The day my last column came out I was diagnosed with pneumonia—and my daughter's stomach flu. After two weeks of caring for my sick child, I succumbed. It was kind of ironic: The last column was about the isolation of nuclear families and the stresses of parenting under late stage capitalism. Among other things, I wrote about wondering if I would lose my job, which offered no paid sick leave, if I had to take any more time off work to care for my daughter, my wife, or myself.
And then Sickpocalypse 2019 hit our household. Cold followed by ear infection followed by stomach flu followed by pneumonia followed by both parents down with stomach flu and another cold. Cue horror movie music. Cue crawling to the bathroom in the middle of the night and sending dramatic SOS text messages to anyone who had ever expressed any interest in our child begging them to take her so we could rest.
Luckily, our community came through in amazing ways. People swooped in to take the toddler on field trips. They dropped off casseroles and homemade bone broth. Folks did dishes, picked up prescriptions, and bought us diapers. Our community saved us from nuclear family disaster, and we made it out the other side feeling less like we needed to move across the country to live near Grandma, and more like folks had our backs.
My workplace, however, was not so awesome, and in the middle of the misery I put in notice that I was done. I can't weather another illness feeling more stressed out about the fact that the boss might not grant my request for unpaid leave than about my ability to breathe. So I'm returning to the precarious but flexible world of self-employment. Sometimes you have to choose your battles.
It's a lie, however, that I wasn't worried about my ability to breathe. I was very worried. Getting that kind of sick activates very scared young parts of me who didn't receive the kind of care they needed earlier in life. It activates all kinds of feeling out of control, desperate, trapped, angry and overwhelmed. Not my highest self. Plus there's Prednisone. Prednisone is a steroid that reduces inflammation and, when you've got lungs like mine, helps you breathe when you're in crisis. It is also my personal kryptonite. Or maybe it's more like when when Ron wears the horcrux in Harry Potter: it gets inside my head and it feels like something sinister is creeping around the edges of my consciousness, making me agitated, intense and uncharacteristically dark.
In the depths of a can't-fall-asleep-brain-racing-down-the-vortex night of despair, I called my best friend in California. He's the kind of best friend everyone needs when they're wearing a horcrux. He can offer the much needed reality check. We've been through 17 years of brilliance and madness together, plus he's a trained therapist. He listened patiently, laughed at my overly dramatic analogies, and then reminded me that I have a centered adult self in there whom I've spent a lot of years cultivating. He asked me what I would say to my own clients if they were deep in the darkness. He asked me to say it to myself.
So I put a hand on my heart and closed my eyes.
This is scary. Being sick with some degree of grace and acceptance isn't too hard for a few days, if you can take time off to rest and recover, but being sick for weeks, being sick while parenting a relentlessly energetic toddler, and being sick while trying not to lose a full-time job, is a bit much. You've been set up by an ableist world that doesn't support folks who are vulnerable or can't be "productive." But you're not doing anything wrong. You need some time and some love. You will find your center again. You're strong, and this is temporary, and you've got friends. Breathe.
And then I fell asleep. Friends really do make the best medicine.
Necessary Magic is a semi-regular column wherein writer and artist Jacks McNamara explores queer issues, liberatory politics, magical creatures and other relevant topics.