I spent the train ride back from Thanksgiving break mourning the mounds of turkey leftovers I’d forgotten in my fridge and mapping out my study schedule for finals. I looked up library hours and planned out a detailed itinerary, complete with denoted “gummy bear breaks!” and “five minutes to drop everything and breathe!” I figured I could survive my first round of finals if I just got myself together.
Three hours later, I got back to my dorm and collapsed on my bed. I was fatigued, nauseous and shivering with a fever. SHS told me a few days later that I had pneumonia, that I was unable to take my finals and should head home immediately to rest. I got on a train back to Connecticut a week later — planner in tow — but with all my carefully-made plans derailed.
I spent three weeks in bed, unsure of what to do with myself. I was used to my Penn state of bouncing from one activity to the next with barely any time in between to eat, let alone reflect on my life. I slept, I read, I went through three seasons of Scandal in five days. I got a jump on the final exam papers I’d have to turn in late. And I thought over and over again about how I had allowed myself to get sick like this — how I had run myself down so much that I couldn’t stay at Penn and finish up the semester with the rest of my friends. I scanned through the myriad “Turn Up for Finals!” snapchats and replied with my failed attempts to make pneumonia look photogenic. Trips to the doctor’s office gave me a whole new meaning of IV league.
My theory is that I got sick by disregarding any concerns my immune system might have. My lifestyle at Penn is not healthy. I should swap downtowns for more sleep and keep tabs on nutrition instead of relying on gummy bears to get me through Sunday nights in the Law Library. I prioritize hanging out with friends over exercising. And I stress out, almost without realizing it, about everything from rush outfits to whether I should start studying for the LSAT.
But the most unhealthy part of my life at Penn is my reliance on plans. I live for the ability to write out my itinerary for the day and stick to it. It’s how I exert control over the hectic, helterskelter-ness of my college experience. I may not have all the answers, but I can figure out my trajectory — for a day, a week, even 10 years down the line. I’m all for spontaneity, but only if it’s during my neatly penciled-in window of free time.
The more time I spend at college, though, the more short-term my plans become. I came to Penn with a spreadsheet of classes mapped out for the next four years. I thought I had my academic roadmap figured out — major, minor and requirements all taken care of. But then my communications major morphed into political science, which changed into English and now stands as a firm undecided. I don’t want to turn away from the neat routes I planned out, but it’s unhealthy to stick to plans for mere convenience. I need to start letting go of my routines. I should take a break every once in a while from the events on my calendar and catch up on sleep. I should postpone my English reading for half an hour to grab actual food. I need to prioritize my well-being over what’s written in my planner.
Bored of my bed and weak from antibiotics, I spent a day while I was recovering penning my class schedule into my planner — every day for the rest of the semester. Then a class opened up and I thought more practically about requirements, and in 10 minutes all my careful planning was undone. I scratched out my plans and tentatively inked my new schedule onto the pages — aware that they might not be permanent, but secure that I could handle the next derivation from my plans.
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