There are some illnesses that are very obvious, right there for all to see - or otherwise experience, in the case of the persistent cough that seems to plague my household - and fairly straightforward to diagnose. There are others which are harder to explain, and the recurrence of my frankly undignified large intestine infection is one of those. It's almost easier to say to someone: "I've got a stomach bug" than to try to get across what exactly is going on. This time, though, I didn't get to the stage where it actually burst out into the rest of me, avoiding being admitted to hospital, though not, because of the predictably on-a-Sunday timing, avoiding the Northern General altogether. I did pack a hospital bag, to be fair, and I think, much like wearing shorts in the Summer in anticipation of hot weather, this step made a material difference to the outcome...
I have much, therefore, to thank modern medicine for. Once again, the ready availability of effective antibiotics has probably made the difference between a really life-threatening infection and a pretty quick recovery to relative health. The first time, I think, with the rupture, they were genuinely considering surgery, so I was lucky to not need it. This time it never got that far, but it's still frightening to feel that something is very wrong inside you in a way that all the ordinary stuff, like drinking water, taking painkillers, hot water bottles and so on don't make better.
And then... In the category of illnesses that don't sit right there on the surface, there are those illnesses that affect the mind. Some people's mental illness is very present, making it clear to you from the moment you meet them that their internal life is disrupted or disturbed. Some people's only makes it to the surface occasionally, with the result being that appearances can be maintained even though the illness is there. There are plenty of people out there who think that the sort of mental illness I'm describing, which might come under the general headings of depression or anxiety, is really a sort of lack of moral fibre, as though if only the person suffering could man up a bit it would all go away. Fortunately, I seem to hang around with less of these people, certainly in terms of family and colleagues, than has been the case in the past. Mental health - and illness - is taken seriously, and real support is offered as a matter of course. It doesn't necessarily fix what is broken, but it holds it together while the things that can fix it do their work, much as with anti-depressant medication. It's not a failure to need the medication, just as - and I have to keep telling myself this - two goes of crying in front of total strangers in a fortnight is not a failure either. The doctor was unusually helpful, a definite realist about mental health problems in stark contrast to the first doctor I saw in the depths of my illness of a few years ago. I think the world is changing in this respect for the better, in that people at large and doctors in particular are taking people's mental health more seriously, and I think that can only be a good thing.
Interestingly, in all of this, I found myself going back through the early 'chapters' of book IV (still no definite name, by the way). Edward Strelley's suffering in those first few chapters is, undoubtedly, like mine in at least some respects. The confusion over how to feel about religion and doing good or bad by his fellow man that he feels would probably be shared by anybody with the same reflective mind. The thing he does of seeking out a comforting figure, telling his story and upsetting himself, which may seem a contrivance, is thoroughly real. His love for Elizabeth may be the driver of his feelings, but the way they manifest themselves is familiar. I'm excited about the prospect of finishing book IV, because it feels like it's good. I hope that my readers will eventually think the same, and I know it's time to get on with it and get it finished now. Fingers crossed I will find a few hours here and there to get it done!
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought