Inoculated for Life

I recently received my second COVID booster, the one for the variants. As I was laying on the sofa, shivering from fever and feeling sorry for myself, I started thinking about vaccines in general and the science behind them. According to the WHO, a vaccine is when a person is deliberately exposed to a weakened or inactive part of a particular organism/antigen that triggers an immune response in the body. When we feel bad after receiving a vaccine, it is because our immune system is working and attacking the bad organism. Although this process is not much fun, going through it protects us from the actual disease down the road. Some vaccines are more effective than others — some prevent us from getting the disease at all, and others (like the flu vaccine or the COVID vaccines) may not prevent us from getting the disease, but if we do get it, the symptoms and severity will likely be less than if we were unvaccinated.

I think there are life parallels to the vaccination process. When (not if) we are exposed to struggles or troubles in life, we are learning how to handle those troubles. I realize some children have horrific childhoods, and that is heartbreaking. But for most of us, the troubles we face as children or teenagers are relatively minor — we don’t like what is for dinner, we experience academic failures, we get picked last for the kickball team, we don’t get asked to the dance, a boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with us. When we are in the heat of that moment, these troubles seem huge and we can even feel devastated. But, with the wisdom of hindsight, we realize those troubles were nothing compared to the troubles we would face as adults. However, in going through these difficulties we, hopefully, learn some coping skills.

Similarly, as adults, we also encounter other real, but still relatively small problems — we get a flat tire, our homes need expensive repairs, our commute to work is grueling, our dating relationships don’t work out, we don’t get along with our boss, our babies don’t sleep well, our pets die. These are the side effects of living in society. Somehow, the vast majority of us figure out how to deal with, and survive, these troubles and stressors. We may complain, we may moan, we may even feel, at times, that the sky is falling. But we also learn that most troubles eventually pass and realize we can survive.

I started thinking…maybe these “little” troubles we experience on a regular basis act like vaccines; they prepare our defense and coping systems for the big troubles that may come around. If we develop resilience by going through life’s relatively minor travails, we will then be better prepared if the real tragedies come along. Divorce, bankruptcy, premature death of a spouse or child, life-threatening illnesses, natural disasters — the big stuff we hope and pray will not touch our lives — are, perhaps, a bit easier to weather and conquer if we have had practice in dealing with struggles. Imagine if you had never experienced any trouble or stress or disappointment or failure in life and then, suddenly, big earth-shattering disaster rocked your world; you would probably not be able to cope!

So, when trouble comes my way, I am going to try my best to tell myself that the experience is working to develop resilience and coping strategies in me — that I am being inoculated for life.