Adwan: The pandemic has shifted our perception of the common cold

There is no virtue in making yourself miserable. Take care of yourself and your body; your to-do list can wait until tomorrow.

by Noor Adwan

My boyfriend got it first. Then it was me, and then it was all of my friends.

The dreaded common cold: it makes you sick enough to feel awful, but not sick enough to feel justified in calling off work or skipping class. It’s truly the worst of both worlds.

Now that classes are in-person, however, some professors are amending their syllabi, requesting that students displaying symptoms of any respiratory illness, not just COVID-19, stay home.

Two years ago, this would have been unheard of, as the American obsession with constant productivity has created a stigma surrounding illness. Those who are ill are often expected to simply “tough it out” and still show up to class or work. This is seen as virtuous, despite the fact that the presence of the sick person may put others at risk of also becoming ill.

Now, circumstances seem to have changed. The visceral, human consequences of the pandemic have made us more wary than we have been, even of illnesses that aren’t COVID-19. My friends and I have adjusted or cancelled plans to account for colds, and anyone who has been sick in the last year and a half is well acquainted with the dirty glares that even the quietest of coughs will invite. Some Americans even plan to continue wearing masks when sick in the COVID-free future, which is a practice that has long been in place in parts of Asia.

Alongside the caution factor, however, there is another piece: The devastation we’ve all witnessed firsthand has made us more understanding. We’re less likely to pass judgement on our peers or colleagues for missing out on things while they’re sick. In fact, their absence almost warrants admiration for their responsibility and consideration of others.

It is more than unfortunate that it took an entire pandemic for this cultural shift to arise, but we’re better off for it. The world moves so fast –– the least we can do is take time to rest when we’re sick, for both our wellness and that of others.

Some may be quick to dismiss this idea or other self-care talk as saccharine or indicative of a sort of weakness. However, I fail to see the virtue that so many claim is inherent to a lifestyle characterized by constantly pushing oneself.

In a world where a person’s value is defined by their productivity and everyone is expected to be running at full speed at all times, self-care becomes rebellious.

But it shouldn’t be this way. It shouldn’t be normal or expected that we force ourselves to show up to school or work sick. It should be okay to take time for ourselves when we need it.

It should be okay because we have a certain responsibility to others. Cough and sneeze into your elbow; use hand sanitizer; better yet, wash your hands. Something that should be added to this list of generally acceptable health advice is don’t be afraid to stay home! No one likes being sick and you’re doing your friends a favor by not passing on your illness.

It should also be okay for the simple reason that we’re human. We have off days. Sometimes, we get sick. Sometimes, the weight of the world is so great that even getting out of bed is a chore. And that’s okay for the simple reason that our worth extends beyond what we are capable of accomplishing or checking off of our to-do lists. There is no virtue in making yourself miserable. Take care of yourself and your body; your to-do list can wait until tomorrow.