Exams are over! I hope I never wind up with a timetable as bad as last semester’s again.
However, I have learnt some things – other than a ridiculous amount of detailed information, which is as we speak slipping quietly out of my head. A highly anecdotal Personal Revelation Rant is waiting below, just to warn you all.
Last year I got glandular fever. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been – who hasn’t heard horror stories? And luckily, by a combination of timing and doggedness, it didn’t impact my marks. But it was certainly awful. And it certainly has made an impression.
This year, if I feel too tired or get the slightest snuffle, I stop. I step back, and breathe, and take as much care of myself as I can. This isn’t what I used to do – I used to drop by the pharmacy and Soldier On, more sinus medication than girl. That’s what everyone does. It’s what you’re meant to do, keep going and keep going till either it goes away or you get to the weekend.
But to use quite a clinical term, it’s unsustainable.
If you keep pressuring yourself to push on through, you don’t heal, and illnesses line up like sneaky dominoes. They turn into worse things, and because you’re always feeling groggy you don’t notice it, and the weekends aren’t long enough.
If you’re me, that turns into glandular fever, which you don’t notice till you burst into tears because you’re a minute late for class. (Not an exaggeration – if you haven’t had glandular fever, it’s chiefly characterized by chronic fatigue, making it virtually The Least Fun Thing Ever.)
Between a combination of a) knowing that glandular fever remains in your system for at least a year and b) really hating being incapable of doing things for several weeks, I’m now very careful. This semester, with a timetable that started early and ended late, I just didn’t attend many of my early classes.
The looming figure of self-expectation informed me that this was lazy, selfish, that other people went through much more and did better, that I should be guilty.
But like the difference between ‘bitch’ and ‘self-accepting’, there’s quite the cultural habit of assimilating selfishness with self-awareness. If it’s a choice between sacrificing my attendance in one class and sacrificing my performance in all of them, it’s an easy decision. So why did I have to defend it to myself?
And to others. The idea that you might value yourself over others is incredibly, incredibly stigmatized. Point fingers at whatever you want. Religion? Victorian or fifties morality? Your mother telling you to be grateful? Take your pick. But this is absurd stigma. You are the single most significant person in your life, from a practical viewpoint alone.
Yet that, we’re taught, is a selfish way of thinking. It’s equated with narcissism, laziness, lack of sympathy for others. Time to care for yourself is a luxury.
It’s not. It’s a basic right. To hell with the adverts and work ethic that expect you to harm yourself before harming your performance. To hell with the adverts that idealize medicating yourself up to the eyeballs before you admit something’s wrong. It’s a weaker version of the same problem that stigmatizes depression, mental illness, and cripples self-acceptance.
If you’re not taught to allow yourself to be weak, you’re taught to hold yourself to an impossible standard. Aim for it, sure, aim for it again and again and again. But allow yourself the knowledge that you might miss.