We all know that when we feel physically ill it affects our performance in every way. No one feels their most articulate, feisty self when battling a virus. Why then do we expect our public figures, such as leading politicians, to always be at the top of their game?
We say we want politicians to be human, rather than slick robots programmed by spin doctors, and yet when they falter, many of us jump on them like hounds, ripping them apart for the terrible crime of an under par performance.
This was of course the case last week when Natalie Bennett, suffering from a debilitating virus, gave a faltering performance on an LBC radio interview. Despite being ill, Bennett did the interview, launched the Green Party's General Election campaign later that morning, and then carried on with a full week of campaigning and media work.
The fact that she 'admitted' in the LBC interview that she was unwell, after a fit of coughing, was described by Zoe Williams in The Guardian as 'the interviewing equivalent of showing a predator your neck at the moment that they kill you.'
Why? Are we to always expect politicians to hide their ailments, rather than to admit when they are feeling unwell? Wasn't Mo Mowlam, when she ripped off her wig, following the loss of hair due to chemotherapy, applauded for her candid approach to her condition?
I'm certainly no fan of Nigel Farage but speculation about his health this week led him to deny any problems, declaring himself to be 'as fit as a flea' (That's presumably a flea who downs multiple pints and smokes Benson & Hedges). Wouldn't it be better if he were able to admit to any health difficulties, ask for support from within his party? Enough of this macho culture of denial.
It's not about being weak. Just as we now argue that it's not a weakness to 'admit' to having suffered mental health issues, let's support people to be able to talk about their physical health issues, be supported to do what they feel able to do, and be able to lean on colleagues to be able to deputise for them when it's necessary.
Indeed, I wonder whether this culture of denial and our insistence that our politicians are a special species of human who never suffer from ill-health also accounts, in part, for the ridiculously low number of MPs with disabilities? This despite the fact that four out of five people with disabilities have said that more MPs with disabilities would improve the way they are treated.
I myself have a chronic condition which means I am in pain or discomfort most of the time. It limits my involvement in lots of things, and yet most people, looking at me, wouldn't guess I was in pain. I find myself struggling against the inner voice that tells me not to moan or make a fuss, or give people the opportunity to discount me, or rule me out of taking part in things.
So let's support each other and refuse to be silent. And let's not expect our politicians to be infallible robots.