The Challenges of Being a College Student With Chronic Back Pain

Let’s be honest: living a life of chronic pain in college is hard. Trying to explain yourself to everyone around you. Always having a condensed version of your story ready to explain to whoever asks. Hoping they will accept your story with an open mind and a kind heart. Knowing that half the people you tell will say that their back hurts sometimes too. It is hard to be kind in explaining that although sometimes their back may hurt, yours is constant.

When I wasn’t in college I was able to separate myself from my back pain. It didn’t have to be the center of my being. But now that I am away, my pain has taken on a new life. I can’t shove it in a closet and forget about it.

People greet me and ask one of two questions. The first is: “Where were you yesterday?” This question is generally asked by people who don’t have a clue about my pain or have forgotten my pain was a thing. Every time this is asked my response is either that I was at the doctor or that I wasn’t feeling good. I don’t have the energy to tell them that my back was hurting so much I couldn’t sit through class or that I was going to my third doctor appointment that week.

The other question I hear is: “How are you feeling today?” While I am grateful that they remember what is going on in my life, all I want is to be “normal.” I want to go back to being the person who could shove their pain to the side and forget it is there.

I am still in the beginning of my chronic pain journey. For this I am thankful, but also frustrated. I am still trying to find a doctor who will validate my pain and stop pretending it is in my head. Because of this I am struggling to validate my pain and health issues with campus access programs. One of the hardest things I have done while at college was apply with the disability program. Not long ago I was a teenager leading a typical life. Now, just a few years later, I am a 19-year-old applying for disability and sitting in waiting rooms with people more than three times my age. The amount of times I hear “Girl, you are too young to have a back problem” makes me want to scream.

But regardless of the frustrations of my situation, I remain hopeful. Hopeful this doctor will do something, hopeful I’ll find relief, hopeful I will get through this semester.

In the same sense, I am incredibly thankful. I am thankful for the doctors and nurses and therapists who are trying to help me, thankful for my incredible roommate who always wants to listen and thankful that I know I can get through this.

Stay thankful and keep hopeful and you can get through anything with a smile.

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