Wednesday 9 December 2009

Everyday illness phenomenology #2

I’ve mentioned before that it would be interesting to have a descriptive phenomenology of banal illnesses (to augment the more serious phenomenology of more serious illness). In the middle of a typical (except for the absurd amount of sleep I’ve needed) but still unpleasant and lengthy autumn cold, I want to mention a couple of points that might get into such an account.

Firstly, the balance of indulgence and boredom. A sufficiently obvious minor illness is enough to justify not working, including justifying to oneself not working in one’s own time (even though that book won’t write itself). So it buys one guilt-free independence of a whole often unpleasant tract of reality. And if one needs to sleep, there’s some pleasure in such guilt-free indulgence.

I don’t, however, think that any of that removes the boredom of drifting in and out of sleep for many hours a day, the boredom one would feel under normal circumstances in just resting and doing nothing interesting. (I've now not logged onto work email for 3 days. How could I not therefore have made progress with Richard Sennett's The Craftsman, even if not the rather drier Kendler and Parnas collection on psychiatric explanation? What have I been doing?!) But, like the case of pain and some analgesics, whilst the boredom (like the pain) is still there, under the control of sickness it doesn’t particularly bother one.

Secondly, and this may be peculiar to me, the right space or environment becomes important. Obviously, the bedroom for sleeping. But for me, the bedroom, also, for wakeful languid groaning. But there comes a point when I simply must get up and have a stab at being ‘up’ for some sort of truncated evening and thus down to the drawing room. (My study, otherwise my favourite room, doesn’t get a look in when I’m ill.)

The same sense of what is right attaches to entertainment. If I’m not up to reading (it is sometimes said that colds call for Miss Read though I can’t say I’ve tried: Iris Murdoch for me), it’s the radio during the day, but television is the right thing for the evening (again even a whole evening of television would be an allowed indulgence).

My hunch is that this latter pattern is important for me because so is a sense of normality, of the ordinary, and it is that as much as anything that is threatened by minor illnesses. So, now, sitting on the bed listening to Radio7, seeing in the now dark window that I have lost yet another day (the sun sets so early in Kendal), it is the return to simply feeling (and in that sense being) normal as much as the return of ordinary ability or thus to ordinary doing [Fulford 1989] that I’m impatient for.

Fulford, K.W.M. (1989) Moral Theory and Medical Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Kendler, K.S. and Parnas, J. (eds) (2008) Philosophical Issues in Psychiatry: explanation, phenomenology, and nosology, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press
Sennett, R. (2008) The Craftsmen, London: Penguin