Handling School While Sick

I don’t know about anyone else, but I got sick A LOT this semester. I haven’t really gotten sick the last two years, and it’s like my body decided it was time to pay up, with interest. 

Not to be too on the nose, but being sick sucks. It’s physically uncomfortable, depleting, and typically a dirty experience. Despite the unpleasantness, however, I find the days after illness to be the unsung hero (or villain?) of crappy times. Not only are you still feeling sluggish, but now the full weight of your responsibilities (plus compounded interest) has come back to bear upon you. You’ve probably got extra laundry to do, the dishes have piled up, you need to go to the grocery store. An impending to-do list gloomily starts accumulating items. You’re now facing double punishment – not feeling well AND behind on your life chores. Ironically, your illness was a vacation. Now it’s time to get back to work. 

And what about school? In addition to life’s nuisances, you’re now behind on your homework! Being sick, unlike a vacation, is not something you can anticipate. You can’t do your work ahead of time in order to take time away guilt-free. I’m a planner, so when I fall unexpectedly behind due to illness, I get stressed. My anxiety usually saturates all other aspects of my life, and I generally become a disagreeable person to be around for the next couple of days. 

Since I cannot divine future illnesses, I have to learn to cope if I’m not going to drive myself insane. Part of this is realizing that if everything doesn’t get done perfectly and on-time, that’s fine. I have never turned in an assignment late in my life, so the thought of asking for an extension fills me with existential dread. Is this overkill and intensely neurotic? Yes! Does it lead to an excessive amount of worry and unproductive panic? Also yes. This high-strung anxiety causes me to panic, which then leads me to become disorganized. It’s not only psychologically unpleasant, but it’s self-sabotaging. So, lesson #1 for myself – chill the heck out.

At another point during one of my illnesses, I had a major project due later that night. Sitting at my desk, every once in a while I had to lean over to make use of the bucket I had put strategically at my feet. After that I’d take a swig of water and keep clacking away on my computer. Every fifteen minutes or so I would become so woozy that I had to put my head on my desk to rest. This behavior, in retrospect, is insane. Do. not. do. this. I had to call out of work the next day because I was still so sick and exhausted. Would I have had to do this if I had just spent the previous day resting? Perhaps not. So, lesson #2 for myself – actually rest

When I was a teacher, students asked me for extensions regularly. I almost always granted them, and it was never a problem. I found it incredibly rare that students asked for them because of lack of preparedness or irresponsibility. Only students who really needed them tended to ask. Students who shirk assignments don’t bother to turn them in at all; they don’t ask for extensions. I figure I should start taking my own advice. We therefore come to lesson #3 – ask for an extension if you think you’ll need it

That’s not to say I bungled every aspect of my sick leave. I can be pretty bad at asking for help when I need it. It’s something that I’ve been trying to work on, and what better opportunity to practice than when I’m ill? I’m fortunate enough to live with someone on whom I can rely. I don’t want to abuse the assistance, but there are certain things that just don’t make sense for me to do on my own when I’m sick. For instance, going to the pharmacy to pick up some medication. Normally I would just go without, but this time I didn’t. Let me tell you, it was such a relief to lean on someone else, both physically and psychologically. Five out of five stars, highly recommended. So, finally, I would say lesson #4 was an absolute success – ask for help

I get the feeling that this is not going away – we’re all going to keep getting sick, perhaps more than we’re used to. While I can’t control when I get sick, I can control how I react to it. I’m starting to realize that often the biggest obstacle to my own recovery is myself. It’s about time I learned some lessons. 

Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash

Melissa Grasso lives in Boston and began at Simmons University this fall. She works as a library assistant where she specializes in course reserves, copy cataloguing, and social media management.You can find her on Twitter @grassbro or LinkedIn.

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