It’s 2 a.m. and I’m hemming and hacking in a nondescript motel room somewhere in rural Georgia. The heater beneath the room’s lone window thrums continuously. It’s below freezing outside. Moonlight is sneaking through a crack in the curtains. Ryan is lying in the other bed, snoring lightly, wearing earplugs to shield himself from my latenight coughs. Fortunately, this is my last night fighting this battle.
You see, I never get sick. Well, I never get sick unless I eat junk food. But I never eat junk food. Well, okay, I don’t usually eat junk food. But I did earlier this month. A lot. And boy oh boy did I pay the price.
My diet is typically pristine. I avoid the bad-food trinity: bread, sugar, and processed foods. But earlier this month I gave in to all three, eating fancy desserts and artisan breads and specialty ice cream. I figured I could indulge before starting the tour. Damn it, I was wrong, and I suffered accordingly.
Two days before leaving Montana, The Minimalists were scheduled to deliver the keynote address at TEDxWhitefish. On the eve of our presentation, though, I developed strep throat and couldn’t speak without sounding like a poor imitation of Marlon Brando in the Godfather. However, I was able to pull through—the adrenaline (read: fear) of the stage and its bright lights opened my vocal cords for a few necessary minutes. (We’ll post the video of our TEDx Talk once it’s available.)
But of course the problems didn’t stop there.
Next, as Ryan and I set out on our 2,600-mile trek to Florida, influenza began to work its way through my body. Every muscle ached. Misery overwhelmed my existence for several days.
But of course the problems didn’t stop there, either.
As the flu worked its murderous course, a respiratory infection arrived at my motel doorstop, making it hard to breathe. Coughing kept me awake each night, and because the Nyquil was ineffective in muting my midnight coughs, I was grateful for the codeine a Nebraskan doctor prescribed.
But of course the problems didn’t even stop there.
When I woke after my first decent sleep in over a week, I was covered in hives. Turns out I’m allergic to codeine. I’ve never felt itchier in my life. (Bonus lesson: Don’t Scratch the Itch.)
The last two weeks’ve felt protracted. Each interview for the book tour, every mile driven, each sleepless night—everything has moved slowly. No one should feel bad for me, though. I take full responsibility for my bad choices. In reality, I didn’t get sick. Rather, I invited the sickness in. When I established the conditions for a virus to thrive, the virus showed up and hung out a while. He even invited some friends.
Thankfully, I recovered by the time we made it to the Sunshine State, and now I’m back on the good-food wagon. Truth be told, no food is worth feeling as nasty as I’ve felt recently. Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.
The decisions we make today are not ephemeral. Our current decisions, even the small ones, impact our future selves. If we want to feel great tomorrow, we better make the right decisions right now.
Read this essay and 150 others in our new book, Essential.