When I was younger, I didn’t take sick days off from school. Every day I went, come hell or high water, and even if someone had to come get me part way through the day, I was dropped off at the threshold of my school each morning.
That obsession with attendance followed me as I got older. Even if I knew I wasn’t going to be productive because of a fever, a pounding headache, a disgusting sinus infection, a panic attack, you name it, I consistently pushed myself out of bed and either plopped down in front of my computer screen at work or at my desk in class, and tried.
But in the last few years, I’ve realized how important it is to take time when I need it. There came a point when I absolutely needed to take time off but the “present by any means necessary” mantra by which I lived my life kicked in, and I tried to convince everyone around me that I was fine to go back to class the next day.
I hadn’t slept for days and I could barely see, my eyes were so swollen.
A few weeks later, I’ve rested up enough to try and integrate back into my normal life. And in my defense, I think I would’ve been fine if I didn’t have the added stress of worrying about my mom, who is still in the hospital.
I tell myself I’m going to try to work at the beginning of every day, but the pattern’s the same. I get up, I try to clean the house (to varying degrees of success) before my dad comes home to shower and eat. I maybe stare at a few pages of reading before Dad walks in. I ask if anyone is with my mom. He says no. I get up and drive to the hospital. I talk to my mom for about twenty minutes. I help her to the restroom a few times, another twenty minutes each time, from the time she gets out of the bed until she gets back in. Food comes and I help her eat. She asks for water. I read to her a little. She falls asleep. I try to read. She wakes up and we do it all over again.
The fact is my priorities are still out of order. There is no universe in which reading for a class I won’t remember in ten years trumps caring for my mother, who gave birth to me and was an active and caring parent to me for my entire life.
What I should be balancing is caring for my mom, caring for my dad and caring for my own mental health. My school work comes much later. People are more important than things.
I wish my dad and I had more help, but one family’s tragedy is another’s minor inconvenience.
I try not to get frustrated with other people. I try not to get angry or sad. But everything feels like it’s happening too slowly. The nurses don’t move fast enough when my mom calls for help, the doctors aren’t figuring out what’s wrong fast enough, even I’m not moving fast enough to help. It feels so urgent that I find myself wanting to scream at everyone around me, “MY MOM IS SICK WHY AREN’T YOU HELPING HER?!” I feel like screaming at the doctors, her family, me. The only person that’s doing it right is my dad. He’s the only person that ever does anything right.
I feel guilty taking time to even write this, to steal hours to read and write when I know I should be sitting by her, reading to her, cheering her up, buying flowers and hanging pretty words around her room to make her smile. I want (read: need) to talk to friends who forget to call back or miss texts, and in between, they missed everything and I need to tell them what’s going on. I wouldn’t even know what to say, if I should talk about how I feel or if I should talk about my mom. And instead of working through the feelings, I let them overwhelm me and I shut down.
I don’t have time for anything but us right now, me, my mom, my dad. No one else had been there for us we needed help. No one else but us. I don’t have time to write précis, or read that 500 page monstrosity, or text back about anything that doesn’t include my mom.
My mom is my priority. I am my priority. My dad is my priority.
If that makes me a bad grad student, so be it, but it certainly makes me a good daughter and a good human.
Now, excuse me. I’ve got to go see my mom.