I don’t often think about “performing” sickness. I used to think about it all of the time, when I was desperately trying NOT to go to school as a tweener. What might convince my mom today that I don’t feel well?
Do you slump your shoulders? Is your face pale? There are a bunch of physically borne symptoms that happen to us, and some which we can exaggerate. How much of that is real, in the sense of being induced by the germs that have invaded our bodies, and how much is amplified or created?
Last night, at precisely 1:43am, my dog made a hacking sound that brought me out of a dead sleep. She hacked twice more, got up, and slunk around the room with the posture of a dog who’d just been caught doing something she wasn’t supposed to be doing. Or that of a dog that felt very unwell. We got her outside for a few minutes in case she needed to vomit, and repeated the whole process again at 3:45am. She hacked at 5am, too, but didn’t get up.
Yes, she’s going to the vet, that’s not the point.
This morning she is clingy, staying close to one of the two of us, showing no interest in going on a walk, in going outside, or in chasing down galloping cats. If she’s not really sick, she certainly feels sick.
A dog is certainly as capable as a person of psychological manipulation, but the motivations tend to be a bit more transparent. She’s not angling for food. At the most, she’s going for comfort. She’s sleeping on the dog bed we have on the floor or sleeping underneath the feet of one of us.
A friend of mine wrote her thesis on “The Curious Paradox of Pain.” Pain is uniquely personal. We have individual thresholds of what is tolerable and can transmit that information to another only inaccurately. If we soldier on, we do not communicate our pain. If we express our pain too much (or for too long), we are needy or whiny.
The magic line of splitting the difference demonstrates suffering (yes, I am sick) and fortitude (I need help, but I do what I can on my own). Which is another kind of performance.