Why I Don't Want My College Essay to Be About My Health


I was only 15, just turning 16, when I got sick.

It was an exciting time, and I was starting to think about college and the application process that I’d have to go through to get in. With junior year fast approaching, the school was abuzz with beginning to worry about SAT, and what colleges everyone eventually wanted to attend. Unfortunately, once I got sick my plans drastically changed, but the one thing that has never wavered is a personal goal to attend college. Even though my path differed a bit and I had to take a leave of absence from high school to regain my health and take care of my body, I was adamant that once I was able I needed to continue working towards my goal; no matter what it took.

Throughout my rocky high school journey, I’ve had a lot of questions asked about my plans for my future, what I wanted to do, and when I’d be applying to schools. For a while I’d have to answer with, “I’m not sure quite yet,” or. “Next year I can go, I hope.” And I’d leave it at that.

After years of intense treatment, dragging myself through homebound instruction, and finally beginning to heal, the reality that college was on its way set in. As I started answering more confidently with, “January 2018,” being my answer, it wasn’t long before I began being told that my chronic illness experience would make for a good and “convincing,” college essay.

At first I admit that I was a little shocked, somewhat confused, and curious as to why someone would think so. When asked why, I’d typically get a response of, “You’ve been through a lot,” or, “It’s a good story, you get it.” These comments left me stumped, and wondering what other topic my college essay could possibly be about.

While the gravity of these words weighed on my brain, I mulled them over occasionally. Quickly realizing that these people didn’t mean any harm, I also wasn’t sure that they were aware of what their words could imply and the undertone of pity that followed them. Knowing that my chronic illness isn’t who I am or what defines me, I began thinking of potential topics.

I knew that I wanted to separate myself from my sickness no matter what it took, and that I have many equally as powerful times to write about, outside of this almost five year crisis. I felt as if starting this new journey by writing about the health struggles I’ve faced in the past would be rewinding time, and in some ways, dirtying the first clean slate that I had had in years. I was so excited to be moving forward, and with a fresh start in sight, I craved it more than I ever had.

I have to admit that when I first sat down to write, I felt as if I was staring at a brick wall instead of just a blank Pages document. I didn’t know what to write, where to start, or what story to tell. The direction I was trying to go was immersed in fog, with words hiding at every turn evading my mind. Though still navigating the hurdle of writer’s block, I was sure that writing about my health just wasn’t right for me and that the words would find their way eventually.

Turning away from the computer and day dreaming about some of the better days before I got sick, and how tightly I’ve held onto those memories in some of the hardest of days to keep me going, was exactly the motivator that I needed. It all flooded back – from the memories of spending countless hours at the barn with my friends and the horses, to traveling outside of the country and interacting with people from around the world. These are the experiences that have shaped me, these are the experiences that made me into the stronger person I am today. With a sigh of relief, my mind cleared. I had my topic.

Yes, it’s true that my chronic illness has partially shaped me into who I am today. Yes, it’s also true that I’ve learned so much about myself, and life in general, from being sick. Yes, I’d be lying a little bit if I said a part of me didn’t understand that in some ways that it would be an intriguing story. But no, at the end of the day, I don’t want my college essay to be about my chronic illness. It’s a chapter in my book, with many chapters having been written long before. Inevitably, ongoing illness can definitely bring some unusual, sometimes strange, and very different experiences, but my story is not limited only to the chapters that it has written for me. I am my own person, and though chronic illness hangs out with me every day, I won’t let it become my entirety.

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