Harriet Walker: I thought the chintz pattern on the sofa was an elephant trying to have a conversation with me

 

Share

Writing this through a murky, slightly damp haze of being Really Quite Ill, I realise what inherently social animals we are. Even as we submerge our consciousnesses in social media, as we engineer our every living detail to our own digital specifications and do away with the need for company, we crave contact more than ever; we can't exist without the importance bestowed by someone who spends time with us despite our flaws.

I know this because I haven't seen or spoken to anyone for three days.

Being Really Quite Ill is bad enough when you have company, but it's that much worse when you have to make all the Lemsips yourself and drag your aching, shivering mass to the shops when the tissues run out.

What a depressing simulacrum of the independence I have tried so hard for these past 10 years. What cynical puppetry of a process that more usually declares that I am fine on my own two feet, thanks very much, and before you ask, no, I don't need any help packing the bags. The supermarket is where I express my individualism and confirms how well I know my own mind: Berocca, for instance, because I am a health-focused adult; Super Noodles and Rolo desserts because, hell, I have tastebuds, too.

When I first lived away from home, it was in the supermarket that tiny blows were struck in the formation of my own personality. By buying butter (we only had marg at home), chocolate cereal and white bread ("cricketing flannel", as my grainy parents had it) and no vegetables. More recently, I've been struck by how my shopping habits now cleave to what I was brought up with. I've come round to the fact that chocolate before 8am is no way to start the day.

As it was, my own two feet practically went from under me in the dry-goods aisle, as I scanned frantically for something that would ease the pain of being Really Quite Ill. I ended up coming home with a packet of plain poppadums and some grapefruit juice, like some kind of dry-mouthed martyr with a point to prove. I wasn't, of course; I just had one of those terrible fluey colds that make you feel like you've gone temporarily insane.

The last time I had one this bad was around 20 years ago, when even my parents leaving the sitting-room made me feel as isolated as an unpopular politician. I remember thinking the chintz pattern on the sofa was an elephant trying to have a conversation with me.

Fast-forward two decades to two nights ago, when I hallucinated that Karen Carpenter was in the same room as me, until I feverishly realised that upstairs was having a 1970s party at 4am. I was too weak even to be annoyed.

Normally I relish coming home to an empty flat and enjoying my own space. Living alone was meant for people like me, I always think: a person who enjoys watching niche medieval history programming and becomes irritable if they have to pour tea for anyone else. That isn't to say I don't also have a raring social life – more that I set a lot of store by nesting among my own things and doing whatever I want.

But there's nothing like living at your weakest to make you realise how resilient you are at your strongest. The mere fact of living in a world where hardly anybody talks to each other makes you far stronger than you know. It's like armour. You take it for granted, the way you are wrought, when you're doing the most basic things – shopping, commuting or even drifting off to sleep.

So when you attempt any of those without the steely resolve you have come to subconsciously rely on, you quickly realise you need somebody around to help; a person to tell you it's just a shadow where the curtain falls, not a grinning death's head. Or to bring through a Lemsip. And eventually to say, "It's been three days, you should wash your hair."

Then again, we say things at the peak of fever that we don't mean. We recant on our deathbeds only to find out we've come through the worst and have been granted another chance. There's every likelihood that, once my temperature drops again, I'll carry on as usual, anti-social as ever.

But maybe there'll be that phantom of a feeling. Like the day after a terrible hangover, when you weep and give thanks, like a pilgrim coming through a hard winter, for feeling normal again. When the Lemsips cool and the tissue tide turns, I'll remember this and be nicer for it.

And I'll never let my boyfriend go on holiday without me again.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Immigration enforcement officers lead a Romanian national who has been arrested on immigration offences from a house in Southall in London  

Don’t blame migrants – the West helped to create their plight

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?