A discourse on being ill (mono)

After I took a step outside Christianity last summer and decided to live life by my own standards, I was on an uphill sprint. I was writing three times a week for my university’s student paper, handling a course overload with flying colours, living a thriving social life, I got over the breakup that coincided with my departure from the church and I started dating someone wonderful. I felt fulfilled and proud that I had engineered my own life and was doing well at it. I felt the full effects of being young, in love, and stable.
I got sick in mid-December. Originally, I deemed it a cold, and then the flu. After 7 days of being in bed, nauseous, feverish, achey and sore, I went to the hospital and was diagnosed with mononucleosis and a urinary tract infection (UTI). While common, mono can last for up to a year, and my case has been severe. I was treated for the UTI, but there’s nothing you can do for mono but wait it out.
Two weeks later, I was diagnosed with tonsillitis. I was spitting up blood and my airway was closing. I was put on a two-day IV with antibiotics, steroids, fluids and painkillers. A week later, I was diagnosed again with another UTI. The reoccurring infections are linked to a immune system caused by the mono. Now, almost two months after my initial diagnosis, I still have a UTI (diagnosed for the fourth time), ringworm and mono. I’m no longer ill-feeling most days, but I don’t have the energy that makes me thrive and feel like myself. I lie in bed most days, staggered with jaunts to campus and frequent, unsuccessful attempts to study for the exams I had to have deferred.
Each time an infection comes back, I’m further discouraged about my recovery time. I’m taking a reduced course load, but most days I still get worked up about my upcoming exams and the deadlines approaching in my other classes. I hate no longer being able to do well academically, or putting my best foot forward in anything. I know that I’ll heal, probably in another 2-6 months, but I feel muted, stressed and tired. Bedrest makes me lonely, but going out to see people overwhelms me and I become frustrated that they forget that I’m sick and don’t consider the limitations I have. I’m always nervous that I’ll contract another infection.
My boyfriend Lincoln has been supportive, spending time with me in bed and putting little pressure on me to get up and do things. The UTIs make sex painful at times, but on days where I’m feeling better, abstaining is so difficult when he’s so close to me and I crave human contact. Still early into our relationship, and early into my life as a sex-having human, I’m half convinced that I might as well take what enjoyment I can when I’ll be sick anyway, and half acknowledging that I’m making the infection worse, and reoccurring, by having sex when I probably shouldn’t be.
My family has tried to be so helpful, offering me whatever they can from a distance, and my dad has tried to get me to come home. I miss having family to take care of me, but I love being here, and I want to attend my classes. I feel lazy all the time, and all I want is my motivation and my energy back.

Inconvenient Times for New Pursuits

“I don’t have a condom.” Lincoln’s eyes rolled up to my bedroom ceiling in horror, leaving my naked body momentarily unobserved.

Years of elementary and high school sex education culminated in a 19 and a 21 year old, both enrolled in university, with 2 attentive parents each and a massive google search history on sex being woefully unprepared for the activities I had just suggested for the first time in my life, on the 23rd of November in the year 2014.

The tragedy etched across his face of being unable to consummate our relationship without procreating another tiny being who would probably be, according to the law of averages, also destined to annoy government officials over the phone in journalism school assuming that his parents, who would hopefully both be journalists by that point, could afford a university education on their salaries, which seems unrealistic at the rate that things are currently going.

“Well I mean I’m down whenever, it doesn’t have to be tonight,” I said. I hadn’t actually considered the potential immediacy of my offer to trade virginities, assuming that his early class the next day would deter him.

Lincoln looked down at me, first at my face. He apparently wasn’t deterred. “But do you want to tonight?”

I shrugged, “I would be good with tonight.”

His face froze in place, but the rest of his body didn’t and the nudity made hiding his enthusiasm difficult.

I pushed Lincoln out of my very un-made bed with ambitions to find this mythically shaped saran wrap at the convenience store on the next street over.

We arrived at 10:30 on that Sunday night to find a locked door whose impermeability Lincoln refused to accept, peering in through the windows and shaking the handles.

I googled the nearest Shopper’s Drug Mart, apparently a 10 minutes’ walk away, and we headed confidently in that direction. When the little blue “current location” dot on my iPhone hovered over the spot where the Shopper’s Drug Mart promised to be on the map, we stood beside a Harvey’s and an apartment building that seemed to have an unusual number of old people loitering around it. For the first time, I felt that I was finally doing what grumpy old people suspect people my age to be doing and I refused to be sorry about it.

I gave up on the phantom Shopper’s Drug Mart while Lincoln circled the block three times and debated hailing a taxi. I poked him in the opposite direction from which we came, toward another Shopper’s Drug Mart that I promised I’d been to personally.

Lincoln was sweating.

We were the only customers in the store 45 minutes before close, excluding a young woman with a stroller and a tightened smile that appeared to encourage our late-night trip to the drug store when she saw the aisle we headed to called “Family planning,” which is ironic when family planning is exactly what we were avoiding.

I leaned against the shelf while Lincoln picked up three boxes and set them back on the shelf. “Do you know the difference between these?” he asked. I shook my head and he chose the biggest variety pack they had.

Heading toward the cash register, Lincoln asked me for my chocolate preferences and picked up a Twix bar, partly to make it appear that we were just “in the area” with a sugar craving and happened to also pick up a pack of condoms, and partly to celebrate our mutual departure from life as wholesome virgins in the free world of the 21st century.

Lincoln paid with a debit card and an optimum card that he proudly had on hand. I accepted it with a straight face when the cashier told us to have a nice night while she handed us the contraception and the chocolate.

Back at my house, we dumped the variety pack on my desk. In a charming act of chivalry, he let me choose the condom onto which I would surrender my maidenhood and we ate the twix 15 minutes later.

My version of the story

Deciding not to be together was his decision. Deciding no longer to see each other was mine. Here’s my version of the story.

He left my house at 3:00 on a Saturday, with a face that myy roommate described as a 13.5 on the 10 point guilt scale. She told me that as I was lying facedown on my comforter, decorated with moose, and a box of kleenex beside me that he had apparently left as a consolation prize.

“Is he gone?”

“Yeah, he’s gone,” she said.

The following Monday, I set up appointments with his roommates, men that I had gotten to know intimately over the past year, respected and enjoyed their company. I had finished moping the day before, and was ready to settle my affairs. I met two of them at a Bridgehead half an hour apart and spoke to the third over the phone.

“I’m at a crossroads right now, and I feel like I need to decide what I want to do and just do it. I need to get out of the grey area and declare myself black or white and then live out of that place,” I told them. “Jacob and I were always such a grey spot, and I want to get out of it. I won’t be around for a while. I need distance for now.”

Marcus, Jacob’s roommate whom I knew best, looked up at the ceiling. I saw the light shining off his cornea, in the early stages of forming a tear, and what I was doing finally resonated with me.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I know this is selfish but I need to do what’s best for me right now. I don’t want to hurt you.”

I hugged him and he left.

Jordan, another member of our friend group and a good friend of both Jacob and Marcus who hadn’t returned to the city for the year, contacted me the next day. I was on the bus, motivating myself to feel better about the 4 breakups that I had endured in the case of 3 days.

“They were all incredibly hurt,” he said, “you’re making them feel like they were just accessories to your relationship with Jacob.”

I recoiled, “I feel badly about it but I need to make my own decisions right now. I want to give Jacob space too, it’s only fair.”

“They thought they were your friends.”

I repeated my apologies. “You don’t understand where I’m coming from.”

“Well if you’re dumping them because they’re associated with Jacob, then I guess I’m dumping you. I’m a part of that friend group too.”

I thought about it. I called Marcus. “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”

I saw him on Friday. “I didn’t tell Jacob we were meeting,” he said.

I nodded, unsurprised.

We walked up Bank Street, looking for a place to go for coffee. Jacob’s name came up three times until we found a Starbucks, and I said nothing.

Bodily fluids for barbies

I was admitted to the hospital when I was 7 years old for a concerning case of bodily fluids that were emerging from every crevice imaginable. They positioned me on a hospital bed and pressed into the corners of my hips to check for appendicitis, and when the fact that I had been puking before that experience and the fact that I was still puking after rendered their test to be, so surprisingly, inconclusive.
Once I was admitted, they started jazzing up the tests a bit by poking things through my skin and collecting the fluids that were already so conveniently emerging all on their own. Up until that point I was terrified of needles (we’re going to pretend that I’m not still terrified).
Three days later, I was discharged from the Woodstock General Hospital and told that the entire experience had really just been an aggressive case of the flu.
To my benefit, however, my father had made me a promise that he would buy me a barbie of my choice for every needle I received without crying. After four days of bartering and negotiations concerning what constituted “crying” and what constituted a needle at all, he took me to Zellers and bought me four barbies. They cost eight dollars and thirty-five cents each.

Growing up and growing apart/together

Sometimes I get so excited about being 19. I hate cliches, and they make me cringe, but I try to remember that cliches became cliches for a reason; the world is at my fingertips. There’s nothing like starting fresh in a new town without anyone to watch over you (socially, academically, financially, exc). It’s incredibly liberating. It’s part of the reason why the years spent in post secondary are so formative for so many.

I’ve made some radical decisions for myself in the last few months. At this present time, I’m stuck in a transitory period where I’m still informing the people close to me of these decisions and working on implementing them, without being really sure exactly where they’re taking me or what it’s going to be like when I get there. It’s scary.

Growing up is scary because you can really only grow in the direction that you’re growing. You can try to steer yourself in a specific place, but I don’t think that you can move forward (positively) if you’re not being honest with yourself about the place that you’re at (emotionally, spiritually, mentally) and then acting from that place. You have to own up to it and do whatever it is you’re being lead to.

Part of the reason why growing in just one direction is so terrifying is because, often, you’re not growing in the same direction as the people around you. You have to cut ties and wash your hands of things and people that used to be so good, but they don’t seem to fit anymore. It doesn’t mean that those people or those things were ever bad, or that they could never be good again, but they’re ceasing to be beneficial to you at that time. The only thing that you can do is accept it, lest be stagnant.

This weekend was shitty

I can’t forget the look on his face. I had seen it only fleetingly through the film of water covering my eyes while I looked anywhere except at him. The acrylic colours of my wall’s moose poster blurred together before me. I had been so close to not crying. Damn it, I had asked relevant questions and nodded politely and told him that I understood.
“Come here,” he murmured, taking hold of my thumb and pulling me onto his lap across my own bed.
After a year, he had never seen me cry, and I had never seen his face look like that.
He pulled me into him, drawing my knees to his chest and my arms around his back. I cried into his sweater, adding my tears to the rain already dampening his back. My shoulders shook until I forced myself to breathe.
My frame shivered on top of his, a fixture on my bed that held me and hid his face.
I turned my face to rest my forehead on his bare neck. He didn’t move.

I pulled apart from him, ready to regain my composure as a reasonable 21st century woman and ready to let him leave. He had done it like a gentleman and said what was hard and sat through it while it settled. His duty was done. He sat there.
We listened to my roommates chatting in Spanish in the kitchen outside my door.
“Should I wait for the coast to clear?” he asked.
“It probably won’t,” I said.

He sat there. He watched the clock sitting on my dresser that hadn’t worked since I’d put it there. Both hands hung lamely at the bottom of the frame, the minute hand making a feeble attempt to continue its rate on every minute but ultimately falling back down to the bottom.

We didn’t speak.
The silence allowed me to review what he’d said, and how much I wanted to let him hold me like he had again and forever (or at least a long time) but not in such a sad kind of way.
I looked down at my duvet, fixing my hair as an excuse to hide my face. The tears came again (damn it, I hate crying).

He got up off the bed. I looked at the door, expecting him to go through it. What was the point of having a conversation like we’d had when he wasn’t going to leave anyway? That had been the entire point.
I felt a knee around my hip. He sat down behind me. The privacy allowed me to put my head in my hands. He put a hand on my back (that was shaking again, damn it) and rubbed it in a slow, circular motion without his arm ever making contact.

“You should go,” I said.
He got up.
I watched him go through the door.
I remembered what I’d said after he’d said what he wanted to say – “I don’t want to see you for awhile.”
I flung myself into a corner.

Changes

C.S. Lewis once said, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.”

I’m realizing now how true this is.
Everyone tells you that the years you’ll spend in post-secondary are formative and life-changing. Like many high school students, I hope, I thought I had myself figured out enough that this wouldn’t be the case. I found myself on solid ground, happy, pursuing my life long ambitions and with a catalyst of healthy, supportive relationships. I had everything I needed.

This week, I’m realizing that what you need at one point in your life isn’t always the same as what you might need in the next chapter.

After going through a rough time in early high school, I needed structure, confidence and support. I found that in the context of a church. The church was an amazing environment for me. I met some of the most genuine, beautiful people who helped me heal and figure out how to take care of myself.

And then I went to university. I think what got me was the incredible diversity of people and experiences. I left home and arrived 6 hours away, where I knew no one and didn’t really know what to expect either. Being exposed to so many different ideas, feelings and thoughts all the time broadened my perspective in a way I wasn’t aware possible. I began to question everything I’d absorbed to gain the structure and confidence I had needed in high school. The kind of rigid structure and guidelines that I had built my life around in high school made adapting to the drastic changes in university easier. I felt insured that as long as I was doing what I believed, according to the bible, nothing would go wrong.

After my first year, I lived and worked in Muskoka for 4 months. Muskoka is a stunning area of Canada, thick with cottages and trees. I didn’t make many good friends and my family, while there often, sometimes left me in the cottage alone for days and occasionally weeks at a time. Unexpectedly, it allowed for a lot of self reflection. I realized that the structure of religion no longer made sense to me and how I had come to know the world. My time spent in the church was sincere, and I grew so much there, but I realize that I need to leave it in order to continue growing.

I’m trading the (false) insurance that everything will go right in my life for the terror of being in charge of myself, making my own rules, meeting people who will challenge me, falling in love and making mistakes.

I’m scared and excited and nervous, but I know that I need to be true to myself, acknowledge where I’m at, and act from that place.