“Well you’ve definitely been through worse than this!”
Cough, fever, chills, aches, all the hallmarks of a chest cold struck me like a slap in the face almost immediately after coming home from a road trip. The cough quickly became the nastiest I’ve EVER had and it led to 4 hour sleeps and multiple breathing treatments a day. I was shaking, throwing up and blowing my nose constantly and eventually, I was diagnosed with bronchitis and a sinus/ear infection.
It’s true, I’ve been through worse.
Hospitalizations, hair loss, nausea beyond what you can imagine. Anesthesia and IVs and a lot of time spent thinking about my own death. My body was trying to kill itself and the doctors pumped me full of chemicals in an attempt to stop it.
A lot, lot worse than a chest cold.
But in the few days I’ve spent trying to recover from this illness, my mind has been lingering on that time when it was so much worse. Because it wasn’t only the symptoms that I wanted to escape from during chemo; it was the repercussions of those symptoms. I was basically bedridden for the better part of that year. No school, not many friends, not much else besides focusing on getting better. Living in that way, where my sole purpose was to hope that my health improved, disgusted me. And I hated it so much so that when I went back to school for my sophomore year, I began going out almost every night with flashy new friends, trying desperately to bury the feelings of wasted time, and the feelings that my recovery had both saved and massively stalled my life.
Every time I get a virus nowadays I get a taste of that stalled feeling. I’m missing my first week of my second semester of college because of this cough. My mom has pretty much forbid me to leave my bed (for good reason) so all I’ve done for these past couple days is watch Netflix and feel like crap. I spent 11 months doing the same thing during my treatment and the feeling of being back there, even for a week or a few days, makes me squirm. It’s like I’ve spent so many days being sick that every additional illness just adds to this weight on my shoulders and fuels this cycle of me trying to make up for lost time. Going to community college early, working to start a nonprofit, making my schedule full of plans with friends- my methods of burying the past have come to a stop with this illness and now there’s nothing between me and the fear of wasted time. Every day that I wait for recovery is a day I could be spending getting my life back. And I’m still trying to figure out what exactly what that means; anything less than constant work feels like a failure because I know just how lucky I am to have the ability to work on my future. And when I’m sick, I’m not able to do that. And I resent my body for making me feel sick yet again when I’ve already spent a year of my life sick already.
This morning, I woke up and finally didn’t have the immediate urge to cough up a lung. My head feels a little bit clearer, probably thanks to the antibiotics and steroids they put me on. I’m excited to finally be able to go back to school and back to my own work.
Leisure time feels like the enemy to me. But I guess even survivors need time to just relax. I’ve learned to never consciously choose relaxation time and in that decision I’ve learned to hate illnesses that force it on me, like cancer did for so many months. I hold myself to the highest standards of time management in order to justify the second chance at life that I’ve been given.
But maybe this illness is a message to slow down. Maybe second chances don’t come with conditions. Maybe I should stop working like I’m running out of time and then when I do need to slow things down, it won’t be as painful.
But in the back of my mind, there will always be that wasted time.