One of the most important parts of leaving home is how our place in our worlds change. For me, that came into focus for the first time when I got sick in college this month, and the whirlwind of Duke University just continued on without me for the better part of a week. Growing up, I was used to everything simply stopping the second there was a sick child in the household. I was shocked at how isolating, boring and lonely being sick at college really was and that, somehow, I was going to have to take care of myself.

Frankly, I wasn’t used to having to pay attention to my own health: I had always had someone, even at the most basic level, to tell me ‘you don’t look well’ or ‘why don’t you take the day off of school today?’ 

I’ve been fortunate that for my entire life, there was a not-small crowd of people there taking care of me, to the point that I learned my own incompetence. So, when I finally got sick 500 miles away from home, alone, I hadn’t a clue how to take care of my own health and keep up with school in the process. 

At this, I truly failed: instead of really taking time to rest and recover from mono, I still tried to go to lectures and cram for my imminent midterms. It was a massive mistake. By going to classes that I would up being absolutely unable to focus in, I gained nothing academically and by trying to keep up with extracurriculars, I simply exhausted myself, probably prolonging my illness.

In a twisted fear-of-missing-out sort of way, I thought that my grades for the entire semester hinged on somehow getting my mono-ridden self to that one lecture, or one seminar, or one extra-help session. Now, on the other side of those exams that I had so feared, I can say that putting myself through that was a grave mistake.

By not taking care of myself and simply resting at home, I felt overall much worse for much longer, and it wasn’t like I was actually absorbing any information that happened in those classes anyways. Ask me what happened during last Thursday’s meeting of Math 112L, and I will give you the blankest of blank stares. Going to class added a fat zero of value to my education, and probably worsened my health overall.

So, I got mono on Central Campus and learned that being sick in college is, if anything, very stressful. I let myself stay unwell because I feared falling behind. Yet, by doing so, I did nothing to advance myself academically. I guess, maybe it’s worth taking the time off and resting for once in my life. 

I was just scared. When I got sick a lot as a child, my dad would work from home, which in reality meant that he’d sit on a chair in our living room while I’d lie on the couch. We’d watch TV for hours on end while he read Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, and my nanny Sharmain would elbow her way into an appointment at the always-busy doctor’s office so I could get an all-too-frequent strep test.

On Central Campus, there was none of that. I sat (well, really laid) in unending boredom and loneliness while Duke simply went on. If I were feeling particularly energetic, I’d freak out about the number of classes that I was missing before midterms, but I usually wasn’t. Driving my not-fully-conscious self to student health was an undertaking, far more than being carried into a taxi to go four blocks to the doctor when I was in elementary school.

As the week went on and nothing got better, I really started to think I was losing my mind. I forced myself to go to class even though there was no way I could pay attention. I have to be in class or I’m going to fall behind, I thought, knowing full well that I was doing myself no favors by sitting in lectures for hours on end. But, it was only a week until midterms, and, as someone who doesn’t handle stress particularly well, I made the grave mistake of forcing myself to get out of bed, take a bunch of pills and stumble off to West Campus regardless of whether I was going to be able to stay awake through any lecture.

I learned the hard way that there are times where school needs to take a backseat, and having mono is definitely one of those times. Being very ill did give me perspective on the relative importance of my own activities, and that missing out on a few days isn’t necessarily the end of the world. Yes, the world of Duke University kept on spinning while I had mono, but when I was finally able to put myself back on it, catching up wasn’t horrible. What was, however, was trying to keep myself spinning in time with planet Duke while I could barely even sit up in bed. 

Andrew Orme is a Trinity sophomore. His column usually runs on alternate Fridays.