The morning of a big football game, I woke up in too much pain to walk. For any normal student, this wouldn’t be a problem—call some friends, hitch a piggyback ride to the stadium or maybe the university health center, and you’re good. But I’m in the marching band, and my mom and aunt had flown up to see the game and watch me perform.
I needed to be at rehearsal in 10 minutes, and I could barely make it out of bed. After the game, I needed to finish an essay, eat dinner with my family and submit a research proposal. I had a groove going, and no time to pause and rest. Needless to say, panic set in.
It soon became clear that I wasn’t going to make it to morning marching rehearsal, but I held out hope that I could make the game. I managed to hobble across the quad to our health service building, where there was somehow a line at 8 a.m. Five minutes spent typing in my symptoms on WebMD while waiting to see a nurse resulted in a self-diagnosis: hand, foot and mouth disease. Sounds gross, right?
And of course that’s what I had, the nurse confirmed. She took one look at the hundreds of tiny blisters spreading across my palms and feet and ordered as much rest as possible. “But could I possibly still march today?” It was worth a shot.
“It’s going to be pretty painful for you. But if you think you can handle standing for almost four hours, then go for it.” The thought of trying to cram my sore, swollen feet into my marching shoes made me dizzy, and I sent a sad email to my band director saying that I would be unable to march that day. It hurt to type.
I was mortified by my illness, extremely upset over missing the game and horrified that I had disappointed my mom and aunt who had flown up from Florida and Texas just to see me. They stopped by to check on me for a few minutes and then went off to the stadium because they had tickets that couldn’t go to waste. And what could they do, besides order me to stay in bed even though I was practically vibrating out of my skin with the need to do something.
As I lay in bed and heard the band march to the stadium from the main building, I fantasized about throwing on my uniform and sprinting to the gate, baritone in hand and seamlessly melting into my rank. But I put my jacket back on the hanger after my hands hurt too much to do up the buttons. It didn’t look like I was going anywhere soon.
I knew the next few hours would be agonizing not because of the pain but because I had nothing to do. I should have been playing and marching, supporting my team, and putting on a great performance for my family, but all I could do was curl up in my bed with a bottle of ibuprofen and despair.
Alone with my thoughts, I couldn’t stop worrying about things I needed to be doing. Writing a paper, memorizing show music for the next football game, choosing classes for next semester. It takes a lot to slow my body down, and even more to make my mind stop racing.
I love being busy, rushing around campus from activity to activity and making the most of my time as a college student. There are so many fun things to do—I don’t want to have to choose. But I can’t do everything all of the time, no matter how hard I try, and sometimes I spread myself too thin. It’s remarkably easy to stress yourself out in college. It took some forced bed rest for me to acknowledge that sometimes it’s fine to take a break from the pressures of everyday college life.
College isn’t a perfect, fun experience, complete with hard but doable classes. It’s a mess, and you’re likely to get hurt along the way. But I refuse to let the occasional bump, bruise or weird illness along the way stress me out permanently. I know I won’t be happy every single day of the week, but I’m finally learning that that’s OK —and that sometimes I just need to take a step back from everything. I plan on taking that step before I get sick next time.