The Conundrum Journal

The Art of Being Sick

It is such a peculiar thing, being sick.

As a stereotypical first daughter, I have been trained my whole life to be independent, strive for self-sufficiency, and never need someone else’s help. Didn’t need it to change the light bulb, to fix a frame on the wall, or to move heavy furnitures from one corner of the room to another. I would always figure something out.

Yet as soon as a slight fever or a bad case of headache makes an appearance, I suddenly turn into this needy, selfish, crybaby monster who feels entitled to someone’s care. I suddenly forgot how to boil the water and make tea, how to feed myself—no memory at all on how to even move around.

Now you might think it’s perfectly acceptable to need a hand when your body isn’t well, but lately, I realize that what I’m experiencing is a little bit more intense, might be slightly problematic, and stems from how my parents treated me when I got sick as a child.

TL;DR: They spoil me. Big time.

My parents would double their attention to me if I get sick. My earliest memories include getting the long-awaited Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets book simply because I got a fever (they weren’t gonna because it was so expensive). They would get me a KFC chicken soup (which was a special treat back then), spoonfeed me, tuck me in, and sweet-talk me into taking my medicine. They would check on my temp every other hour.

At some point, my then-adult self couldn’t take anything less.

If someone told me they loved me but wouldn’t show up when I got sick, my childhood experience would interpret that as—well—not love. No matter how friendly the sickness is: a benign migraine or food poisoning, I would need their attention right there and then.

If someone told me they loved me but wouldn’t show up when I got sick, they probably lied. I would feel sad, with the sadness coming more strongly out of not having them around and less about actually being sick.

It is only recently that I realize that not everyone was treated by their parents the same way mine did when they got sick. It turns out, for some people, being sick might not be such a big deal.

In hindsight, some of my major fights with my ex-husband were around him not being there (enough) for me when I was sick. I didn’t understand it then, but recently I came to the realization that he probably had a different experience of being sick as a child, and that’s why he didn’t interpret it as a ‘core love language’ as it has been for me.

But I am learning and unlearning. I now respect boundaries in friendships and relationships, which sometimes include not getting upset when others may or may not have time for me when I am down with a fever. I think that should count as progress on my end.


As an adult, today I understand that a lot of our entitlement and emotional baggage haunt us from the past. Our memories shape our core values and expectations of how other people should treat us. It would determine whether we think we deserve love and how we would regard love.

What we now call ‘love language’ might just be how our parents express their love to us as a child.

My primary love language is ‘act of service’ and it’s probably linked to how my dad drops and picks me up from school every day, how my mom makes me breakfast whenever she’s home (she has a full-time job), and how Eyang always prepares everything for me and for my school. They’re not the hugging type—with some exceptions, ‘physical touch’ sometimes feels unnatural to me—we didn’t have that much spare money to do something together and have ‘quality time’ or ‘give gifts’. Instead of giving ‘words of affirmation’, my dad wholeheartedly believes that teasing her daughter will keep her humble her whole life (I actually don’t mind this).

So all my training on being independent goes out the window when someone shows up and offers me that ‘service’: like if you pick or drop me off at a place, or help me with a random, completely minuscule errand at home, I would probably interpret that as love.


Recently a Swedish language expert (?) came up with a list of words that describe the different shades of feelings that the English language cannot provide words for. One day a friend forwarded a World Economic Forum post on it on Instagram.

And with that, I would like to contribute one new adverb:

Sonely. (adv.) the feeling of wishing someone you love is around to take care of you when you’re sick.

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4 responses to “The Art of Being Sick”

  1. Hi Afu, It’s me Tanti. If you ever remember I went to HNMUN together with u. We may not as in contact as we used to be, but I’m still following your exciting activities in instagram.

    My view about being sick is 180 degrees different than yours. I grew up being sick (like all the time) when I was a kid. So many disease and medication. From serious one like lungs problem and some allergies. Thankfully, it was treatable and thankfully I have healthy life then. I was the middle child, yet the most independent one in the family. Being middle child for me it’s like I have to survive on my own. Because my parents it’s rather focusing on my older brother or my younger sister. Just like you, I’m type of a person that can do things on my own. My difference with you is that I tend to keep my sickness on my own. When I get sick, I’d rather choose that nobody should know. Even my parents (crazy isn’t it?). I just cannot bear people are panicking about my situation. I love attention but I just don’t like making people around me worried. Even when I grew up older, I trusted my insurance more than I need to tell my parents when I get sick. I encountered serious GERD problem, dysmenorrhea, and mental health on my own. Made my own appointment to hospitals, watch my own diet, and take my own medicine. I don’t know, I just trust myself than anyone else to handle my sickness. Even if my parents know they would just checking the hospital result and making sure that I’m generally ok by asking several questions. Nothing special or more, and somehow I’m fine with that as well.

    So, that’s probably my story and you can find there is other people like me who prefer to handle their sickness on their own. I’m glad that you can communicate with your surrounding about your expectation. Therefore, people will understand you better. When you find someone like me, and seemed not to care, it’s not always true. They care, but in different way. Yes, you got it right, people experience sick treatment differently.

    Funny thing is that my love language is touch but none of my family are those kind of person. Sad, isn’t it? That’s why I become more distant with them as well. Thankfully, my fiancé doesn’t mind me being touchy and every single time I have problem he is always ready for a hug. So at least this will cover my need of hugs that I didn’t get in most of my life growing up with my family.

  2. I think you just need to open your heart for love, although the true love is like a gambling in capitalism life. Keep move on, don’t stuck, like water flows naturally following gravity.

  3. Hi Afu, just read your post and it’s really relatable with me now. I just broke up recently and now in “cold terms” with my ex partner. And…I just got covid last week. It’s still bearable, but the pain of not having the attention from someone you used to love turned out to be more painful than the sickness itself. Keep writing and inspiring, Afu. And stay healthy :)

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