets forgotten if I don’t write. I want each post to share at least one useful point, although the occasional rambly life snapshot works fine too.
Outlines seem to help a lot. The mental effort it takes to outline things seems to be different from the effort it takes to write a post. I can outline when I don’t feel like writing. When I’m writing, I can follow the signposts of my outline.
When I’m tired, my inner editor is even more tired. Since I’m okay with letting the occasional typo escape into the wild and I don’t expect to make sense with every post (that’s what revisits are for!), perfectionism isn’t a problem.
I’m not as bubbly in my blog posts as I might otherwise have been. This is okay. It means that I sound normal. This could even be better, because then people can relate with me more.
I haven’t been going to as many events. I even skipped sketchnoting a friend’s talk because I didn’t feel like wandering too far from my stash of handkerchiefs and water bottles. There are still plenty of things I can do to get better at drawing even when I feel sick.
It’s a good time to practise the basics: drawing simple shapes again and again until I can do them quickly and confidently. The kind of stuff that might be boring if I felt more alert, but which needs to be done anyway in order to build skill.
I can also organize and classify. Every so often, I go through other people’s sketchnotes, clipping elements for my visual vocabulary. It’s boring but useful work.
Book reviews are good, too. Reading books is a great way to learn while passing the time, and doing more visual book reviews means I stand a chance of remembering what I learned once the sniffles are gone.
This one’s the hardest. With limited brainspace, debugging can get pretty frustrating, and I can end up adding more bugs when I try to fix something. Still, here are some things I can do:
Write more tests. These will help catch future bugs and make it easier for me to develop things even when my brain is fuzzy.
Read more documentation and source code. It’s harder for me to absorb new information when my brain is fuzzy, but sometimes things are interesting enough to inspire me to tinker. Emacs and Org source code, CSS tutorials, D3 visualization examples… There’s plenty to learn from.
Work on bugs? I might not feel like writing new code, but if there are bugs that I can investigate, then at least I’ve got the social payoff of making someone’s day.
Work on my TODO list. I always keep a list of small development tasks to work on. Even though I feel dreadfully slow when working while sick, I can still get stuff done.
When I’m sick, my desire for social interaction goes way down. I don’t want to go to events. I don’t want to talk to people on the phone. I’m not even particularly keen on e-mail. This is okay. I compensate by checking people’s social network updates and occasionally clicking on “Like.”
Fortunately, stuffing our freezer full of food means that we’re well-fed even during blah days.
Hanging out with cats means I don’t feel at all guilty about napping in the middle of the day. =)
How do you deal with not quite being at your best?
Monday: I don’t do “relaxing holidays” very well. My idea of a perfect holiday is one where I’m all wrung out at the end and ready to go back to work. Building a chair. Bottling a gazillion jars of jam. Taking apart and rebuilding appliances. Hanging out with family and friends. (If you’ve met them, you know what a whirlwind they can be.)
This New Year’s holiday must have been the quietest holiday I’ve had in a while. It’s weird! I’m half-dreading the abrupt change in pace when I get back to work tomorrow, particularly as I’ve managed to commit myself to some rather high-intensity days coming up.
(Fortunately, the world works in mysterious ways. It could have been crazier, but it isn’t.)
It’s hard to write about anything other than being sick when you’re sick.
Actually, this is not true. I snuck in some work this afternoon and I made a lot of progress writing a developer’s guide for the system we’re building. It’s hard for me to write about life or productivity or connecting at conferences when my nose is stuffed, but I can talk about node access records and workflow transitions, no problem.
Maybe that’s what I should do next time I’m sick and feeling lethargic. Never mind the mid-day naps. A good round of coding or documenting is a great antidote for the doldrums.
Being sick is great for all sorts of realizations, actually. I have the free time to do whatever I want to do (within reason). I don’t have the energy or the inclination to do many things. Granted, a lot of that is because of the cold, but if I don’t get around to doing something even though I have an unencumbered day, what are the chances of my getting around to it with an extra half hour?
Here’s what I’m learning:
Writing and coding boost my energy, and are a great way to cheer myself up if I’m feeling unproductive.
Playing the piano is fun, too. I’m slowly getting back into it (compensating for the time I couldn’t speak?). I like the slow development of fluency. Plus, my playing nudges J-, and she ends up teaching herself a bit too. I’ve been teaching myself Schumann’s “Von fremden Ländern und Menschen” (the easy version from http://www.free-scores.com/download-sheet-music.php?pdf=8153) because of its appearance in McDull, but it’s also a pleasure re-encountering old friends like Für Elise.
Drawing and preparing for presentations are pretty low on my radar. I should think about how to tweak that. Fortunately, I’d written a number of blog posts from when I was presenting more, so I can remember what it’s like.
Sewing has a bit more of an activation cost than it could. When work settles down again, I’ll set aside some time to see if I can fix this.
Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. I still have a bit of a cough and some sniffles, and I’ll probably work from home, but my voice is back and I can focus on work. (More easily on work than on other things, even.)
Wednesday was an interesting time for me. I am deeply, deeply grateful
to Leigh Honeywell and Jed Smith, who took me to the hospital and
stayed with me. Here’s what happened:
I fell while trying to get off my bike. I must’ve slipped or misjudged
the height because this was my first time to ride it wearing black
school schoes instead of hiking shoes. Fortunately, I was near
Graduate House when this happened, and I limped to my room to pick up
something I’d forgotten.
I headed back down and decided to brave the bike again so that I could
go to the bank. After a block of much pain, I decided that biking was
probably not the best way to travel. I headed back, found out that I
was bleeding, and did my best to deal with it. It wouldn’t stop,
I texted Jed to tell him that I couldn’t make it to samba because of
the bike accident. I also told a couple of friends who biked, just in
case they had any advice. One of those was Leigh, who turned out to be
on campus taking a class on Java exceptions. Upon hearing of my
distress, she left the class and headed to Graduate House in order to
help me get to the hospital.
I left out the specifics of the accident because it was a rather
embarrassing thing, but Jed insisted that I keep him updated. I told
him that Leigh was taking me to the hospital and that everything would
be fine. We took a cab to Western, and Jed met us there after a short
The Canadian medical system is good, but the lack of doctors makes
things a bit slow. That said, I was glad that I didn’t have anything
serious enough to make the triage nurse increase my priority. Having
company certainly helped pass the time. =)
The examination was a bit brutal, though. I cried and hyperventilated
from the pain, losing a contact lens in the process. They gave me a
painkiller afterwards. (Hmm, might have been a better idea to do the
painkiller before the examination…)
The resident doctor told me that it was a routine injury and nothing
to worry about, although he referred me to a Mount Sinai Hospital so
that a specialist could make sure that everything was all right. The
doctor told me that the next few days would be rather painful, though,
so I texted Quinn Fung, asking her to e-mail all the people I had on
We took a cab to Mount Sinai and waited for a few hours. The
painkiller helped, and the company of friends made it easy for me to
pass the time.
I got admitted to the emergency room at around midnight. I talked to
one of the ER staff about what happened, and then I dozed on and off
while waiting for the specialist. I woke up when Jed came in. He said
that Leigh had to leave already (it was way past midnight then!), and
he also brought some food. I didn’t have much appetite, though.
The specialist came at around 3:00. The preliminary exam was still too
painful for me, so they stuck an IV into me and gave me a stronger
painkiller. It made me drowsy, and when I woke up again they had
finished with everything and reassured me that nothing needed
stitching or patching up. Jed stepped out when they did the
examination, but remembered the instructions that the ER staff gave
him. That was good as I couldn’t remember the examination at all.
So that’s my first experience of the Canadian medical system. I’m
really, really glad that friends were there to help me navigate the
system and to hold my hand throughout the process. Big shout out goes
to Leigh and Jed, who saw me at my worst and stuck around anyway… =)
I threw up last night almost six hours after I ate bacon and eggs from
a restaurant. Weird that the only time I got a severse adverse
reaction to food here, it wasn’t even my fault. I was very weak, but
fortunately I had my cellphone with me, so I managed to call up my mom
for advice and one of my friends for help. It was all I could do to
grab a mug of water, open one of those wonderful air-activated heating
pads, and stagger into bed.
I would’ve asked Mariana for help, but she was studying, so I called
the only person I could think of who’d probably be awake and ready to
help. Deep gratitude goes out to Mike Tsang, who brought biscuits and
prepared some sugarwater for me. That really helped me recover, and I
went to sleep rehydrated.
I had a heavy lunch that day, so I think the suddenly high calorie
intake upset my system. I’m so very glad I have friends, though.