Monday, November 7, 2011

Mind Taken by Coup

I talked at length with a good friend this weekend about being the commanding officer of my life. I'm what you might call a reluctant leader, one who in times of tension or unexpected circumstances, throws her foot down and decides what's best for the stakeholders. When the last minute details need to be attended, I'm the person who divides and conquers right up to the deadline - unless someone else is willing, in which case, I'm content to do my part and follow along.

Well what happens when the CO is on vacation? Or deathly ill? In business, there are checks and balances for this kind of occurrence. Advisers are briefed on any situation that might come up and need the CO's input or execution, and the authority to do is granted to those people. Well, when you're the de facto commander, let me tell you... this briefing is less than thorough.

I've been pretty sick before. Sick enough. But few things have successfully shut me down, and most of them have strangely happened during periods of already scheduled vacation time. I can't help but wonder what control the mind has over the immune system. It sometimes seems as if - in my life - my body has taken little breaks of its own when I had some time off in the works. I plan a week's staycation to reorganize: I get a bad cold... I take some time off to help a friend move: I get a kidney stone. It just seems like a pattern over the years that very rarely have I called in sick to work.

One of the unfortunate realities of the reluctant leader is a responsibility for others. It's ultimately why I make the executive decision, out of responsibility... I'm responsible. I have responsibility coming out of my eyeballs. I'm so responsible, I even dream about worrying. It's this responsibility that has me up late tonight, taking care of Bart while he endures the stomach virus I had all last week. I know the course of this bug all too well. The hardest thing for the reluctant leader to do is watch people suffer because of their decisions - or lack thereof. At some point, I will have the opportunity to alter the course of this disease by taking him to the ER for fluids, or I will choose to feed him pedialyte and hope he keeps them down. Seem like a rash choice? I was critically dehydrated by the same bug less than a week ago. Another hallmark of the reluctant leader - being able to spot signs early and act fast to prevent crisis. I wouldn't be rolling an ER visit at 2am around as an option if his symptoms didn't portend severe dehydration, and if we don't go soon, he might need a whole week to feel better.

Since he's sleeping, and needs the rest, let's talk more about this sick reluctant leader situation. I said that a real commanding officer would have minions to take care of duties in their stead, but there is no assigned person to help out with the reluctant leader's job... spouses who can't decide where to eat for dinner are left to either decide or not eat. You think I'm kidding, but this is someone's role in every relationship - to make sure the other eats. If the reluctant leader is missing from a family function, important details get missed, like photos with the great-grandparents. This week, while I was sick, nothing got done without someone else doing it. Thankfully, Bart is a patient human. He took care of me while I was mute for 36 hours in a fever-induced haze. Thanks, man... that's a real stand-up thing to do.

While I was unable to speak, I think my body was performing one of its shutdowns. I had no vacation time planned, but it seems I haven't taken very much lately, and it couldn't wait forever. The body took control, and shut my mind down - which was at once, paralyzing and freeing. There are few parts of the brain as powerful as the hypothalamus, which controls the body's most basic needs like hunger and thirst, but also body temperature, and consequently - fever. To imagine what effects this portion of the brain might have on your mind, the hypothalamus sits in the center of your skull, nestled at the center of your grey matter - command central. When command central is overwhelmed, plenty of executive decisions get 'overlooked'. This is why you have vivid dreams and hallucinations sometimes with a fever. In yoga, a similar experience is called a kundalini awakening, one where your energy (soul) tears away from your physical being and the participant is allowed to experience enlightenment. Throughout the centuries, natives of North America and other continents have taken hallucinogens to enhance consciousness or expand their minds. You probably don't consider that when you get sick, do you? Well neither do I, unless I'm sick enough to hallucinate meeting Jimmy Carter and Diane Ross at the same party... then all bets are off. I talked to grandma, blew things up with atomic bombs, at one point I think I even visited space. A nice vacation, despite the dehydrative consequences. All the while, I couldn't help but ponder from my astral view, "Am I experiencing this more in my mind than in my body? Body, how dare you shut the operation down with no warning! Who will run the show?" I asked a few questions of the universe while I was up there, and got some lovely answers, so much so that I almost didn't want to return to normal. My fever broke on Thursday night, and though still very sick, I was in a delightful mood, having spent the last few days on vacation from myself.

What I can tell you from this week's mandatory body evacuation is that when I woke up from my crazy dreams, the reluctant leader responsibilities were still there. But I'm looking at those people that I decide for in a little better perspective. Sometimes you have to take a few steps back from your life, whether you know it or not, and even if you're the leader, every once in a while your body vetoes your mind. Control is relative, and in some instances, optional.

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