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72 Hours of Pain, Elves, and Time-Travel

Three days ago I pulled my blinds, blacking out the last bit of light that had been streaming into my apartment.

My intention was to ease the pain I was feeling in my head, but cutting off the light did little in the way of curing my ailment, and led to more stumbling around in the dark than anything.

It did, however, set the stage for a really crappy 72 hours.

If I had to describe the pain, I’d say it was like some miniature person was behind my eyes, slowly tightening screws into the orbs, while a few of his miniature friends took jackhammers to the back of my skull. There were other miniature people pulling on every hair follicle on my body, while still others poured concrete into my joints.

I’m not a doctor, but I think the medical community has been focusing their energy in the wrong direction for too long: what we really need is a cure for elves.

Because of the darkness and the fact that I would sleep for 20 minutes then wake up for an hour and then sleep for 3 hours and then wake up for 10 minutes and so on, I lost track of day and night.

The pain in my head lead to an intense nausea, and my bowels could be best described as ‘gurgly, like a bog.’ My normal circadian habits, like eating, then, were out of the question. I had no real anchor to latch onto, and though I was getting emails and Twitter updates through my phone, I had to check and recheck to make sure I wasn’t dreaming some of the conversations I was having.

I had feverish dreams of Twitter conversations with dead US Presidents. I’m not making this up.

Reality was distorted by the pain, and all I could focus on was alleviating that pain. I drank lots of water, tried getting a massage (a big mistake, it turns out, when you’re suffering from chills and your hair follicles hurt), got some pain killers, and tried to eat something, but nothing stayed down. This was something I would just have to deal with.

So I did what I do in times of personal adversity: I locked the moment in my mind. Everything I was feeling, everything going on around me, my thoughts, concerns, are stored into a snapshot ‘mental moment-in-time’ and sealed off like a time capsule. I tell myself I’ll come back and revisit it when everything’s over.

It’s a silly exercise, but one that works. It helps me to remember that time is not one long stretch, but a series of moments, some good and some bad. I’ve been through enough bad moments to know that they pass, and when they do, I’m always able to look back and say ‘well that sucked, but it wasn’t the end of the world.’

It’s like time-travel, but cheaper.

Creating mental milestones makes it easier to hunker down and cope with the time in between, rather than fighting the idea of something bad happening, potentially missing out on something valuable you can take away from the situation, or at the very least allowing yourself to just get better. Sometimes your energy is more ideally spent on your immune system than your logical concerns.

I’m not completely in the clear yet, but this morning I woke up feeling better than I have in days. The headache is gone, my stomach is more stable, and I have an appetite. Most, if not all, of the elves have left their stations and the world seems full of possibilities again.

I had my milestone moment, allowing myself to think beyond that capsule of time, as I raised the blinds and let the light back in. Looking out the window, there were storm clouds along the horizon, but it looked to be a beautiful day in Bangkok.

Update: January 27, 2017

I was later told that I had likely contracted Dengue Fever, which was going around in Bangkok at the time, and which matched my symptoms almost perfectly.

I haven’t had any reoccurrences since, so it may be that it was something else, or perhaps I’m just one of the lucky ones that doesn’t have an active strain of the disease.

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The Bomb in My Apartment

I’m sitting in my Bangkok apartment, and I could die any minute.

That’s probably an exaggeration, but not much of one. I’m convinced that the electric kettle provided by my apartment building is a ticking time bomb, but instead of plastic explosives, colorful wires, and a digital clock face, it has a shockingly thin plastic exterior, water-exposed wiring, and an off-switch that only works some of the time.

When you go to a new country (or even travel to a different part of your own) you realize pretty quickly that you’re not in Kansas anymore and the rules have changed. The most obvious of these changes come to light when it’s clear that there are in fact no laws where you are accustomed to seeing them.

For example, when there’s no Federal Trade Commission to make sure that bombs are not sold as electric kettles, you tend to take note.

These voids are not all bad, however, because they open up new possibilities that wouldn’t have occurred to you before. Maybe trade with a certain country is banned back home, but while on the road, you’re able to enjoy their fine cigars and change your perception of said country as a result.

Maybe prostitution is legal, making you question your personal ethics on the subject. Maybe women have equal rights to men and are able to work, not just tend to the family and home. Maybe there’s a tightly controlled Internet where communication is limited, and other means must be used to spread uncensored news.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find yourself with a potentially-dangerous, bomb-like device that heats water much faster than any other kettle you’ve ever used, forcing you to decide whether safety or speedy-tea is more important (mmm, speedy-tea).

Preconceived notions are not always wrong, but the willingness to revise your opinion when they are is vital to your personal development and self-exploration.

Update: January 27, 2017

I’ve since found that this type of kettle is not only common around the world outside the US, but also reliably safe.

The point that being exposed to a variety of ideologies and ways of living is a little clouded in this piece, I think, but it’s still a good concept to keep in mind. Even those nations and governments that are diametrically opposed to what we’re used to sometimes have good ideas, even if they’re often overshadowed by all the really bad ones that are enacted alongside them.

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Don’t Build Walls, Get Naked

The Fortress of Solitude

The world is a scary, unpredictable place, and for many people the logical response to this state of affairs is to build walls and build them high.

A fortress, that’s the answer! An impenetrable barrier between myself and the outside world! I’ll use the mightiest bricks, the sturdiest foundation, the highest-quality mortar, and my parapets will be lined with artillery so that no fool would dare try to shake up my world!

Unfortunately, with time, walls will crumble, mortar will turn to dust, and gunpowder will mold and become worthless as a deterrent. The wind will creep in, as will the cold, and you’ll have no protection, no means of dealing with the wilds that you’ve avoided your entire life.

A person who builds their own walls also builds their own prison. While protected from certain elements of the outside world, they are also doomed to remain inside those walls, the only protection they’ve invested in, lest they go through life completely defenseless against even the most meager of threats.

A Heavy Weight to Carry

Well if not a fortress, armor perhaps!

My home will be on my back, and all of the slings and arrows of the world will bounce off my steely hide! My plate will be hammered by the finest smiths, my mail cast from the strongest metals, and my shield constructed of unpierceable wood from the sturdiest trees that can be felled.

I will be a walking fortress, capable of moving throughout the world but still defended against those erratic winds of fate.

Though more mobile than a building, armor can weigh one down, especially over time. Dependency on physical goods to keep you comfortable and functioning through life is not a sustainable model. Metal can rust, wood can rot, and your muscles and back will suffer as a result of the great weight you carry trying to avoid the downsides of life in the pursuit of happiness.

Get Naked

The best method is to face the prickly elements completely naked, ready and willing to be shaped by powerful forces, and in doing so becoming more able to shape them as time goes by.

Walking with bare feet will hurt from time to time, but it makes you more capable of covering ground quickly, and over time your heels will harden.

Living life without any barrier between you and the world opens you up to suffering and heartache and physical pain, but it also allows you to experience the full range of emotion, sensation, and elation.

The most powerful highs can only be experienced when you’ve suffered a goodly number of lows, and by leaving yourself exposed, you are able to ease into difficult situations, like slowly becoming acclimated to a hot bath, rather than experiencing one system shock after another any time you exit the gates of your fortress or remove your armor and are faced with the realities of unaided life.

Partially Nude

There are elements that can be taken from the fortress and armor models and applied to the naked way of life with little trouble and few drawbacks, but the more reliant you are on yourself rather than stuff, the more quickly you’ll develop, strengthen, and be ready to take on the world au naturel.

If you can make decisions for yourself, you’ll never need to depend on someone else to make them for you again.

If you learn to cook, you’ll be able to feed yourself wherever you find yourself in the world.

If you are physically healthy, you’ll be able to cope with strenuous activity and hard work without complaint or thoughts of failure.

If you learn to communicate clearly, you’ll be able to convey your thoughts and needs regardless of the medium.

Work on improving yourself first, always. Everything else is an added bonus, and should supplement your life, not define it.

Update: January 27, 2017

I’ve written about this in many different ways over the years, and I think these metaphors hold up decently well. That so many of us use possession-crutches rather than strengthening ourselves, sans assistance, is the consequence of society and the well-meaning people who’ve shaped it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t become more resilient, and less reliant on things. Which in turn allows us to make better use of those things, and appreciate them more, because we’re no longer dependent on them.