The flu that saved my year

My 2015 was probably pretty successful. However, I felt tired and unsuccessful and disappointed and withdrawn for most of it, and so my biggest triumph was learning to be OK with the year and everything else in life.

Funny thing is, I didn’t really realize that until I was smack in the middle of the flu in November — the second flu I’d had this year.

Sometimes getting lost in your head is a bad thing — the mind exaggerating minor challenges, giving you the feeling of doubt or despair almost as real as if I truly faced crisis, oppression or lack of physical agency.

This time, though, the flu made me lie down, rest and think about where I was and where I wanted to go — and how much, at that moment, I would have liked to be able to go anywhere.

“…for no man lives in the external truth among salts and acids, but in the warm, phantasmagoric chamber of his brain, with the painted windows and the storied wall."

— Robert Louis Stevenson (thanks, William James, for quoting him!)

I spend more than 11 months on a federal grand jury this year on top of 6 months in 2014, meeting Wednesday and Friday of each week. Well, not every Wednesday and Friday. Just those days in which prosecutors had enough to present to justify hauling us in — sometimes at 9 a.m., sometimes later, running an indeterminate length or till 4:30 p.m.

So, there wasn’t much to plan for. Don’t expect to be at work, unless you are. Don’t plan to travel early for the weekend, unless you can suddenly. Work late on Tuesday and Thursday to get ahead, then call the jury number to see what is going on. Show up some Wednesdays and Fridays, see who shows up. Will we get enough jurors for a quorum (spoiler: sometimes?). Will the witnesses show up? Will the prosecutors show up? Even they were occasional no-shows.

The process was disjointed, and information was both overwhelming (in terms of sheer hours of testimony) and hard to come by (any explanation of what constituted “probable cause” that didn’t use the phrase “probable cause”). At its most lax, “probable cause” seemed to allow a law enforcement official to come in, say, “All I will say is this guy did this. Trust me. You should assume I’m truthful, (you can’t prove I’m not),” and have that hearsay be enough proof.

I’m not saying jury duty was horrible. I’m just complaining the ways it messed with your schedule and some ways that it is a deficient system. The actual act of serving on the jury was inconvenience, little more.

The insidious thing that my cynicism about the experience slowly revealed that I too often didn’t know why I was doing mich of anything, especially outside of work. There, I run a leadership blog that for a corporate offering is unusually (in my opinion) focused on human beings. My job was literally to link to and publish words designed to inspire and to help people inspire others.

And yet, I could often ask myself, what was driving me? What do I care about, in the biggest senses? What actions am I taking and habits am I forming (or breaking) to further those aims and ideals.

Often, the answer was, “what are these ideals you speak of?”

I had the flu in April. Really incredible how quickly it strikes (thank you, man who coughed on me 36 hours before), and the long tail effects. Food and drink didn’t taste normal for a couple of weeks. I was tired for longer than I was ill. I don’t know that I truly came back in all aspects for months.

I say this because I did not feel like myself for many months. Not all the time, not in a dangerous way, but mostly a malaise. I also chose to read a book about the 1918–19 influenza pandemic, which may not have been the best idea.

All of this was easing in early November when the flu came back. I basically didn’t leave my apartment for 10 days. I’m lucky I can work from home — it was a couple more weeks before I felt truly ready to work at the office. But the symptoms and all that? Much the same. I knew I had the flu even before the real symptoms started, that’s how familiar I was with them.

What was different about this flu? I have felt incredible since. Not physically. I developed pleurisy as a side effect and narrowly avoided bronchitis; pleurisy is such an old-fashioned affliction that my 86-year-old grandmother was the only one who knew what I meant. I feel probably 90–95% while writing this, and it’s been, oh, several weeks?

But I had 8–10 days to largely rest, to think, to wonder about the world and what the hell I wanted to do if I could stay out of bed and awake for more than 4 hours at a time. I was able to read, and not worry, and not be on Twitter (as much). I didn’t have coffee or beer for that whole stretch, and my body was probably happy not to be jerked around by stimulants and depressants.

I emerged from that flu still feeling off, still not sure how and where things are going, but excited for the challenges, ready to embrace what comes and with a renewed sense of gratitude.

Maybe I actually learned something, somehing that stuck, in contrast to the at amounts of information I absorb, process and dismiss every day.

None of this is real science. I don’t know exactly what was going on with me this year, what the flu did to disrupt that or what, outside of a general sense, I’ll do to avoid another 2015. I’m writing this largely to make this known so I don’t backtrack or back down.

What I do have is a sense of what I want to be about and how that might manifest itself in all aspects of my life. In many ways, I’m simply rediscovering these ideals or vocalizing them to myself. Others are still hopes and dreams, but I’m looking for them and not ignoring them.

So I no longer think 2015 was a bad year. And if I could do all I did while being constantly sick, morose or in a courthouse, I think 2016 will be a damn good year. If nothing else, I’m eager to find out.