I debated wether to write this as an article or as a work log, because enough pieces have been collected arrange them into a coherent piece, but I decided against it: trying to produce something out of experience brings about exertion, and I’m quite sick as to expend any energy.
I first noticed something was wrong in the morning: sensing my sickness was a simple cold, I went to yoga, and though the workout was especially light, I was feeling dizzy. I came back home and had a three hour nap, and woke up feeling beat up. I tried opening a jar of chickpeas and I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder, not the kind where you tear muscle, but simply a magnification of body aches.
With my nose and ears stuffed I stood up and remained still, and pulses of vertigo come accompanied with a higher pitch of tinnitus, and decided I had to go back to bed. I laid down and felt miserable, I had already slept so finding sleep again would prove impossible, so I put myself in front of the computer. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t put myself to work, but I remembered my days in college where I worked through sickness with ease: was it simply youth or there was something else at play?
I decided to try taking work to the study hall, and was surprised to find myself quite focused. It’s as if the mind preferred to focus on work rather than how it feels. It was interrupted by bouts of coughs and a runny nose, but I thought it was remarkable that one can use work to avoid these feelings.
I recalled reading Solzhenitsyn’s account of writing the Gulag Archipelago under the most harsh conditions. Since he didn’t have access to paper, and even if he could somehow smuggle it, getting caught would be disastrous, he took to memorize everything he “wrote”:
I started breaking matches into little pieces and arranging them on my cigarette case in two rows (of ten each, one representing units and the others tens). As I recited the verses to myself, I displaced one bit of broken match from the units row for every line. When I shifted ten units I displaced one of the “tens”…Every fiftieth and every hundredth line I memorized with special care, to help me keep count. Once a month I recited all that I had written. If the wrong line came out in place of one of the hundreds and fifties, I went over it all again and again until I caught the slippery fugitives.
In the Kuibyshev Transit Prison I saw Catholics (Lithuanians) busy making themselves rosaries for prison use… I joined them and said that I, too, wanted to say my prayers with a rosary but that in my particular religion I needed hundred beads in a ring…that every tenth bead must be cubic, not spherical, and that the fiftieth and the hundredth beads must be distinguishable at a touch.
I never afterward parted with the marvelous present of theirs; I fingered and counted my beads inside my wide mittens—at work line-up, on the march to and fro from work, at all waiting times; I could do it standing up, and freezing cold was no hindrance. I carried it safely through the search points, in the padding of my mittens, where it could not be felt. The warders found it on various occasions, but supposed that it was for praying and let me keep it. Until the end of my sentence (by which time I had accumulated 12,000 lines) and after that in my places of banishment, this necklace helped me write and remember.
I was quite surprised by this story: we eternally fiddle with our work setup, finding fault in this or that. But when work is a refuge from hardship, any set up will do.
When you’re sick you’re told you should “rest”, but what is rest? Avoidance of toil, effort, stess, exertion. If you can avoid this while working, then work becomes as good as a movie for distraction from sickness. I put around two and a half hours before feeling it was enough, and I felt better afterwards.