Living on a cruise ship is like living on an airplane: you’re constantly breathing recycled air, shivering in the never-ending pump of air-conditioning. Work, food, and bed (and alcohol for that matter) are all connected by one set of elevators. I literally can go days without setting foot outside. Which means days without direct sunlight or fresh air.
Out here you’re cold, and you get colds. Or in my case, one perpetual cold that resurrects every few weeks, just when I think it’s finally gone for good.
I bought cough drops to try to suppress my Brontian-worthy romantical consumption. Each wrapper is inscribed with “A Pep Talk in Every Drop” and several upbeat, Rocky-inspired words of encouragement. Things like “Get back in there, champ” and “Let’s hear your battle cry.” “March forward” and “Inspire envy” and “Put a little strut in it.” “You can do it and you know it,” “Be resilient” and “Power through.”
One doesn’t generally take cough drops before entering the ring for a boxing championship, when making a presentation to land that major account, or while proposing marriage. So what’s with the cheery can-do encouragement? You’re sick. There’s no victory in sick. Cough drops are not a reward. They are gross, and if I am succumbing to their sticky medicinal sweetness I must feel like shit. And the last thing I want to hear when I feel like shit is that I should “Elicit a few wows today” (my last-stage-emphesema cough just might do that, I suppose) or to “Impress myself today” (with how long I can go between tissues?)
Are Americans such workaholics that we need to “Be unstoppable” even when our bodies are literally telling us to stop? (These are definitely American cough drops. European cough drops would surely have enigmatic and nihilistic catch phrases like “Take it or don’t. It’s all the same.” Or “Ultimately you can’t escape death.”) I’ve known many people who hate to miss a single day of work even when they are feverish, doubled over in pain, or knowingly infected with something contagious. Why are we too impatient to let our bodies heal? What is so important about “work” (see deathbed cliche about more time at the office)? Why on earth did a cough drop company decide it was their duty to remind you to do your duty by not letting illness keep you from achieving everything you are capable of [when you are at your peak, in robust good health]? And if I just can’t “Power through” do I need to feel guilty? If “tough” is not, in fact, “my middle name” – does that make me weak, unworthy, disappointing? What kind of message are these lozenges sending? Like I need to feel shittier about myself for not living up to a cough drop’s expectations of me when I’m already feelingshitty.
I want to start my own brand of cough drops. I want to give people permission to let their bodies do what’s necessary to feel better. Instead of “Get back in the game,” mine would say “Get back in bed;” not “Seize the day” but “Seize your pillow.” Not “Take charge and mean it” but “Take a sudafed and sleep it off.”
Or just “Whine.” And how about”Watch TV”?
Not “Be resilient.” Just “Be sick. It’s okay to miss a day of work.”
Which cough drops would be more inspiring to you when your nose is running off your face, you can’t laugh without five solid minutes of coughing, and it hurts to move your eyelids? Wouldn’t permission to wallow in self-pity make you feel worlds better than being told to “Dust off and get up” or to “Hi-five yourself”? Which is a pretty lame pep talk anyway.