Sick on Term Break – Teacher Life

It was only two days until term break (aka “the shining beacon of hope“ for all teachers) when I felt something hurting in my chest. It was one day until term break that it had turned into a cough. It was the first day of term break that I got unconscious and threw up on the plane that was taking me to my holiday destination Hokkaido, where I was going to spend time with an old friend I hadn’t seen in two years. After my friend picked me up and we walked past the university near his house, the staff from the parking lot asked me in Japanese: “Are you very tired?!!“ And tired I must have been, because I spent the following two days on my friend’s family’s sofa, in a semi-conscious, zombi-like state.

My body temperature went from Sahara desert to North Pole and back to Sahara desert in the course of a 20 min TV show. Walking to the bathroom (5 steps away from the sofa) became a tantalizing endeavor and I needed several minutes to catch my breath afterwards. I felt like my lungs being squished by something (I wanted to say octopus, but that sounds way too cute for what it felt like) and I could barely breathe at all. My voice was almost gone and talking really hurt. The only time I didn’t feel like dying was when I lay very still, under lots of blankets, not talking or moving or doing anything at all.

Which, I can tell you that, is the most difficult thing for me – not doing anything at all. So difficult in fact, that I never do it. I’m always moving, moving, moving. I’m never done. I can always find more to do. That can be a good thing. For one thing: I’m never bored. I don’t understand the concept of boredom at all. Also, once I set my mind to something, I can get a lot done. Shoot for the moon and all that jazz. There is a catch though: If you combine this kind of personality with the teaching profession, you are most likely headed for disaster.

It won’t matter if the warning signs are all there: Still being at work when it’s already dark outside and everybody (including your boss) has gone home already, being semi-ill for weeks (but not wanting to call in sick, because how would that look?), and powering through constant fatigue, every day, for months. Not being able to get out of bed on the weekend because you feel too weak and unmotivated to do anything at all, could also be a clue. But it won’t matter, you’ll keep going anyway. Because you’re superteacher, and she can handle it all.

Until your body has had it and puts and end to it. Usually when I’m ill, I’ll still end up walking around, cleaning my apartment or something like that. My body knows that. So this time it told me: “You’re done. I really mean it this time. Calm – the fuck – down.“ The reason why I kept telling my friend for two days: “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die!“ is maybe because I really am killing myself with the way I live my life. (That or me being overly dramatic. Both is equally possible.)

It’s Monday today so my friend took me to see a doctor. It was very similar to the experience I described in my last post, so I’m officially a fan of Japanese doctors now. I got lots of medicine, and I’m ready for the antibiotics and shouganai to wash over me, and take away my anger and frustration about my situation. Shouganai, sometimes gracefully translated as “shit happens“, is an attitude ascribed to Japanese people, meaning when something in your life goes wrong that you can’t change, there is no point getting upset about it, so just move on.

As much as I admire the shouganai spirit, it’s never my initial reaction. I get irritated and frustrated when my carefully thought out plans don’t work out. Throw in some „Why me??“ and „That’s not fair!!“ and you get the picture. Yet here I was, unable to move for two days, which gave me the opportunity to examine my situation in a shouganai kind of way. Which went something like this: Step 1: Accept your situation. Step 2: Look closer, for there is something positive in everything. And you wouldn’t believe it, but I found a lot of positive things beneath the “cough and sputum“ (It said so on one of the medicine packages and sputum has been my favourite new word since then.)

Now what is positive about my situation? I’m not going to climb mountains. I’m not going to do any of the things I planned to do. I’m not going to see the beautiful island that Hokkaido is said to be. And the most my friend is going to see of me is my face covered in a surgical mask, almost suffocating from coughing every time he cracks a little joke. But imagine I’d be in Yokohama all by myself in all this. I’d be terrified. And so lonely. Here I’m still a little terrified, but not lonely. There is my friend’s mum, looking up a vegetarian pasta recipe on the internet, or my friend’s dad discussing Abe Hiroshi’s acting skills with me. Or my friend sitting on the sofa next to me because that’s our operating range right now.

I’m genuinely sorry my friend’s family has to put up with me being so ill. I’m also genuinely glad they do, because my own family is many, many miles away. So despite my holiday not being a holiday, I consider myself very lucky. I’m not outside with my camera, but I’m getting an idea of Japanese every day family life. Not a million great pictures could replace that.

What is the moral of this, other than a lesson in shouganai? Take good care of yourselves, teachers. I haven’t yet learnt to do so, but I’m on my way.


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