Running On The Hedonic Treadmill

Ed Zitron 4 min read

There’s a term called The Hedonic Treadmill that I think a lot about in my life, and that I’m thinking a lot about today. It’s when, after the onset of negative or positive events in your life, you generally return to a sort of medium of happiness, as your body and mind adjusts to whatever the new situation is. You get used to things being shitty, or you begin treating an improvement in your happiness as the norm and, well, stop feeling happy about it.

I also really apologize that this entire Substack, which I wanted to be about cool shit that I found and my musings about life, well, became about COVID, having COVID, and so on. I will try and change the flow of it once this stops dominating. If you hate this, I apologize.

My symptoms are improving - I’m still tired, I’m still coughing, but I’m more energetic today, and honestly my last two days at work I’ve felt more keyed in and attentive than I have in months. It’s weird to say, but I had been feeling burned out on work and less “into” things, but coming back from COVID, despite it literally meaning I lost two days of work, I feel genuinely energized. I wonder when that will stop, but for now, well, I’ll take what I can get. I don’t know, I worry that I’ll adjust back to my previous state of saying “oh god I don’t want to do anything” and forcing my body to do so. But maybe it’s being grateful that I didn’t get the level of COVID that has broken people in two. Maybe it’s just that I got forced to sit my ass down for a few days and not see anyone that I’m suddenly grateful to, well, have the prospect of seeing people. I also wonder when I’m going to adjust back to being ungrateful about it all. Who knows.

I also feel like I was a whiner whining about the COVID I had/have. But I suppose it comes down to everyone’s perspective of suffering - someone else’s suffering over .something that’s not as bad as your suffering is still suffering, and still sucks. You cannot give them your strength and they cannot give you theirs, and thus you both suffered, and your suffering is no less valid.

It is hard not to feel slightly like a whiner when you read something like Buzzfeed’s “I’m 33 Years Old. I got COVID-19 Eight Months Ago. I’m Still Sick.” Especially when I’m 34.

The piece is every fear I had about COVID wrapped into one - all of the symptoms, plus this vivid, terrifying description:

The best way I can describe how I am now, at the end of this strange, horrible year, is that I wake up most days feeling like I drank a six-pack of beer the night before. Washing the dishes, doing my laundry, or walking a few blocks leaves me in need of a sit-down. It’s a sort of gritty feeling in my body, a woolly feeling in my brain. My breathing is up and down; when I'm tired, I forget words midsentence. I need at least 10 hours of sleep most nights. And if I push too hard, it’s not just laborious — it’s actually painful, from my lungs to my head to the stinging in my eyes.

Prakash’s condition is brutal - and her prose is beautiful.

An obvious lesson I learned this year: You can't bully yourself into disappearing a life-threatening illness. The idea that the president seemed stuck on, that it’s a question of fearlessness or mental toughness, is just not how this — or any — illness really works…
Some of the questions I asked myself in the first few months I was ill:

Are you really this sick? Why aren’t you tough enough to get back up and keep going? Why aren’t you doing your job as a reporter as the world falls to bits around you? What use are you like this to the people you love and the world at large?

I think a lot of this self-loathing about COVID comes from the absolutely chaotic recovery patterns. Nobody actually knows what the fuck is going on. Not a single person. You can have COVID, recover from COVID, and still know about as much as you did at the beginning. Did drinking 8 bottles of pedialyte in 4 days make me better? Did the tylenol sinus keep me from a lot of the pain? Or was it the ice packs? Is that why I didn’t think I had a fever, because I was too focused on the headaches?

Nobody actually knows anything. There are broad strokes, but everyone I’ve talked to has inconsistent stories - some went really fast, some got destroyed, some nearly hospitalized. Some took three months to get their smell back - mine is coming back but occasionally has a little gap and I go insane thinking I lost my smell. Some people have 8 great days then get hit hard on day 10, or 6 good days then 7 more bad ones. It’s isolating because unlike other things you get, there really aren’t any actual treatments they KNOW will work - you can only deal with certain symptoms and hope for the best. We know jack shit about this virus!

Prakash’s story is also laced with the details about how COVID has straight-up ruined people’s lives. People can’t work. They can’t walk down the street. They can’t think. Prakash herself still can’t eat properly, and has had months of ongoing pains and sicknesses.

I dunno, maybe I’m just extremely grateful for not having that. I still have a cough here, and if I have that cough for a bit I am grateful, because I didn’t get my life ruined.

Getting Back To Business

It is funny that it feels like I’ve been out for weeks but I was out for three days at max work-wise. But I’ve signed a few new contracts and I’m blasting things like this as I sent a ton of emails which is literally my job. I feel improvement, and I’m suddenly a lot more appreciative of getting to do cool shit for work and not having to do something physically while I recover.

Thank you for reading!

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