There’s no way you can get warm. Gripped by fever, you've pulled every blanket you can find over your body, wool socks onto your feet. The thermometer shows a dangerous 102.7 degrees, yet your body won't stop shaking from a chill that no one else in the room seems to feel. An hour later your fever subsides, only to be followed by soaking sweats that leave you feeling nauseous and despondent. By evening your fever has returned, shaking your bones like dried stalks of milkweed in autumn wind.
What is to be gained here? What could possibly be the upside? Nurses keep sticking needles into your skin, drawing blood out, pushing fluids in. Lights and sounds conspire to keep you awake when all you want to do is sleep. There are risks, torments, anxieties, and missed opportunities. There may be tangible, irrevocable damage. You have little information. You have lots of pain.
You wouldn’t have signed up for the experience if you had a choice. Choice is the great luxury, the downy pillow beneath a tired head in a private sleeping car on a long journey. Reality is a seat in steerage on a wooden bench, with inadequate ventilation and a colicky baby in the row behind you.
Don’t miss a minute of it. Frayed as your nerves may be, sad or angry or even bereft as circumstances may have conspired to deliver, you will not likely have easy access again to the saturated depth of these feelings when times get better. Clearly you want things to be better, but since you can’t generally choose when you’ll face hardships, they are rare opportunities for you to get valuable experience from places most people don’t willingly want to go.
Crazy? Not if you’re paying attention, and certainly not if you regard your life as one focused on being creative. In your torment, you can do two things. You can reclaim a measure of control about your circumstance by applying rational thinking to your profound discomfort, and can learn things you might not otherwise have had an opportunity to learn.
To be clear, these charges do not simply apply to medical issues. If the plumbing in your home bursts at three in the morning on a January night, casting your life into chaos, you’re practically in the same place as that agonizing hospital bed. How will you replace your worldly things? How will you handle the high performance presentation you’re scheduled to give in the morning? Where are you going to go in your pajamas on a winter night just to stay warm? Where are you going to go the next night?
It’s agony, of course, but you learn things you otherwise might never have learned. How do pipes work? How does insurance work? Who can you really trust at work to be sympathetic, and who just wants to see you fail?
The lessons we learn under duress may be the tiny bits of information that enable us to overcome other obstacles later in life. You not only can relate to challenges that other people may be facing, but if the pain of it all hasn’t beaten you to a pulp and you’ve managed to retain a measure of your good natured humor, you now know things that others may not know.
Time stalks us all. Sickness and decrepitude float above fluorescent-lit hospital chairs. Every urban intersection offers the macabre potential for glittering, glass shattered car crashes remembered in cinematic slo-mo. Financial challenges are only one corporate downsizing away for millions of people, and grief will always find each of us in one way or another. The question is, how are you going to deal with it? Does the next intruding needle from a challenging bag of IV fluids inspire a moment of elegant poetry? Does a lifelong friend’s betrayal teach you to value integrity among others on your staff? Does financial chaos teach you to value non-material things in a way that frees you to pursue new interests?
Sometimes you visit places you’d never choose to go. If you survive, you can either emerge stronger and wiser, or smaller and diminished. It’s not always up to you. The measure of your successful navigation through swarms of stinging bees is not always in your control. But if you find yourself there anyway, be sure you don’t miss the details. Take it all in and try to roll with the punches. Faced with opportunities to learn about otherwise opaque aspects of life are always the greatest assets for a creative person. More to the point, you never know when that experience will become a special ingredient that helps you solve a problem in a way you might not have otherwise been able to deploy.