October 4, 2019 | Narrative
the cost of (not) pausing
healing as a fli student
Spending the first Saturday of this semester in an urgent care center on the outskirts of Warwick was not what I had in mind when I talked about “getting off the hill.” Too worried about finances to call EMS, I hastily perused Google in an effort to find places close enough to Uber to (or better yet, to find natural remedies). But all I discovered was that Providence urgent care centers seem to close at 4 p.m. on weekends—amazing, right?
It was Saturday evening, and I had endured over 24 hours of what seemed to be an allergic reaction. Itching, hives, blotchy skin, frustration—you name it, I had it. And the situation didn’t get any better with medical attention. As if the universe wasn’t already sufficiently clear in its intentions to ruin my Saturday, I also experienced a negative reaction to the injection meant to reduce my initial symptoms. Nearly fainting in urgent care, being monitored by worried physicians and nurses, rushing to a pharmacy ahead of its midnight closing time before finally returning to campus… A night so terrible, it was laughable.
Of course, my allergic reaction remained unmediated; no cause was found. Until a couple days later, when a doctor from Health Services informed me that my stress levels may have made my symptoms—including the hives—substantially worse.
Georgeara, you need a break.
Take a break.
Maybe a break will help.
It’s all I seem to be hearing nowadays. A break is what I want, what I know I need—but what does it really mean to “take a break,” anyway? Am I simply supposed to turn off my phone or avoid checking it for a couple of hours? Or am I supposed to delve into activities that bring me pleasure, like listening to music or reading? I’ve learned to consider my regular naps and lunches with friends as breaks of a kind, but as for learning to rest more intentionally, let alone more completely? That remains a mystery to me.
My fifth semester was meant to kick off like the beginning of school usually does: returning to campus early for RPL training, immediately getting caught up in the blur of pre-orientation programs, only to be welcomed by the chaos of orientation events before finally being graced with the headache of shopping period.
I tried to take a deep breath, dive, and come up for air once shopping period settled down. Of course, I’d returned to campus depleted. I had hoped my summer would be a time for restoration and refueling—a much-needed break—yet, despite the cozy time that I was able to spend back home, I arrived on campus at maybe 35 percent. Between my summer work at a local theater guild and the complex challenges of my family life, I haven’t been able to shake the nagging feeling that nothing is in my control. Or on my side.
It’s terrifying. These days, the prospect of taking a more formal break (otherwise known as leave-taking) has been on my mind, a question that I can’t let go of but won’t let myself fully ask.
I can’t fathom the idea of a semester-long break without worrying about every facet of my existence. Being here on full financial aid is a steady reminder that I should use every minute of my time at Brown productively—because I don’t know how my financial aid would function if I were to stay longer than expected. I tell myself that I should take advantage of Brown’s resources, capitalize on the many doors that being here has opened for me. If I were to return home, even temporarily, I’d lose access to deans, therapy, medical care…but I’d also gain access to a different kind of time and space, away from the multitude of stressors I face here.
So, what am I supposed to do? Am I in a place where I can afford to take a pause? Taking a break has always felt like a privilege reserved for the financially stable, for those who can ignore the repercussions that “days off” might cause in their budget.
Unfortunately, I still feel like I have too much at stake to take a break. It’s a real risk, a leap of faith. Even writing this brings me discomfort. At 20 years old, I constantly struggle to value myself beyond academics and work. “Self-care” often feels more performative than helpful. The concept, so trendy nowadays, usually centers around individual acts: attending yoga classes, splurging on face masks and bath salts, drinking herbal tea—activities that I don’t know how to prioritize on days where I struggle to simply lug myself out of bed.
Carving out time for myself to simply not try for once feels stressful, but it’s necessary. Although I have yet to fully explore healing beyond my weekly therapy sessions, I’m considering my recent decision to formally request a workload reduction as a key step towards rebuilding myself. Hearing the phrase “self-care” thrown around so frequently has urged me to reclaim it, to restructure it in a way that suits my needs and contextualizes my situation. Even choosing to use the word healing rather than self-care is one small way I’ve learned to make peace as I move forward.
Amid the variety of obstacles present in my life, healing is messy. It consists of ugly breakdowns, evenings where an overwhelming wave of hopelessness feels dangerously close at hand, and days where no amount of sunshine seems to break through my fog of despair. It’s a slow process, and I’ve realized that I can’t reroute my way around these troubles, only charge forward, straight through them.
Rebuilding isn’t easy—I’ve learned that much. But I’ve also learned that healing does not need to be an individual act. The times I feel the most whole are when I’m surrounded by loved ones who are healing, too.