A balancing act

Along for the Ride

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SUBJECT: Today’s to-do list

MESSAGE:

 – Finish up computer science problem set

 – Reach the next Data 8 project checkpoint

 – Work on Human Rights Center blog assignment

 – Contact speakers for the Berkeley Forum

 – Draft Daily Cal column

I frown groggily down at the email I schedule-sent to myself last night, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and mentally planning out my day. I can probably draft my column before class at 11 a.m., then wrap up my computer science problem set between noon and 2 p.m. Then, in my free time between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., I’ll start on Part 2 of the Data 8 project. I can do all the rest after 6 p.m. and meet some friends for dinner in between.

Satisfied, I drive over to my desk and reach for my laptop. At the ache in my shoulder, I pause, roll it and sigh. It looks like I’ve been unwittingly omitting some items from my list, and now I’ll have to face the repercussions.

Between homework, extracurricular activities and friends, it’s easy to forget to take care of my body. Stretching, breathing exercises and sleep sometimes disappear into the vortex of tasks whirling around me, and I only notice their absence when it’s too late.

It’s a constant tug-of-war between me and my doctors. If I had my way, I would be in twice as many student organizations and at least two more classes, all while making time to meet up with friends. But if it were up to them, I would be in therapy the whole day and have a nonexistent course load and social life.

One Halloween, my pulmonologist admitted me to the hospital during a routine appointment. After seeing me struggle with a simple cold, she insisted that the hospitalization was necessary to ensure my health and safety. My parents protested that this was a stage in my normal recovery process, but they were powerless to stop it since I was a minor. After two days of intubation and lamentation over a missed night of trick-or-treating, I was in the same condition as before and had steady stats, so she realized that I was functionally stable and let me go.

My relationship with hospitals has grown increasingly strained over the years. While they’re helpful when things get really bad or after undergoing procedures, they’re also like a very stubborn piece of Velcro — they won’t let you leave unless you’re a hundred percent better. But the medical definition of “better” is quite limited. It doesn’t account for all the extra hours I’ll spend doing homework because of the few extra days I spent in the hospital, and it assumes that I’ll heal better in the sterile rigidity of the hospital compared to the comfort of my own bed.

That attitude underscores the belief that only my medical health is important. Pre-meds, listen up! That assumption is not only unfounded and simply incorrect, but it neglects the fact that medical, social and intellectual health are intertwined; one cannot be a hundred percent without the other two.

As someone with a physical disability, I value my intellectual health the most — my brain is the one frontier that my spinal muscular atrophy cannot touch, and that is where I place my security and self-worth. This means that I sometimes push this side too hard and forget to meet with friends or listen to my body — late nights and stress over schoolwork have led to infections more times than I care to admit.

My prioritization of intellectual health and my utter dependence on medical health mean that my social health sometimes gets neglected. I’m so busy during the week that I forget to make weekend plans with friends and end up working more. It doesn’t help that I live in a suite with no other students my age.

But I think I’m getting better at balancing the three. I have a midterm study-and-takeout party planned with friends tomorrow, and I’ve found a way to do my leg stretches and homework at the same time. I’m also planning to teach my friends the breathing exercises I do so that we can do them together.

I’m lucky to have a family that’s so supportive of my attempts to sustain all the different aspects of my health. Every break we have, my mom is more than willing to be my chauffeur to doctors offices, adjusting her work schedule and giving up entire days of her vacation to make sure I can squeeze in all my appointments while I’m off from school. My dad always plans excursions to museums and parks when I’m home, and he doesn’t complain if I want to bring my computer along to study. The only reason I’m able to keep a balance is because of meticulous scheduling on all our parts.

So now it’s the end of a hectic day, and I’m sitting down to write tomorrow’s to-do list. While the academic and extracurricular tasks I need to finish are easy enough to list out, I make sure to block off time in my calendar to “Read and Rest” and to do my stretches. Including these things in my daily plan are just baby steps, but hopefully one day I won’t have to think twice.

Vyoma Raman writes the Monday column on how mobility disabilities affect college life. Contact her at [email protected].