Caribbean islands, while absolutely amazing in so many ways, also have a slightly less sunny side. Forget dengue or chikungunya or zika, there is a far more serious malady at loose in the tropics. One that can strike at any time, no mosquito bite required. What is this feared island illness? Rock fever.
We Island Girls joke a lot about rock fever, but it is all too real. And comes with fairly serious side effects that, if left untreated, have the ability to turn even the cheeriest rock lover into a Medusa-like creature not fit for human interaction. I’ve been there, done that as they say. I’ve also observed this phenomenon in others, as recently as the other night.
After a very long Sunday Funday on the beach, I found myself waiting in line at the grocery store with many other island dwellers (each apparently lacking advanced meal planning skills just like me). A woman I vaguely recognized stepped into line behind me. She looked, to borrow my British husband’s favorite descriptor, knackered.
Now I am the first to admit to going out in public, shall we say, not looking my best. And nobody on a rock looks like a supermodel on the daily. After all, slippage of grooming standards is a rock reality, too. But there is a fine line between “just back from the beach” and “I haven’t looked in a mirror in a very, very long time.”
I didn’t know the woman well enough to engage in idle chit-chat, so I just kept to myself. But her demeanor in the few minutes I stood next to her said it all. She had a classic case of what appeared to be rock fever. From her disheveled appearance to the mildly wild look in her eye to the way she ruthlessly slammed down every item from her shopping basket onto the conveyor belt.
But what really made it clear was when she carelessly tossed her empty shopping basket onto the middle of the store floor instead of simply placing it in the designated receptacle RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER FEET. You know, where the baskets are supposed to go? Nevermind the elderly shopper who happened along and quickly tripped over the discarded basket. Did my beleaguered line neighbor even bat a sunbleached eyelash? Hardly.
She was clearly not having a Sunday Funday. Poor thing.
I really have no idea if she had rock fever or was just a thoughtless, self-absorbed cow (another British fave). But because I try to see the best in everyone, I’m going to assume she is a lovely person currently in the throes of this most common of island sicknesses.
Either way, her temperamental display of uncivilized behavior got me thinking about others I’ve known who have been beaten down (temporarily or permanently) by this tropical island. There have been many. Some depart quietly. Some go out with a bang (and police involvement…I do wonder what that particular girl is up to these days).
Which illustrates the importance of taking regularly scheduled breaks from your rock of choice. Whether that means island hopping or heading back to the mainland, you need to get away. Because if you don’t, you end up like the woman next to me in the grocery store. Or the aforementioned girl who quickly departed after a 3:00 AM police intervention, leaving everything behind, including all her flipflops and, incredibly, her surfboard.
And once you start heading down that path, the slope isn’t just slippery, it is greased with silicone. Sort of like Clark Griswold’s metallic saucer sled in Christmas Vacation. And that is one ride nobody wants to take.
So how do you know if you’ve been afflicted with rock fever? Based on my personal experience, here are some of the most common symptoms.
Grooming Standards Go Down (even further)
Ok, let’s get real. Not too many people expend mainland effort on styling their hair or meticulously applying make up each day on their rock. Au naturel is a pretty common look in the islands, at least this one. Nor is anyone busting out their Dior stilettos and designer dresses for a casual run to town. But still, every Island Girl has some sort of appearance standards she holds herself to (low as they may be).
For me, if I find myself staying in my pajamas, not brushing my teeth until dinner time (approximately 10 minutes before Island Boy is scheduled to arrive home from work) and not leaving the house for multiple days, I know I’m in the throes of rock fever.
Yes, I am a writer who works at home, but still…there is a difference between working under a deadline and hiding out in a funk. Only you know where the bright line is for your own grooming standards, but you know when you’ve crossed it. It is at that point you better start Googling flight prices.
Alcohol Consumption Goes Up
Staying honest…Island Girls generally tend to imbibe a bit more than their mainland counterparts. It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere isn’t just a funny marketing slogan down in the Caribbean, it’s basically a life mantra (or at the very least, a justification). But there is a fine line between tippling and toppled, and that line usually gets crossed when rock fever strikes.
If your weekly rum budget is suddenly blown out of the water or the cashier at the local corner market smiles knowingly and reaches for the bottles on the shelf behind her when you walk through the door, it might be time to grab your suitcase out of storage and start planning a trip. Yes, you can still mix a Cuba Libre to “stay hydrated” while you dig out your cold weather clothes (presuming mysterious forces have not rendered said clothes unwearable), but exercise restraint, please. You don’t want to end up in Boise in February with no socks.
Your Patience Disappears
Patience levels vary greatly among Island Girls, but generally we are a relatively laid-back bunch. I left road rage and haught indignation behind in the States. This is not to say I don’t occasionally put the pedal to the metal to pass meandering golf carts or tour buses packed with cruise ship visitors. But thankfully the price of fuel here is high and I drive a truck that sucks gas faster than an Island Girl slams Painkillers at Friday night happy hour. So I don’t unleash my US freeway driving skills here very often.
But I know when my patience is giving way to rock fever. I start throwing serious side-eye so often (and at so many targets) that I grow concerned my eyes might stay like that (thanks, mom, for that terrifying admonition as a child). I no longer see the humor in the absurdity of island life. I totally stop trying to speak any language other than my own. In short, I turn into a bit of a self-absorbed cow. Sort of like my friend in the grocery store the other night. When I start snapping, I know it’s time to start packing.
Everything Seems Like A Struggle
On the best of days, island life presents daily challenges that test even the sunniest Island Girl’s patience and disposition. No bananas, AGAIN? A new pothole the size of Connecticut has opened up just outside MY DRIVEWAY? The rules for immigration have changed for the TENTH TIME? You get the idea.
But when rock fever strikes, a new level of struggle appears. Simple basic tasks, like running errands or driving ALL THE WAY TO THE BEACH seem so insurmountable that you’d rather just stay home. And you do. A lot.
And when you do finally force yourself to leave the safety of your abode, you are often just numb to the beauty that surrounds you. The stunning turquoise sea lapping on the sugar sand beach just steps away? Whatever. The rustling palm trees making that sound you usually love? What a seriously annoying noise. When the things you love about your island are now the source of struggle (or even indifference), the time has come to update your Uber app and get thee to the nearest civilized location.
Now when it comes to self-diagnosing rock fever, be aware that you may be afflicted by one, several or (horror!) all of these symptoms simultaneously. Symptoms may also be accompanied by a generalized sense of frustration and dissatisfaction, coupled with a near-crippling self-doubt in your decision-making skills. You may find yourself asking “Why did I ever move here in the first place?” or “What the fuck was I thinking?”
It may all seem hopeless. But it isn’t.
The good news is – if caught early enough – rock fever is relatively easy to cure. Pack a bag, grab your passport and get on a plane. But if you cannot swing an expensive airline ticket at that very moment, try some of these tips instead.
The bottom line is that rock fever is no joke. Ignore the symptoms at your peril. In fact, waiting too long to deal with this common malady may result in rash decisions such as permanently leaving your rock. Quietly or in a blaze of infamy (still wondering what happened to that girl…).
But if moving to an island is in your dreams, your future or you’re already there (and want to stay there), please heed one last piece of advice:
Make sure you get off your rock early and often. Because there’s nothing sweeter than the feeling of bliss you’ll have when your return flight touches down on your tiny island airport’s landing strip, and you take that first step into the welcoming and familiar sea breeze that captured your heart in the first place.
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Also published on Medium.