I am the type of person who loves to be busy. I like it when my planner is packed full of items that must be done within a limited time period. I love fast-paced activities and would hate working in a library or bookstore. I am not a procrastinator, but I love rushing to prepare a bunch of things at once before having people over, or being involved in mass food production, or hopping in my car to attend several meetings in the span of only a few hours. I take a lot of time to reflect as well, but I think I enjoy being busy because it allows me to accomplish more concrete goals and clears my mind. I always feel like there are so many things that need to be done - how could there never be something to do?
Sometimes when I am flaring, I feel as if all of my energy is being funneled into my immune system, to fuel the epic biological attack against my joints. On particularly bad days, even the 7 hours I spend at school intimidate me, and the thought of being productive afterward is laughable. When I first developed arthritis, I found my time cut short. While my friends were hanging out at the mall, I was stubbornly arguing with my physical therapist at the children's hospital. Physical therapy was my worst nightmare in middle school. I was scheduled for appointments multiple times a week with up to three different types of physical therapists, I thought all of them despised me (I still think there is validity to that), and the process of regaining my mobility was intensely painful, although my refusal to tell them when it hurt certainly did not help the situation. In the midst of all of these appointments, I found myself scrambling to maintain relationships with my friends, attend church functions, and participate in my community.
Nowadays, I find that my greatest scheduling danger is trying to pack too much into one day. I adore activity, and I think this stems partially from an increased appreciation for my health. I have also accepted the fact that I have to get things done even when I am sick. If I gave myself the day off every time I felt poorly, I would lose out on life. If I am not going to feel well either way, I might as well put in my best effort and get things done.
Over the past two years, I have been focused on finding a balance. I am finding myself especially aware of the need for balance now that I am in the final stretch of my senior year; most of my friends will be geographically and academically dispersed by August, and I want to enjoy these last few months as much as possible. On the weekends I want to go out and spend time with my friends, even if I am tired and would rather sleep, because enjoying their company and learning from their brilliance will not always be an option. I want to solidify everything with my closest companions, so that we can remain friends from a distance, and it seems as though there is simply no time to be sick. Even one day spent at home by myself with a heating pad seems like an enormous loss.
To counteract my desire to create a packed schedule for myself, I have created a rule of thumb: I will always have time to bring a bowl of soup to a sick friend. It sounds a little odd and maybe a bit too specific, but it makes sense in my mind. To me, it means that I will always have time to check in with someone who is not feeling well, to offer my help, and to follow through with that if I feel like the friend really needs it. Even my self-designed rule of thumb seems intimately intertwined with my own medical experiences, since I understand the value of loving someone in sickness and in health, but I think it is a concept that could potentially work for "healthy" people as well. There is always someone who could use a bowl of soup, or a buddy to watch a trashy Netflix show with, or a shoulder to cry on. Every day I remind myself to make time for these important gestures.
The truth is, if I am too busy to lend a hand or an ear to a friend, then I am just too busy. Part of being involved in my community and part of changing the world is letting people know how much you love them. Maybe I am just being an overly sentimental and annoyingly reflective high school senior, but there simply is no time. You have to let people know that you appreciate them now, because you never know when your last chance to tell them that will be. You have to take all of the moments, not just the healthy or fun ones, and wrap them up in a way that changes you instead of in a way that comforts you. Having fun is important, but it is not nearly as formative as learning from people's pain.
I cannot fight for the rights of people living with chronic illnesses and demand that they receive care if I do not allow myself the time to directly extend that compassion. It is hypocritical to be so busy with the Service Club that I cannot help a friend with their homework. Writing college essays about women's rights would be pointless if I did not have the time to swing by my women teachers' classrooms after school and ask them about their own experiences living in a world with such vast and prevalent gender inequality. How can I pursue what I consider to be a compassionate career if I am not obsessed with living a compassionate lifestyle?
This sense of balance is one that I have improved upon in recent months and years, and I very much intend on committing to it throughout college. I have not decided on a school yet, but I am planning on being involved in a rigorous academic program and dedicating a substantial amount of time and energy to a few impactful extracurriculars. But I have never been impressed by people who work so laboriously that they do not have time to grab a cup of coffee or sleep for more than 6 hours. That type of success does not appeal to me. I will always lead a busy lifestyle, but I refuse to sacrifice my ability to love someone for the sake of crossing things off of a checklist.
We only have so many bones, friends, and we don't quite know how long they will be good for. Let's use them lovingly.