Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Medical Leave and Doing Nothing

After my last post I received a couple messages from friends asking about my health. For those that don't know, I have been on medical leave from MIT since the end of March, primarily due to unexplained exhaustion. While fatigue is common among grad students (in the words of one of my doctors: "You're tired? You're a grad student. I need more.), it is not common for a 25 year old to be bedridden after a four block walk to the grocery store. The good news is the doctors have been unable to find anything wrong with me, other than Celiac disease. The bad news is, the doctors have been unable to find anything wrong with me, other than the Celiac disease. And, after a month and a half of rest and three months on an ultra-strict gluten-free diet, I am still not feeling much better.

 "I know this must be hard for you," my advisor said, when I told him of my decision to take a leave, "you don't get to MIT by being the type of person who takes off for a few months to do nothing."

And it's very true.

Before leaving for home I had already started making lists of all the ways I could make this medical leave as productive as possible: Organize all my computer files. Read that large backlog of research papers.Catch up on all fifty thousand e-mails. Oh, and write the next Great American Novel.

But, as we all know, life has a way of hijacking even the most earnest of to-do lists. Some days are okay (suck it hard drive! Your ass is backed up three ways to Sunday!), but on others the simple acts of taking a shower and eating breakfast are enough to send me back to bed. One of the blessings (and curses) of being sick is that it limits your choices (which isn't always a bad thing). You can no longer feel guilty about not doing all the things you think you should be doing because you really can't. Not without making things worse. So while the insidious voice of Mr. To-do hisses away in my ear, I try and turn my mind to more important things: re-learning the art of doing nothing.

I used to be excellent at the activity of nothing. I once could spend hours just looking at rocks (it's true! I had a rock collection that filled up half my bedroom!). But due to the pressures of adulthood or the pervasiveness of technology, I have forgotten this skill. I guess I should try to get it back again. I mean, I have nothing better to do.

Yep, I am midway through knitting a scarf. I really don't need another scarf. Scarves are something I berate myself for buying when going over my monthly budgets. One by one they accumulate in my apartment, puddling on the floor and tangling in the wheels of my office chair. I keep buying them cause I like the colors. And now, I am knitting one. It keeps my hands busy and, well, I like the colors.

My mom and I have unofficially begun a project of identifying the birdsongs we hear in the morning. "It's deeeeeee - deeeeeeee - de-dee-de de-d, ee-de de-dee-de," my mom sings to my grandma, "do you know what it is?", while I page through soundbites on the internet. My favorites are the white-throated sparrows, which have been camping in our back yard pine tree on their way to their summer homes up in Canada.

And, no period of hard core sloth would be complete without a cat to share it with. I've been hanging out with my grandma's old cat, one of three strays that wandered onto their property when they moved in over ten years ago. My grandparents, with the naming creativity of physicists, called them Goldy, Whitey, and Spotty. Can you guess which one this guy is?

He is a sickly old man whose shoulder blades cut through your fingers when you run your hands down his back and whose face and ears are shredded with scars from his young tomcat days. But he spends his time basking in the spring sun and purring like a tractor at the sight of a petting hand. Cats sure are smart when it comes to doing nothing.

1 comment:

  1. creepy creepy bumblebee scarf dresses from a little blind melon man. crap! this isn't anonymous! oh well. hope you feel better soon! i need more people to harass in the office. i need someone to talk Kierkegaard with too. the question is, would you know it was me if not for cruel google! hey, how's about this: a short story about a boy named Life in his search for his dog Meaning? We can call it, Life's Meaning. And get this, he's searching and searching, but the thing is the dog doesn't exist, and it's Life's search for him that makes Meaning exist to him. Word. We can do a little short children's story series! Hmmm, yeah, I'm a little tired and delirious from avoiding the work I actually need to do, so pardon. Anyhow, hope things sort themselves out soon. Remember on your way back to Boston to bring back a whole suckling pig from that place Nate told us about.