Taking a sick day

Nov. 14, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

Sneezes, coughs, sniffles — I’ve been hearing a lot of these noises on campus as we are deep in the middle of fall quarter. A college campus is a place where you’re just begging to get sick — you’re living in close quarters, germs everywhere, always on the go and rarely have time to rest your body.

I’ve been lucky enough that I did not get sick my entire freshman year. But this past week, as a sophomore, I experienced what it was like to be sick at college for the first time. I woke up on Monday morning and just knew: I was not going to get out of bed today.

While still lying in bed, I pulled up Microsoft Outlook on my phone to write an email to my professors. The two classes I had that day were seminar-style, so my absence would definitely be noticed. Great. Luckily, both of my instructors wrote back with very understanding, warm-hearted thoughts. One of them even said I was the ninth student to email her about being sick.

Despite having a legitimate excuse to miss class, I felt a knot in my stomach — a looming guilt — as I continued to lie in bed and watch some episodes of Friends on Netflix. Missing just one class in the quarter system makes you feel like you’re so behind — for classes that meet only once a week, for example, missing twice means you didn’t take a fifth of the course. I thought about this as I pulled the covers over myself even higher, clicking “Skip Intro” for the next episode of the TV show. There was so much I could’ve been doing at that time. I thought to myself, maybe I should get up and do some homework in my pajamas — that counts as rest, right?

Fear of missing out (FOMO), in this manner, extends beyond the social aspects of life. Yes, being sick meant I had to choose between going off campus with friends and staying in bed, between prioritizing my mental health (by spending time hanging out with friends) and prioritizing my physical health (by staying in). However, more than this, as twisted as it sounds, I felt a fear of missing out on class — on work. A fear of missing out on time that I could spend being “productive.” It didn’t help that my sickness wasn’t too serious — it wasn’t like I had pneumonia or bronchitis, I just had a cold. I felt like I should just be able push through and work so I wouldn’t get behind.

This, I realized, was how my little cold had the potential to grow into a bigger issue, how destructive my mindset of “just pushing through it” out of FOMO really was. What would really happen if I missed one class, or got a little behind, or didn’t hang out with friends for a weekend?

The answer, I discovered, is simple: nothing, really. I could make up work for a class, or catch back up, or hang out with them the next weekend. I could also not do any of those things. I could stay a little behind, and it wouldn’t be the end of the world because there are more important things in life like rest. Full, deep, whole, complete rest. And no, doing your homework in bed wearing your pajamas doesn’t count as rest. Allowing your body, your mind, your soul to do absolutely nothing and be okay with it — that is rest.


Contact Angie Lee at angielee ‘at’ stanford.edu.


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