Let’s talk about priorities today. This topic came to mind because, unfortunately, I was plagued by a particularly terrible case of food poisoning yesterday. Not to be too graphic, but I spent half the day on the floor of my bathroom, unable to keep even water down. Pale, dehydrated and flustered, I hobbled across campus to take a PCR test to rule out the possibility of COVID-19. By the end of the day, I could barely stomach half a banana and a whole piece of toast.
What should I have been thinking about? The answer seems fairly obvious: recovering. When I woke up on my bedroom floor and realized I had been unconscious for well over half an hour, my first thought should have been to get some rest. But no, the first thing that crossed my mind was: Oh shit, I’m missing a midterm right now.
And then the to-do list rushed in. I ran through everything I had planned for the day: midterm, reporting for an assignment, Marque article, News-Letter article, laundry. My mind immediately began shaming my body for being so bloody weak. How could I have let this happen? The busiest week of my senior spring, and my stomach has the audacity to collapse.
I Postmated some Gatorade, and problem-solving-autopilot kicked in. Before I made it back to bed, I had emailed my professor. Before I tried to eat, I had checked in with the magazine team. Before I deigned to sleep, I had made a game plan to redistribute my workload throughout the week so I wouldn’t fall behind.
For some reason, that was my top priority. Not my health, but my work. I wasn’t focused on taking care of myself or resting at all. I was lying in bed, desperately trying to type coherent sentences with the only finger that had any energy in it. So, what got me here? The answer is simple: The overachiever who worked tirelessly for years to pass high school exams, get in to Hopkins, get good grades and set herself up for the future whispered in my ear, “you can’t stop now.”
I’m not sure if anyone else feels this way, but I constantly feel the pressure of my past. As if, if I fail one little task or fall behind in the slightest, every little thing that I have done in my life to get here will have been for nothing. Like the girl who buried her head in ACT prep exams would be disappointed in me. This is simply not a healthy outlook, and after reflecting on these last 24 hours, it is one that I will actively fight to change. As 21st century college students, we put immense amounts of pressure on ourselves to be incredibly high-performing around the clock. It’s just not realistic.
The irony in all of this is that I’m really fantastic at taking care of anyone else. If a friend or family member sneezes and I find out about it, there will be chicken soup there within the hour. Need your essays edited? I’m your girl. Math homework checked? I’ve got you. But taking care of myself... write the next Mission: Impossible movie about that challenge.
Yesterday, I really learned how much of a priority I am to some people. In both positive and negative ways, but overwhelmingly positive. I was too nauseated to watch TV, so friends spent hours on the phone just distracting me. People offered to send me energy drinks and soup or rice, and my roommate most certainly mothered me. My parents might have sent me every bland food conceivable on Amazon Fresh.
But what touched me the most was people just checking in on me. I hadn’t even told them what was going on, they just asked if I was okay. Without being prompted. And repeatedly. They really wanted to know if there was anything they could do to help. This morning, a friend of mine saw that I was awake a little early, and walked over just to give me a hug. I was beyond shocked. It is the most wonderful feeling in the world to know that people actually care.
So, I guess being sick taught me a lot about priorities. Both the ridiculous backwardness of my own and the extremely heartwarming nature of others. I found warmth and comfort in old friends and new, and learning that I matter to others has definitely motivated me to bump myself up on my own list. Hopefully, the next time I eat expired cream cheese or pizza that I am definitely allergic to (because, let’s be real, we know it’ll happen again), I’ll take a day off to recover and worry about my work later. Consider this a friendly reminder that your mental and physical health should always be your number one priority.
Saniya Ramchandani is a senior from Singapore studying Physics. Her column is a reflective narrative that chronicles her experiences navigating various aspects of college life.