What the doctor ordered
Alexa Schlaerth | Friday, September 10, 2021
I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. I’ve been accused of faking illness for pity or a break or even attention. I had been in some situations where going into the doctor led to no diagnosis at all. Sometimes aches and pains would come and go for no particular reason. There was no instruction packet sent home with me from the doctor’s office.
Throughout the past months I have thought back to those times of undiagnosed, but very real, situations. I had just let them go as the symptoms subsided. I wondered if I had damaged my credibility as a patient. Did my healthcare providers believe me? Did I believe me?
Last year, I took a COVID-Related Leave of Absence. During what would have been my sophomore fall semester, I worked at a health and wellness nonprofit just outside of St. Louis. While there, I learned a lot about holistic health and preventative care. The other employees and I ate a whole foods, plant-based diet and we all took on active roles and responsibilities while still making time for rest. Living that lifestyle, I was the healthiest I had been in awhile. Learning to listen to my body and trying to heal it was incredibly important, yet I found myself slipping into old habits once I got back on campus last month. I can stay up until 4 to finish assignments. I can go out on consecutive nights. I can sleep when I’m dead. I wanted to do everything, now! Why was it so hard to get the rest I needed?
Flash forward to this week. To no one’s surprise, my overworked and under-slept lifestyle did not yield great results. I fell ill once again with what I thought were classic “freshman flu” symptoms — fever, malaise, congestion, headache. So I stayed in for a weekend, took some zinc and acetaminophen and called it good. I thought, well, it’s been a while since my last cold or flu, maybe it’s not a big deal. So I went into class masked, drank lots of green tea and conserved as much energy as I could while still getting my work done. Full speed ahead, or at least as much speed as I could muster. I was not feeling well but very much did not want to fall behind. So rest & rehabilitation took a back seat to my other activities. I was exhausted, and my condition worsened.
So when I tested positive for COVID-19, I felt oddly relieved. At first, I thought Yes! Evidence to corroborate my perceived illness! It’s real and I’m not just being dramatic. But underlying those thoughts were relief at the promised break of 10 days in quarantine and isolation. I’m forced to take a pause and a rest — one I likely would not have given myself if I had the choice. Writing this now, I can admit, I much rather would have taken smaller breaks without getting sick. The coronavirus has not been kind to me.
As much as I would like to use this piece to complain about COVID-19, I think there’s a broader message to send. If there’s anything to be learned from my story, I think it’s this:
1. Believe people (including yourself) when someone says they feel sick. Listen to and honor your body and its needs.
It has been said that those who do not listen to whispers are forced to hear screams. Being in tune with how you feel emotionally and physically are key to achieving and maintaining wellness.
2. Make time for rest.
Attendance awards, class participation, the fear of not being able to catch up — these are all reasons I’ve gone to class sick. I remember there being a consistent pressure to stay on top of my work, to be the most present and engaged. I thought just by showing up I was proving to myself my commitment to my studies. I was prioritizing school over my own health.
Looking back at this view now, I see how problematic its implications really are. I’m looking to get back to listening to my body and prioritizing its needs over my wants. What I learned in my year away and in the first three weeks of readjusting to campus and getting COVID-19 are things I need to take with me moving forward.
Sometimes being forced to take a step back and to actually take a breather are just what the doctor ordered. When we get sick, there’s a complete evaluation and thought process behind our course of action. From even just a contagion perspective, it is not only in our best interest to stay away from others, it’s in the best interest of the general public. We should look out for ourselves and others. We should take care of what we need. It’s the right thing to do.
Alexa Schlaerth is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame pursuing degrees in Chinese and philosophy. As an Angeleno, Alexa enjoys shopping at Erewhon Market, drinking kombucha and complaining about traffic because it’s “like, totally lame.” Alexa can be reached at [email protected] over email.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.