Everybody gets sick. We are all human and therefore we all become ill on some occasion. Some of us (like me) hate to admit when we feel sick. It seems as though this is a sign of weakness, and we worry that we look as though we are seeking attention because we are feeling unwell. Others are very open about feeling under the weather, and want to seek as much help as possible when feeling ill. No matter which end of the spectrum you may fall on, becoming sick is unpleasant. Even more so, the first time we must take care of ourselves on our own is a new challenge.
Sickness escalates from unpleasant to scary when we cannot understand what is wrong, nor how to alleviate our symptoms. The terror escalates when WebMD tells us that we probably have the bubonic plague. The first time we experience this terror alone (such as while away at college) is even worse, because we do not have someone else to turn to for direction or rationality. The first time we become ill while independent is a true test of our physical ability to take care of ourselves as well as our mental strength in staying calm and collected.
Physically, we all know how to take care of ourselves. We know to take our temperatures, we know how to gauge how serious our illness is, we know who to call if we need serious attention. The issue is when we actually do feel poorly, doing all of these things ourselves is terrifying. That is where the mental component comes in. All of a sudden, it is your responsibility alone to determine a course of action. Your mom is no longer there to prompt you or suggest what to do.
For some reason, the weight of the individual responsibility for our own health is really hard to handle. I think this is because in the end, health is the most valuable, precious thing we have. Sure, managing your school work, social life, extracurricular activities and money are important, but they all mean nothing if you lose your health. Illness can threaten to take all of these other things away if not handled properly. Illness has a tight grip on every part of our lives, so we fear making a mistake with it the most.
All this being said, a part of being successfully independent is recognizing when we need to acquire help, so that sickness cannot permanently affect us. I learned this week that it is more than okay to call home for help when I am sick. Just because I am away does not mean I have to be completely independent and make all of these decisions alone, nor does it mean I have to take care of myself all alone here. But still, being alone and having to decide whether or not to reach out to someone else for help is scary.
When we are really, really sick, every move we have to make alone feels larger than it already is. The good news is once we survive that first sick scare alone, we know what to do next time. From challenges, we learn, grow and become more successful as independent individuals.