Knowing something isn’t important and accepting that fact are two very different things, and the latter of the two is almost impossible. Ask anybody. Ask me. I spent most of the last week stressing over things that shouldn’t have mattered – mostly work. I am a first year university student about to start the fourth week of academic study… The work I am doing now is not crucial to my entire degree, it is easy to catch up on. And yet I spent most of my week stressing about falling further and further behind (even though before I ended up in hospital I had been studying for 11 hours a day and was therefore ahead on lecture notes). I forgot how lucky I was to even be alive, forgot how amazing it is that I can walk and function almost normally… Forgot the huge achievement of just being back on campus, and started beating myself up about the lectures I had missed (which meant I was too busy freaking out to focus on catching up)
It was only when I was on the phone to my mum and she said “this time last week you were in intensive care.” That I realised I was being ridiculous. At that point I stopped trying to fight how ill and exhausted I felt and got back into bed. I spent three days there, curled up under the covers with my laptop, desperately emailing my lecturers (because I continued to freak out) and occasionally stumbling into the kitchen wrapped in a blanket to socialise with my flat family.
On one day I made the short journey over to kiss friend’s flat where his flat mates (the group of friends who saved my life) smothered me in hugs, and kiss friend himself scooped me into his arms so violently I was almost lifted off of my feet. I delivered a carrier bag full of strawberry laces and said thank you far too many times. They said there was no need for either gesture, that they did what any friends would have done. My response… Was to hug them again. I was given a huge bag of cookies, and then returned to my flat, where flat daddy (we call him that because he treats me like his adopted child, in a not-condescending, accidental, protective and awesome way) and flat brother (another of my flat mates) were very confused as to why I’d spent time with the guy who basically kicked me right in the feels. The answer – I don’t know. Does love/ friendship/ whatever this can be called even make sense?
That night our flatmates and unofficial flatmates (9 people) all gathered around our kitchen table and had a welcome home/ get well soon/ yay you’re alive pizza/ Chinese takeaway party for me (even though some of them still owe me for the pizza) It was as awesome as it sounds. I felt so loved that I nearly cried almost as many times as I thanked everyone. We’ve never all been together at one point, usually there’s a maximum of eight of us. It was so nice for us to all be together, and they were all so glad to see me which I couldn’t believe. I felt at home again (and also so full of pizza and spring rolls that I couldn’t move).
Then I went back to stressing. I knew that I was being ridiculous, and occasionally managed to chill out a bit and do some reading, but my brain found reading very confusing and I kept getting headaches, so then I started to stress that I would never catch up. Eventually I emailed my lecturers and explained the situation. It took me several attempts to draft an email that made sense, and even longer to persuade myself to click send. My lecturers were all amazing. They had no problem with me missing lab sessions, they knew I could catch up on their lectures online, they actually seemed concerned, and focussed more on the fact that I had been so unwell. I instantly relaxed, and it was only then that I realised how tense I had been… For no logical reason. My stress was neither helpful or productive, and served no real purpose, yet it was all consuming. People kept ‘helpfully’ telling me that there was ‘so much work you missed today!’ and it only made me freak out more. I should have been focussing on getting better, on resting, on just appreciating everything I had… But I couldn’t. And I don’t think I’m alone.
We lose sight of the bigger picture and obsess over individual brush strokes that are, inevitably, insignificant to those who view our lives from an observer’s viewpoint… And that’s because, if we step back and look at our life as a whole, the things we’ve been working on and stressing about don’t actually play as big a part in our life as we think they do. Sixteen hours of missed lectures is exactly that – sixteen hours of missed lectures – not the end of the world. Yet my brain gave it almost the same importance as breathing… Illogical! I realised this a long time before I accepted it.
To take a break from worrying and get my legs used to walking again (and because I missed the outside world) flat brother and I decided to take one of our American flat mates to Whitechapel for fish and chips (when I was in hospital kiss friend and my unnoficial flat mates (2 lovely girls who practically live in our flat) brought me chips from this chip shop and they were so amazing I had to go there). I had the coordination of a newborn giraffe. My brain and my left leg must clearly have had some huge argument that I was not informed about, because it just didn’t seem to want to communicate with my brain, and I couldn’t remember how to make it do what I wanted it to do. I looked weird, with a strange limp and a dressing hiding the hole the central line has left in my neck, but neither of them laughed. We got our fish and chips, and it was the greatest accomplishment of my week. There were other people in that fish and chip shop sat down enjoying fried fish and kebabs, and none of them realised how lucky they were to be right where they were – to be able to walk into the shop and buy a meal for themselves, to be able to eat… I sat for so long appreciating everything that I almost let my chips go cold.
The next day I met with the student support officer from my course. My stressing was pretty much over, but she drowned the last glowing embers with some reassuring words. She told me that she would sort everything and I needed to just stop thinking about studying, that most people in my situation would focus on getting better, and that my health should come first. The amount of support offered to me was ridiculous, but it was only there when I made people aware that I needed it.
And I guess really that is my point. We live in a world where people are crushed under the weight of their troubles right before our eyes. It’s a world where we are too embarrassed to ask for help for fear of appearing weak, or burdening people, and then in the last few seconds of our struggles we scream for it when it is too late for others to intervene. We don’t like to appear vulnerable, we don’t know how to stop trying to mask the parts of us that are. We fight on our own because we never raise an army. But if you ask people to stand by you, somebody will. Our emotions take up such a huge space in our minds that we forget that others can’t see them and feel them too – our freak outs and stresses and worries and fears are not as obvious as we sometimes assume. The hardest part is admitting defeat, and that is by no means an act of the weak.
No matter how small the issue, or what other people around you are going through, it is perfectly ok to not feel ok. You wouldn’t walk it’s a war zone without an army behind you, and you shouldn’t walk through tough parts of your life alone either. Remember that.