• Liz Breen

A Screenless Sick Day

Updated: Dec 20, 2018


I'm bad at being sick. Though I was never particularly athletic growing up, I've somehow adopted a hard-nosed coach's perspective on illness — I rub some metaphorical dirt in it, and I keep going. It's normally "just a cold" anyway, and sick days shouldn't be squandered on "just a cold," right? They should be saved for, I don't know, something real.


Well, this week I might have had a change of heart. Because this week, I developed a cold, the kind of cold that, for once, felt like a lot more than "just a cold." Maybe it's because this was my second nasty cold in a month (damn pregnancy and its weakening of the immune system). Or maybe it's because my options for medical intervention were limited (damn pregnancy and its endless list of banned items). Or maybe it's just because it was one more thing added to the list of ever-growing physical discomforts (damn, well, pregnancy in general). But for whatever reason, I left work on Thursday and thought, "Tomorrow I'm taking a sick day." I didn't even wait until the next morning to email my coworkers and give them the heads-up. I sent the notice on my way out the door.


"Sleep and drink lots of fluids!" my mother texted that night. "Eat soup for lunch tomorrow," my husband said over dinner. And while these are tried and true ways to rest the body, I felt compelled to do something more. Something less conventional. Something to rest not only my body, which is busy producing another body, but also my mind, which is busy adjusting to the fact that I'm producing another body. I wanted to make my sick day completely screenless.


Perhaps I was inspired by a recent episode of The Minimalists Podcast, which I often listen to on my walk to work (it's a nice way to break up the constant stream of true crime shows and start the day with some perspective). Towards the end of this particular episode, hosts Josh and Ryan talked about a new initiative they were starting in their own lives — Screenless Saturdays. It's essentially what it sounds like, giving up all glowing screens for one day a week, and though my sick day was on a Friday, I decided to give it a try.


When I told my husband about my intentions the night before, I could tell he was skeptical. And frankly, so was I after waking up late to an empty house and stumbling into an eerily quiet kitchen. "What am I going to do without any noise?" I thought. Like many people, all my music is digital. Might I surrender and turn on the TV just to break the silence? "Maybe," I thought again. "But I said I'd give this a try, so I'll give it a try."


Luckily, though I mostly read books via Kindle, I was about 100 pages into a real, bonafide paperback. One that, even more luckily, I was enjoying, so I figured I'd take a hot shower, make my one allotted cup of daily coffee and read for as long as I could physically bear it. I was pleased to find that one activity carried me straight to lunch.


After lunch (some Campbell's heated up on the stove), I gave my grandmother a call. I decided this didn't break the "no screen time" rule because 1) Siri dialed and 2) I wasn't actually staring at a screen while talking. Also 3) she just had cataract surgery, and I wanted to check in on her, you heartless monsters.


By this time, I was feeling pretty good. For one, I was proud of myself. Time was moving by much faster than I thought it would, and the quiet wasn't really bothering me all that much. Sure, I sang "Sweet Caroline" to my cats on repeat while eating my soup, but that's really more like bonding than mild, silence-induced insanity. But furthermore, I was physically feeling really good. Surprisingly good. When I left work the night before, I was achy, sore. My head was pounding. I could barely talk or swallow. I was convinced I was in for at least three or four solid days of feeling terrible. But not even 24 hours later, I was feeling mostly recovered.


After wrapping up things with my grandma (she's fine, by the way, though really not enjoying the eye drops they're making her take), I took a quick walk to get some air and some sunshine, then plunged back to reading. I finished the book minutes before my husband returned home from work. And because, let's face it, I had been alone in the quiet all day, I was happy and eager to talk to him. I know I probably wouldn't have been so eager to talk, though, had he come home when I was in the middle of watching the mid-season finale of something-or-other.


We ate a nice dinner together, picked up some dessert and ate it while watching the latest episode of Will & Grace. And yes. I know. Will & Grace is a television show. That you watch on a screen. But it's a twenty-minute show that we enjoy, and we decided to watch it while we were eating dinner, so we welcomed the additional screen time deliberately.


If I felt 70% better by the end of my Screenless Sick Day, after another good night's sleep, I woke feeling closer to 85%. And I'm truly convinced I wouldn't have felt that much better that quickly had I sat at home watching television all day (even though I really, really wanted an excuse to start Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). Lots of rest, lots of tea and limited screen time seems to be just what the doctor ordered. I can only imagine what consistent and completely screen-free time will do for my general and mental health when incorporated more regularly.