Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Sick days, internationality and worthlessness

I was sick last week. It is only today when I am writing this that I feel even close to all right. It happened oh so suddenly. One day, I was feeling alright, then the next day, I woke up feeling a little stuffy. The air isn’t flowing quite so well anymore, but it’s nothing to be worried about. Or so I hope. I make my way to classes, wearing a mask just in case. In case of what? I’m not sick. I can’t be sick. No way. I don’t have the time for such silliness. 

Until I make my way to the dining hall and my friends note how stuffed-up I sound. The tired look in my eyes. The lack of energy. And then I have to admit to myself that I might be sick. I take my temperature, no fever. Thank whatever higher power for that. But that doesn’t change how I feel. The buildup of mucus, the pounding in my skull and the way it feels as though multiple huge leeches have been attached to me, draining all my energy and leaving nothing but a husk vaguely shaped like me. 

But I’m not sick. I can’t be. I don’t have time for that. I’ll have some medicine to tide myself over, of course. I just need to take some time to rest. The day after that is miserable, held crushingly tight in the grips of my illness. I took a COVID-19 test, negative. It does not make me feel any better, as I drag my limp corpse to my only class of the day. Why? Could I not just sleep in? Why am I doing this to myself? The rest of the day passes in a barely comprehensible swirl of despair, determination and dullness as I try to put one foot in front of the other until I can sink deep into the warm embrace of my bed. 

As I tossed and turned under the covers, trying in vain to catch any amount of precious sleep, this question was rotating endlessly in the absurd corridors of my mind: Why was I doing this to myself? It was a question that plagued (pun entirely intended) me even as I recovered. Why can I not just let myself lie and recover? Why do I feel this overwhelming push to keep doing everything as though my body is not yelling at me to take it easy?

The easy answer is that I pay so much to be here. So much in tuition, so much in the emotions of being away from everything I’ve ever known, so much in the mental load of coursework and navigating social spaces. How could I just stop? Stand on the sidelines for even a day, and I miss all of the little happenings around campus. An Artist Talk I’ve wanted to go to for the past month. Lunch with that one person who always makes my day. A class with a lecture I’ve been looking forward to since reading the syllabus nine weeks ago. But that can’t be the reason. Lunch is served (to varying degrees of quality) everyday. My friends will still be here after I recover. I can always get notes on that lecture or talk to the professor about it later. What is it then? 

I sometimes don’t feel as though I deserve to be here. The thought never really makes it to the front of my mind; it’s irrational and unfounded. I was admitted, I’ve managed to not fail any of my classes and I have a robust social life. But that doesn’t stop it from whispering its venom in moments of vulnerability and in the quiet eternities before I nod off into unconsciousness. The light whispers become more of a murmur, crossing the barrier into actual thought, when I’m sick. It is difficult to fend those thoughts off as I take the two or three days to do nothing but sleep and medicate, trying to restore myself to some semblance of functionality. I rationally know I need to take that time to myself, but it doesn’t do much to silence those wayward thoughts. If I’m not always running around, always fitting as much into my schedule as possible, always looking over the webpages and writing emails, am I doing enough to justify the space I take up here? Is it ever enough? Could it ever be enough?

The other easy answer would be the trimester system. For as much as it makes Carleton “quirky” and unique, it means that missing even a day can throw you off by weeks. It means a fifth of your working week is gone, maybe even more. In that time, you’re losing out on final projects, assignments, important lectures, club events and so much more. But that seems too obvious as well. Isn’t that something everyone simply deals with and moves on from? At this point, I’m not entirely sure.

I feel the weight of expectations on me. Not just familial, but personal. There is this ever-present desire to do everything, to be everything, to meet everyone and excel at anything. The opportunity afforded to me comes at great cost, financial and emotional, to my family and myself. If I’m not always moving, running and jumping around campus, am I doing them and myself justice? Is it justice if it causes me great pains to meet it out?

As I lay there in my bed, in a word, I felt useless. All the things that made me me were stripped away as I lay there, trying to recover with every breath I forced myself to take deeply. My energy, my enthusiasm, my ability to say yes to everything as I overcommit and still manage to make it all work in the end, despite the struggle to cross that finish line. Is that all I really am? The ability to work and produce. Am I to be discarded or lose my value as a person if I have to stop, even for a little while?

As I stared ever more intensely at the ceiling, waiting for sleep that never came, I contemplated my state of helplessness. I knew that I needed this time off, and despising myself for taking that time is not helpful to either my emotional and physical state. I began thinking of this as an extended break, necessary to get back on track and hit the ground running once I’d recovered. But it was also a time to re-evaluate my plans, and the amount of emotion and worry I had unconsciously attached to them. Maybe I didn’t need to be in seven places at once at all times, you know? 

It’s been a time of confusion and rigorous self-critique. It happened last trimester, it is happening this trimester and I feel like it’ll happen again next trimester. This constant process of self-doubt, strife and understanding, only to repeat in a Sisyphean circle. It sucks being sick, and it takes a lot out of me each time. But it’s nice to feel useless sometimes, and just exist for a while, and rest. 

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About the Contributor
Rahim Hamid, Viewpoint Editor
I write, I debate, I bike, I lie, I true, I draw and program and dance and all the rest. Say hi and don’t be a stranger! Rahim is a sophomore and previously wrote for the Viewpoint Section.

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