Fever dream: you’re at Dunkin’, and there’s a line out the Landmark door behind you. Blue geometric figures blur in and out of your vision, and everything feels like it’s spinning in circles.
There’s a loud alarm somewhere, and your dream is cut short by your rapidly-beating heart. You can see yourself grabbing your phone, checking to see if your professor responded to your email the night before. You start typing something: Not feeling great? In bed? So sorry. What can I do to make up for it?
You submerge back into the depths of sleep, and you see your professor. I made plans to come to class, I swear, you think. Your professor stands there, arms crossed. “If you’re not here by the time the class hits the halfway mark, your assignment won’t count for any credit at all,” he says. “You missed the deadline. Real journalists wouldn’t let being sick stop them from submitting their assignment.”
It echoes, that one word: deadline. Oh my god, you think. This is it, my grade is over. My career is over. How could I have missed class?
Okay, cut to real time. It may seem dramatic, but that’s the exact nightmare I woke up from at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. I don’t know about you, but I’m usually not the kind of person to let sickness stop me from doing things. I’ll deny being sick or injured for as long as possible — one time, I went a month on a broken foot before I realized it was broken.
But after waiting for three hours at Urgent Care on Sunday and — graphic, disgusting moment warning — proceeding to puke up my bright red cough syrup, I realized something utterly jarring: I needed to rest.
It seems like every college kid I know is sick right now . Every other day, I hear that someone has gotten the flu or a sinus infection. Usually, it’s followed by me asking, “Oh, did you get it looked at?” Often, they respond, “No, not yet,” or, “No, it’s not that big of a deal.”
For all the crap that Generation Z and millennials get for being lazy, I think we’re really, really scared to not be busy. We’re scared of the consequences if we take time off from school and work to take care of ourselves. No wonder there’s such a big push for us to take care of our mental health — we’re so bad at it.
It doesn’t help that the University of Maryland’s attendance policy is so strict, with only one self-signed note allowed per semester and almost no wiggle room when it comes to mental illness-related absences.
But besides logistical concerns, like missing in-class assignments and opportunities to turn in homework, I think our inability to rest boils down to one ravishingly destructive phenomenon: imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is when, despite all your successes and proven ability to adult, you still feel inadequate. It affects our ability to feel like we belong at our university, in our major or in our extracurriculars. It affects our self-esteem and how we allow others to treat us.
But not being able to pause also comes down to some level of self-centeredness: We think the world will stop functioning without us.
Being sick seems like the end of the world because it means that I need to step back from running my world. I need to (gasp) rely on grace from other people. Trust that people believe I’m sick? No way. Trust that my team at work knows what they’re doing and can handle it without me? Crazy.
I tweeted on Monday that my imposter syndrome goes as far as affecting my ability to believe I’m sick. This all leads me to ask — is my career and desire for instant, tangible accomplishment worth walking up Stamp Hill at 11 a.m. when my chest is on fire and my eyes are so blurry from sleep that I can barely see?
The answer is no, of course. I remember one of my professors telling us on the last day of classes last semester that our success or failure in the industry does not define our value and, I kid you not, I almost cried. Our generation has this insatiable desire just to be heard and accepted, and it’s getting in the way of our ability to take care of ourselves.
I wish somehow that I could tell you that we’re all human and we all max out. I wish you could hear that you’re allowed to take some “you” time and go do that one thing you forgot you enjoy, even if it feels silly. I wish I could tell you that, despite your performance in class or at work, you have inherent value here on Earth as a human being — not just as somebody producing things.
But I can’t, really, so all I can say is: Do yourself and everybody else a favor and stay home when you’re sick.